The pandemic changed a lot of things in the field of shipping fulfillment. For one, we now know the supply chain status quo can quickly fall apart in the midst of global disruption. Even the Ever Given shipping fiasco in the Suez Canal shined a spotlight on how things can break down all at once if just one important shipping lane is compromised. Even before that, brands faced an uphill battle when it came to competing with fulfillment giants like Amazon and Walmart — and the question of how to keep your customers happy in the face of shipping challenges has always had a complicated answer. To use Amazon as an example, its own fulfillment and distribution costs make up a significant portion of its bottom line. In 2019, the cost of Amazon’s instant shipping equaled 26.5% of the company’s net sales, up from 16.6% in 2007. This isn’t a pace that many brands or major retailers can match.
Case in point: Instant shipping isn’t a viable option that makes sense for most small businesses.
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Finding New Ways to Innovate the Shipping Experience
If you can’t beat them, out-innovate them. Competing directly with instant shipping outfits can be a war of attrition that you might not want to start. Instead, find new ways to reach your customers and fight that battle on your own turf.
Take the example of an industrial product distributor that needed a new way of moving its products. Previously, it sold tools and accessories at its own branch offices — but somewhere along the line, someone had the bright idea of installing vending machines for its products on location for their customers. Not only did profits increase by 10%, but its customers were also able to purchase what they needed without leaving their location.
While this strategy won’t work for every business, it’s an example of the kind of thinking needed to compete with instant shipping. If you can offer your customers something they can’t get anywhere else, instant gratification will seem less vital when making a sale.
Methods to Beat the Instant Shipping Juggernauts
Take a look at the following methods for some ideas on how to make sure your customers are happy with your shipping services, even if you can’t offer instant shipping:
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1. Speed up everything surrounding the shipping process
Features like tracking information and follow-up emails can arrive on a near-instantaneous basis. Ensuring your customers are instantly supplied with information relevant to your shipping services gives the impression that things are moving along speedily, even if the final delivery date isn’t the next day. Customers may be more likely to feel satisfied with their purchase if they perceive your brand is on the ball.
If possible, try to ship out their product as soon as you can. That way, customers may be much less likely to hold you responsible for further delays that are out of your control.
2. Educate consumers on what to expect
More than 97% of all retailers have had to deal with port or shipping delays recently, according to the National Retail Federation. You are far from alone in your effort to please consumers during times of disruption. Be clear about what to expect from your specific shipping options and offer a more expensive, expedited option if time is critical.
But be sure to factor in the time an order might take getting through your fulfillment center. Even if you overestimate the amount of time an order needs to arrive on a customer’s doorstep, it’s always better for an order to arrive before a shipping estimate rather than after.
3. Find ways to leverage brick-and-mortar stores
There are two ways to implement this idea into your shipping procedures: If you have one or more brick-and-mortar locations, you can use these spots as a way to supplement online shopping by allowing customers to pick up their wares at the nearest location. If you don’t have any stores to rely on, try to team up with one of your retail partners to shepherd shoppers to a local store for pickup.
4. Work shipping costs into the price of orders
The only real competition for instant shipping is free shipping. While it’s always a bit precarious to raise prices, it is possible to work the cost of shipping into the order. Then, even if the order takes some extra time getting to its destination, customers can still feel satisfied that they saved a few bucks. This can also lead to profit for your company. If you add flat-rate shipping to all of your orders, some will cost less to fulfill than others.
5. Offer free shipping on larger orders
One of the most powerful tools you can use to compete with instant shipping is to offer free shipping once an order has reached a certain dollar amount. Consumers who are concerned about the cost of shipping would usually rather pay more for a larger order than to have some of that total be used just to get your products to them. One survey found that 48% of consumers are likely to add another item to their cart in order to nab free shipping.
6. Personalize orders
Try to think of the biggest difference between a small business and a retail giant like Amazon or Walmart. The answer isn’t just yearly revenue — it’s in the amount of time you can spend on each individual order. Customers know that if they order something off one of the big sites, they can expect a largely impersonal experience. If they have an issue, it’s usually an automated system that answers them. As much as you can, flavor and personality to your shipping process.
Even something as simple as a hand-written note thanking a customer for their patronage can go a long way in separating you from the massive but immobile instant shippers.
7. Get ahead of delays
In the real world, stuff happens. Sometimes you’re going to have to go back on a shipping estimate due to delays, disruptions, or international pandemics. Take a moment to realize that consumers don’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, a Narvar survey found that 98% of consumers prefer companies that quickly communicate any challenges that may arise. Provide regular updates about the status of their order as much as possible, even if everything is on time. Your customers will respect you for it.
8. Simplify fulfillment
If you haven’t already, implement barcodes into your fulfillment process to pick up the speed on your side of things. Bringing your fulfillment process into the digital age will help to avoid shipping disruptions caused by human error. You can then further optimize fulfillment by implementing those codes into warehouse management software that can help workers pick the most efficient route to getting a package out on time.
9. Crowdsource local delivery
Local shipping services like Postmates were brought squarely into the mainstream during the pandemic, thanks to their flexibility around the products they deliver. If you have such services (dubbed the “sharing economy” by some) nearby, you can offer near-instant local shipping to consumers. If this isn’t available to you just yet, it probably will be soon. The Brookings Institution estimates that the sharing economy will grow from a $14 billion industry in 2014 to a $335 billion industry by 2025.
According to the UPS, the most common reasons for shopping cart abandonment are:
- Cost of delivery
- Item out of stock
- Estimated delivery time too long
- Preferred payment not offered
As you can see, two out of the four most common complaints center around shipping. Providing a variety of delivery options with services that competitors like Amazon can’t match will help to solve this problem and allow you to compete with instant shipping.
On top of that, you can always try AdRoll’s abandoned cart marketing service to help you recover lost revenue through the power of email and ads.