During the holiday season, when gifting and, subsequently, returns are at an all time high, the methods in which retailers handle each part of the e-commerce lifecycle are critical. As retailers strive to become increasingly omni-channel, this means providing a seamless approach through the entire consumer experience across all available channels or risk losing shoppers to the competition. In this post, we are going to focus on shipping and returns, an area of the shopping experience that came up particularly short last year. A lot of factors contributed to the nightmare of shipping delays that occurred last holiday season – from weather-related issues to retailers getting aggressive on delivery timelines and last-minute promotions that caused a record surge in online purchases. In the coming months, with FedEx® and UPS® switching to dimensional weight pricing (also referred to as DIM pricing), the perfect storm may be right in front of us and retailers needs to prepare themselves accordingly. Here are a couple of things to consider when nailing down your holiday strategy for shipping and returns:
  • With more touchpoints to master, many retailers are struggling to cover them all with one branded shopping experience. Returns, for instance, are a key part of the shopping lifecycle, but have always had a negative connotation for retailers and, as such, are not always considered part of the omni-channel mix. The fact is for shoppers the shopping experience does not end with a delivered product but extends beyond into post sale activities such as returns, exchanges and call center responsiveness.  So, what if you could create a return experience that was so pleasant and well-received it resulted in another (possibly larger) sale? By maintaining brand control throughout the entire shopping experience, retailers will be at a competitive advantage and will have the opportunity to convert one-time holiday shoppers into brand loyalists. We discussed this in depth in our recent feature in Retail Touchpoints magazine which can be found here: http://retailtouchpoints.com/features/special-reports/holiday-planning-heats-up-as-summer-sets-in.
  • Always prioritize convenience for your shoppers. To do this effectively you may want to consider using a prepaid return label so that the consumer can easily return items by leaving them in their mailbox for USPS pick up, drop off at their local USPS location/blue box, or set up “free carrier pickup.” This makes the returns process far easier for the consumer while at the same time provides advanced visibility into what items are coming back to a warehouse.
  • Make sure your shipping and returns strategy has a clear-cut communication method. This includes clearly posting cut off dates for outbound shipments (to ensure the order arrives by the date needed) and posting your returns policy online. Clearly setting these expectations ahead of time will save you from a lot of unhappy customers. This communication strategy should also include transit emails to update consumers on the status of their order/return. This provides you with the opportunity to include a special offer to re-engage them and drive incremental business.
  • Plan for the switch to DIM pricing.  Returns could cause a major headache if consumers and retailers aren’t aware of the changes that UPS and FedEx are implementing just after holiday gifts are delivered and just before returns and exchanges are made. Remember, if a customer orders four items, but only returns a single item in the same outbound package (which is typical), the DIM issue is exasperated as the weight is less for the same size package. Retailers who pack free return labels with their holiday shipments could be blindsided by the cost of returns shipped after December 29 with UPS or after January 1 with FedEx – when the changes take hold.  Same goes for consumers who are picking up the cost themselves. They have to understand that size now matters, so returns must be packed efficiently instead of just picking any empty box that was once under the Christmas tree. Retailers may want to consider diversifying their shipments with a provider that offers a solution that does not charge for dimensional weight to offset the costs.
Omni-channel is clearly the hottest buzzword of the season and in our next post we’ll be discussing Web and mobile site performance, including methods for site performance analysis that should be executed to ensure success in the peak holiday season. Stay tuned!