Unlike brick-and-mortar stores, where a sales staff can guide customers through their shopping trip, online retailers can't provide the same kind of human interaction or browsing space. This creates challenges, but also opportunities.
"Retailers must make it as easy as possible for customers to come online, find what they want, purchase it, receive it on time and in good condition, and return it easily," says David Sisco, UPS corporate retail segment manager. "How it went for the customer, from their initial Google search to their checkout experience and the arrival of their goods, is absolutely critical to your success."
Sisco shares five ways you, as a retailer, can set yourself apart and keep customers coming back.
1. Set shipping expectations. Rather than just quote a range of dates, the smartest retailers tell customers that if they order by, say, 2 p.m. today they will receive their purchase by a specific date. Some retailers also offer consumers a chance to upgrade shipping to get the product sooner for a nominal fee.
2. Provide e-mail confirmation of order receipt and shipping, including a tracking number. This simple but critical piece of information is one of the first things customers ask for once they place an order. Provide it proactively.
Sisco recommends you take it further and send a branded e-mail with a tracking link that returns to your website to communicate order status. "Driving customers back to the website to track their order can trigger additional sales, and using a branded e-mail will keep the retailer top-of-mind with the consumer," Sisco says.
One way to do this is by using the UPS Developer Kit, which has website tools that integrate UPS functionality into your storefront to improve order accuracy, automate fulfillment and give customers visibility into order tracking.
"An alternative is to use Quantum View Notify®, which will send the consumer to ups.com for order tracking," Sisco says. "This is easier to implement but does not provide quite the same user experience."
3. Don't shy away from returns. "Consumers will choose one retailer over another, all else being equal, simply based on the returns policy," Sisco says.
"Including a preprinted return label in the outbound package has emerged as a best practice," Sisco says. It's easily done within WorldShip® at the same time the original label is printed. Another option is UPS Returns® Flexible Access, which allows customers to drop returns at any UPS or U.S. Postal Service (USPS) location, including their own mailbox. (UPS then picks up the packages from the USPS for return.)
Additionally, consider making the return shipping "free." According to a Forrester research study, 41 percent of consumers who returned a product ranked paying for shipping on the return a top frustration.
4. Give customers more control. Another way retailers can make the shopping experience more comfortable is to encourage customers to sign up for UPS My ChoiceSM. Customers can become a member for free, select delivery preferences and choose to receive e-mail, text or voice alerts and electronically authorize the release of packages. For a modest annual fee, they can also reroute or reschedule packages. Premium membership has a $40 annual subscription fee and gives members unlimited access to the free membership benefits as well as the ability to view a calendar of all inbound shipments, provide "leave-at" instructions such as "garage," and for only $5 select a confirmed two-hour window for package delivery. "This helps ensure that the consumer gets their delivery on the first attempt," Sisco says. "It's another way to enhance the online shopping experience and please your customers."
5. Turn free shipping into an advantage. Recent comScore data from its "Q4 State of Retail" report shows that average order values can be as much as 9 percent higher when free shipping is offered as a promotion. One creative strategy is to apply thresholds based on cart order size, Sisco says. "If your average cart order is $75, you might offer free shipping if they spend more than $100, and charge a nominal amount or flat rate for orders below that threshold."