Going up against ecommerce heavyweights like Amazon or Walmart can seem impossible for a smaller retailer. They have shaped online consumer expectations over the past few years with big budgets and expertly engineered experiences. They may have endless inventory and an omnipresent web presence, but is there room for competition in 2019?
The answer to this question is a definite yes. We’ve assembled this guide to help brands work smarter toward increasing conversion, re-engaging their audience, and driving future sales. Offering the premium Amazon experience comes down to optimizing the customer experience during the pre and post purchase stages.
74% of shoppers say they’re more likely to shop again with brands that provide estimated delivery dates. However, 40% of US-based online retailers are missing the mark by showing shipping speeds instead. Quell those shipping anxieties and reap the rewards of higher conversion!
First, what is the difference between delivery date and shipping speed? Simply put, the difference is clarity vs. non-clarity.
An estimated date of delivery calculator combines past processing stats, carrier data, and specific product information. It synthesizes this information to give a clear day by which the product will arrive. This reduces anxiety on the product page, mitigates cart abandonment, and helps customers choose a shipping method during checkout.
Shipping speeds are basic listings of the available shipping options. This leaves out many details, most notably including the processing time. Displaying only the shipping speeds leaves customers to consider many variables before deciding to purchase, but this is still widely practiced.
These can include; upcoming holidays, number of days before the weekend, order processing time, and more. Oftentimes this overwhelms the customer into not purchasing. At the very least it forces them to use these variables to decide how much they care about the product. Even if the order is placed, this is a very poor (and costly) user experience.
“2-4 Day Delivery” is a weaker message than “Arrives on September 6th.” Brands who opt for the former verbiage usually do so for one of two reasons.
Customers do not view their online order as a two part scenario in which you shift responsibility to the carrier midway. The end-to-end process of click to delivery is one experience that speaks to your relationship with the customer. This gets further complicated when you take into consideration the naming convention of most popular shipping services.
A customer selecting UPS 3-Day Select is reasonably expecting to receive the order in three days. In actuality this means three days after UPS picks up the package, and doesn’t account for weekends or holidays. Not including these factors will disappoint customers. Consider a customer who pays extra for 3-Day Select on a Tuesday to get an item before the weekend.
By opting for clearly displaying the delivery date, you just make it easy for the customer. They can choose to pay an extra few dollars for the item to arrive on the Friday before a holiday weekend. Otherwise they can wait until the following Tuesday when shipping time resumes. No math is required to make the appropriate decision.
Let’s look at a few examples of delivery dates and shipping speed. Remember, success is equally based on what information you show and how you show that information.
Macy’s has made it very clear that we’re on our own when it comes to information. This approach is absolutely not recommended, even for a brand as big as they are.
Nike is a little more successful in their efforts. They’ve included more information, but it’s confusing because the customer doesn’t know how it applies to them specifically.
Sephora manages to tell us literally everything and nothing all at once. This is a perfect example of more information not necessarily being helpful.
Walmart fares better than Sephora with their estimated delivery dates. They avoid clutter, opting for concise, clearly worded icons. This makes it very easy for date and price comparison. Without dates, the simple act of comparison would take far too much manual calculation from the customer.
As the old phrase goes, perception is reality, so where exactly does perception fall into play here?
Studies have shown that consumers view delivery dates as a promise. Find a balance between padding the estimate with safety processing time and overpromising to the customer.
Overestimated time can lead to abandoned purchases, while underestimating can create disappointment. Receiving a late shipment isn’t an automatic dealbreaker. By proactively notifying the customer and getting ahead of the issue the experience can be saved and expectations reset.
The best practice is to have delivery date calculations dynamically shift to reflect peak seasons, holidays, and weekends. The calculations should also consider the various processing times of different items. This includes longer periods for oversized or customized items, and shorter periods for readily available, “off the shelf” products. These things matter to your customers, especially during the gift giving seasons where being upfront and reasonable is most important!
In contrast, customers look at shipping speed as more of an estimate because of the built-in ambiguity. However, the price you pay for having less expectations to live up to is a dramatic reduction in conversion and sales!
Shipping cut-off times are a very helpful tool when used in conjunction with the delivery date estimator. In order for everything to be totally accurate you need to know when the shipment will actually begin its journey. The difference between a package leaving today or tomorrow could be large, especially if tomorrow is a Saturday.
They can also be very efficient in driving a sense of urgency in online customers, especially when presented in countdown form. Acting fast is a natural response when feeling as though time is slipping, which translates to online shopping behavior as well. Undecided customers can be influenced when told they’d have to wait through an extra weekend. Sometimes this can be the only motivation needed to change “I’ll come back later” to “buy now.”
Shipping cut-off times may seem simple, but there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to achieve accuracy. They need to take into account holidays, weekends, and other non-processing days. They must also accurately reflect when your warehouse stops processing each day to accurately estimate delivery dates. In all of these scenarios they also have to know when the process will resume.
Of course, as with anything, how you present the information is just as important as the information itself. Let’s analyze some examples from popular retailers.
This is a poorly executed example of using shipping cut-off times. While the information is there, it requires too much manual calculation to be done by the customer. What time zone are they in, and how is the difference calculated? What time is it right now? Ahhh!
This example creates a perfect pre-purchase experience by pairing a countdown cut-off time with the estimated delivery date. It’s dynamic and only displays a time limit that is relevant for the specific customer at hand. If they’d like to choose the Next Day Air service for delivery on August 20th they have 43 minutes left.
The “My Account” page is responsible for 64% of returning traffic, yet is sadly neglected by many ecommerce retailers. Optimize this section by turning it into a comprehensive information hub that re-engages with your customers at the right moment. This will ensure a great experience and a return visit, as well as a great opportunity for post purchase marketing.
The average U.S consumer’s post purchase behavior includes tracking their order 3.9 times. Studies have shown this is the time when they most want to engage with you. Why do American shoppers feel the need to check their order so frequently?
For one, shipping times in the U.S are considerably longer than places such as Europe. Also, the ongoing shipping war between Amazon and Walmart has considerably raised the expectations of the U.S consumer. Despite these expectations, most retailers are struggling to keep up. In fact, only 39% of packages in the U.S are delivered within two days, down from last year!
Currently around 56% of sites fail to integrate all ecommerce order tracking information and events within their site. They let users find the important details about their shipment on a third party or carrier site instead.
This offers a subpar user experience and is a big miss for retailers when it comes to re-engagement. In many instances the carrier’s site only has package information and the retailer’s site only has order details. The customer is forced to bounce back and forth to get everything they’re looking for.
A good My Account section serves as a hub of information and is easily actionable. Here a user can access important order details, manage a wishlist, tweak their profile, set account information, and reorder items. Document the customer’s purchase history by displaying all orders associated with their email address.
Two of the most crucial elements of the “My Account” section are the order details and tracking pages.
We can’t emphasize how important a cohesive order details page is for optimizing your website’s customer experience. For starters this lets you avoid three big post purchase stress points;
Shipping Information Gap: “Status not available” messages appear when users attempt to track their package before the carrier picks it up. This usually leads to “where’s my order” phone calls that can swamp your customer service team. Keeping the post purchase experience in-house solves this issue by communicating the processing stage.
Incoherent User Experience: Toggling between sites can be problematic for mobile users. This is a bigger issue with each passing year as post-purchase engagement on mobile devices increases exponentially. Many order tracking apps for small businesses offer only the bare minimum functionality.
This page leaves users with an unclear feeling of what to do next. Working backwards seems like the most logical answer but why isn’t there something directing them to the information they want? Tech savvy consumers may be able to navigate themselves, but most will resort to calling your customer support team.
Information Disconnect: Speaking of site hopping gone wrong, the above image illustrates how frustrating only receiving fragments of information can be. Here the order confirmation sends the user to a details page that fails to give the delivery date. The user must visit a third party site for the delivery date. This undermines each individual page’s usefulness as the user will constantly be needing to go back and forth.
As stated earlier, a good Order Detail page should contain all relevant information a customer would want while being easily actionable. Let’s break down what makes the above example so successful where the previous images fell short.
Order Information: Order status, item, price, and quantity are all clearly displayed. Items shipped in separate packages are specifically noted and properly explained. The customer knows what to expect in each box and when to expect it.
Shipment Information: Go beyond the standard tracking number in your order detail page. Offer customers a step by step event log through the shipping process to ease anxieties and mitigate calls. Let the customer know that you’re processing the order and there’s nothing to worry about. The experience is seamless since there’s no gap in tracking.
Notification Opt In: This allows customers to opt in for direct SMS notifications about their package. Transactional SMS messages contain valuable information from the carrier regarding the shipment. This can include issues faced in transit (exception status), and delivery updates to aid package theft prevention. Customers can choose to opt in for one package while opting out for another if their order shipped in multiple boxes.
Returns Management: Mitigate bad returns experiences through clarity, self-service, and flexibility. 54% of ecommerce websites have significant UX performance issues when it comes to returns. By making returns easily actionable straight from the Order Detail page, you put the power into the hands of the customer. Customers can follow the easy steps to generate a return label after seeing how many days they have left.
Omnichannel Order Tracking: Don’t forget about orders placed through a guest account or an in-store POS system. Make the order detail page available to all of your customers by tying each one to an email address.
The tracking page is a quick glance at several elements we’ve already discussed in the order detail page section. It provides big opportunity for you to re-engage and upsell to your customers.
Tracking Details: First and foremost the Tracking page should have the tracking information. Provide the tracking number and step by step event log for the package to keep shipping anxieties at bay.
Delivery Date Estimator: The best Tracking pages follow our earlier concept and succeed in setting expectations during the post-purchase experience. Including a progress bar will show the customer what stage the order is in, from processing to delivered.
What’s in the Box?: Situations where the customer has one order with multiple tracking numbers can be confusing. Eliminate extra steps and make it clear which item is linked to each tracking number.
Post Purchase Upsells: Use this space to show customers products, promotions, or campaigns they’re sure to love. Base recommendations on their order history and focus on enhancing the experience of the product they’ve already purchased. 53% of customers say that thoughtful and personal experiences are even more important than discounts, so tailor it accordingly.
Link to Post Purchase Customer Support: Be there for your customers. The perfect post-purchase experience will reduce calls to the support center, but sometimes they’re unavoidable. Dedicate space on the tracking page to let users know you’re available to help them through complex issues.
Link to Order Detail Page: Enable customers to handle issues on their own by linking to the Order Detail page.
Branded Experience: Maintain cohesion by matching the custom tracking page to your site, keeping the same voice and feel throughout. Sending users to a third party site removes them from the full experience of your brand.
A key element in re-engaging with your customers is proactive notifications. Recently, 33% of consumers said they wouldn’t return to a retailer who didn’t send useful post purchase follow ups.
Online shoppers’ expectations have grown considerably over the last few years. It’s no longer acceptable to hand a customer a tracking number and send them on their way. Post purchase dissonance, or buyer’s remorse, is experienced when a brand fails to properly communicate with customers after a sale.
“Overwhelming customers” is the most common reason listed by retailers when asked why they aren’t offering proactive notifications. However, a staggering 83% of customers say they expect regular communication about their purchases. Only 8% say that they’re receiving too many notifications. Keep a link to opt in/out of these messages in a convenient place to avoid alienating that 8%.
The two most common methods of proactive post purchase messages are through SMS (text message) and email. Both are effective but the most important thing is to reach out to customers on their own terms. 60% of surveyed shoppers are likely to purchase again if they have the ability to choose their preferred method of communication. Let’s see what differentiates both, and how retailers can use them both simultaneously to great advantage!
Most marketing emails boast a 20-25% open rate, but transactional emails can claim an astounding 80-85%! This is because the customer has just made a purchase and is eager to hear from you regarding their order. It’s very important to put your best foot forward, maximizing the potential of your post purchase email notifications. By communicating with the customer immediately after they’ve made a purchase, you provide validation and reassurance.
A well constructed post purchase email template contains several important elements. Let’s take a look at what you should include to maximize effectiveness.
Item Level Details: Don’t make customers fish around for information. Having to switch back and forth between different sites can be problematic, especially for mobile users.
Estimated Delivery Date: Set expectations right from the first transactional email notification. Adding clear, accurate delivery dates can mitigate shipping anxieties and keep your customers happy.
Tracking Links: Empower customers by providing them a clear, easy way to follow their order every step of the way. Use proactive notifications to drive customers to a retailer-branded tracking page with value-add content and personalized recommendations. Combining a well-executed tracking page with the excellent open-rate of transactional emails provides a huge opportunity to drive sales.
Link to Support: Self service returns should never make customers feel like they’re on their own. Make it clear that your retail customer service team is readily available to help.
Branded Experience: Keep customers in a branded experience with no disconnects. By customizing the language and look of your emails you create a seamless flow between your website, notifications, and tracking page.
SMS notifications are the most effective way to communicate with customers, proven by their stunning 98% open rate. 90% of SMS messages are read within three minutes of delivery, while 95% are read within five!
Just Shipped: The order is processed, packed up, and labeled – it just hasn’t been picked up by the carrier yet.
In Transit: The package is with the carrier making its way to the customer.
Exception: This accounts for unexpected circumstances. Can include delay, missed delivery, or return to sender.
Delivered: This is the moment the customer has been waiting for, when the item reaches the front step.
Return On Its Way: The return package is headed back to the retailer.
Return Delivered: The return has successfully arrived back with the retailer.
Helpful tips for managing SMS notifications:
Give customers more opportunities to opt-in/out and let them manage their notification preferences. Keeping your proactive notification system flexible empowers them to tailor their experience and maintain peace of mind. Allow customers to opt in during the order confirmation, as well as later on in the order detail page.
Although opting in and out is easy, it’s important to manage the flow of your ecommerce SMS templates. The best online retailers achieve a balance where their customers feel informed and empowered, but never overwhelmed.
Ecommerce return rate statistics are generally much higher than those for brick & mortar stores. Returns are a necessary part of the ecommerce experience because goods are purchased without being physically seen or touched. In today’s day and age a good returns management software is absolutely necessary.
of online shoppers have returned at least one ecommerce purchase in the last year.
will not make a purchase if the return policy is not good enough.
of users say returns are the most important reason for accessing their account.
buy different variants of products with the preconceived intention of selecting one and returning the rest.
Most online retailers cringe at the thought of increasing returns, but smarter ones see the endless opportunities. Afterall, 95% of customers who are satisfied with their returns experience say they will shop again. This changes the question from “how do we avoid returns?” to “how do we satisfy customers and mitigate disloyalty?”
The answer is proactivity, self-service, transparency, convenience, and ultimately; options. Check out WeSupply’s ecommerce return policy generator (free) if you need help with drafting your own.
Mail back and in-store returns are the two most common methods of executing an ecommerce return policy. Each has a unique set of best practices and benefits for customers and retailers.
BIG MISTAKE: 30% of sites are not offering an online return feature at all.
The best retailers think of the returns process as a platform to build engagement and loyalty. This is challenging because interactions with the customer service team are 4x more likely to drive feelings of disloyalty. The way to conquer these odds is to make the experience feel effortless. Optimize this flow because the most common form of online returns involve mailing the product back for a refund.
Mail Back Return Best Practices
Set Expectations: Setting the right expectations from the beginning has been a recurring theme throughout this guide. Clearly list the amount of time the customer has in order to make a return on a specific item. Use this dynamic counter to remove any guesswork on the customer’s part. Avoid relying on blanket statements tucked away in the terms and conditions page.
Ask What’s Wrong: Since not every return is the same, be prepared to handle them differently. By asking the customer why they are making the return you gain information that helps identify key patterns and trends. This also allows you to create different return rules based on specific reasons. For instance, you may opt to waive the return shipping fee if a customer’s item was damaged in shipment.
Return Label Generator: Many retailers include a pre-printed label with every box they ship out. This is convenient for customers, but each label costs upwards of 35 cents to throw in the box. This sum adds up quickly when volume picks up, and oftentimes these labels aren’t even used. Save those valuable margin points by letting the customer self generate the label if they’d like to make a return.
Reverse Logistics: Customers want to know when to expect their refund so let them track their return. Mitigate anxieties and “where is my refund?” calls by including the return tracking number, shipping events, and empowering customers through proactive messages. Remember to make it easy to opt in/out of these notifications.
A flexible return policy gives customers options in how they’d like to receive their refund. Each provides specific benefits for the customer and retailer:
Store Credit & Gift Card: Instant satisfaction for the customer and mitigated revenue loss for the retailer; a true win-win. Store credit and gift cards boost retention by tying customers to the brand and increasing their likelihood of becoming an advocate. Unlike a promotion or discount, store credit usually doesn’t expire. Another benefit of store credit and gift cards is the perception of “free money” in the hands of the customer.
Customers feel less apprehensive about spending the store credit, unlike cash which they can save for other things. When using store credit they’ll often buy something at a higher value and add some cash to cover the balance. Many successful retailers use store credit to extend their return policy. First they offer the option between cash or store credit, then strictly the latter for a longer period.
Reduce customers’ return-based anxieties to flip a typically bad situation and give them a positive perception of your brand! Omni-channel retailers have a unique advantage when it comes to changing perception; in-store returns for online orders.
Even in today’s digital age, 20% of consumers still say they prefer making their returns in-store. Customers cite reasons such as avoiding the associated shipping costs and a quicker refund process.
Four of the main reasons customers prefer in-store returns include:
In-store returns don’t only make 20% of online shoppers happy, but they also have major benefits for retailers.
The “do’s and don’ts” of introducing in-store returns to customers is best illustrated through images. First let’s look at what to avoid:
50% of online retailers don’t promote in-store returns alongside mail back options at all. Nordstrom provides the option, but only represents it with a small, out of sight text blurb. This is a missed opportunity for a competitive advantage over online-only sites. Ultimately it alienates a group of customers who prefer in-store returns for cost savings, convenience, and speed.
Best practices for introducing in-store returns to customers:
Keep It Simple: The option to return in-store needs to be easy to find, clearly communicated, and intuitive to follow. Note that both options are equally represented. List the value right under the title to entice customers.
Store Locator: Help customers find the brick & mortar door closest to them with an interactive store locator page. Customers might not realize in-store returns are their best option without being able to see which locations are closeby. Educate them and make their experience effortless.
Interactive Map Markers: To select a store the customer simply clicks the nearest map marker. Display key information through a popup window, and include a link to Google Map directions and that store’s profile page.
Comprehensive Store Detail Page: Familiarize customers with your store. The store detail page should be customized to convey clear information and highlight some of the location’s personality. Make this experience memorable, because it could be a customer’s first time coming to one of your stores.
Amazon, Best Buy, and Apple have changed ecommerce by avoiding business-centric thinking and instead focusing on their users. They’ve raised customer expectations to an all-time high, but you can level the playing field by understanding how.
You can deliver this same experience by understanding what your customers want and being able to deliver it ahead of time. Focus on self-service and proactivity to stay relevant and compete with these big brands. Afterall, giving your customers more autonomy is the way to remain in full control of the post purchase experience.