Modern retail has moved way beyond the product variety and price range. It's all about convenience, and consumers expect a delivery-driven online shopping journey from product consideration until a possible return. Forward-thinking e-commerce retailers are slowly but surely catching up with online market giants like Amazon Prime and instant delivery companies like Uber Eats, Instacart and Nordic foodora, all of which set an incredibly high bar when it comes to speed, flexibility and transparency of online deliveries.
Being the region's biggest online book seller takes more than the newest releases and all-time favorites. Business growth as a private label e-commerce brand site vs. dominant online marketplaces calls for a competitive edge. So does building a strong online pharmacy capacity in the thick of corner shops and traditional brick-and-mortar chains. You get the gist — it's all about the delivery experience and setting accurate delivery promises.
That said, every pain point comes with an opportunity. Here's your guide into the challenges and solutions for maintaining a best-in-class delivery promise that will make your immediate competitors watch you.
Table of contents
- E-commerce delivery promise — definition;
- Why an accurate delivery promise matters in e-commerce;
- What prevents you from getting your delivery promise right;
- Seven tips on maintaining a reliable delivery promise in e-commerce.
What does a delivery promise mean in e-commerce?
Before we go into detail about the to challenges and solutions for maintaining a reliable delivery timeline, let's first understand what it means in the context of e-commerce. Delivery promises are a commitment e-retailers make to deliver a product to the customer within a specified time frame and conditions, as well as with a certain level of service. Buy today, get it Thursday! stands for much more than just FOMO marketing.
Your delivery promise makes or breaks a sale
Consumers buy based on delivery
Traditionally, e-commerce businesses would determine an estimate shipping date after processing the order and only then notify online shoppers by email or text message. Such way of doing things has no place in the delivery-first era of retail. Increasingly, consumers are making purchase decisions based on knowing accurate delivery estimates before checkout.
Today's consumers shop based on the delivery experience — they want to know who offers the most convenient, cheapest and fastest delivery option before checkout. In a delivery-driven online shopping journey, one touchpoint should seamlessly integrate into next — from search filters and shipping FAQ to product pages, mini cart and checkout. Lack of flexibility, unexpected costs and the absence of a reliable delivery promise are the most likely to affect purchase decisions and cause shopping cart abandonment.
Deliveries are dynamic and contextual
When shopping online, consumers expect to pay for convenience but they can rarely admit e-comm deliveries actually fit their lives. Lifestyle, location, family status, shopping habits, seasons, day of the week, carrier reputation — so many things come into play. Besides, modern e-commerce consumers are likely to have two or more deliveries within the same week which they'd like to consolidate in the same parcel locker, for instance, which only makes sense if there's an estimated delivery date for each order.
As things stand today, online retail focuses on the sale of products per se rather than the delivery experience that consumers equally expect. Being able to make delivery promises no matter the order gains you a competitive edge in a fiercely competitive industry. It can be a key differentiator that attracts and retains customers. Shopping online and getting items delivered into the hands of consumers needs to work as easily as buying items in a physical store.
Consumers want a joyful shopping experience and an effortless delivery journey. If they love your goods and the delivery offer that comes with those, your checkout conversion rates, average order value (AOV), and customer loyalty are guaranteed to go up. Meeting delivery promises leads to satisfied customers, while failing to do so can result in frustration and dissatisfaction. Happy customers are more likely to become repeat buyers and brand advocates.
You're an e-commerce manager by day, an e-commerce consumer by night. How many times have you had a frustrating delivery interaction, vowed not to order from the same retailer ever again and stay away from this delivery option while shopping online? Consumers keep a score, just like you do. A consistent track record of reliable delivery promises builds and enhances your brand's reputation. Positive reviews and word of mouth go a long way to bring you new customers and repeat purchases.
So, what stands between you and an accurate delivery promise?
Lots of complexity. It gets even more complex the more products, market, fulfillment locations, delivery carriers, shipping methods, packaging options and delivery options you have.
Supply chain complexity
E-commerce delivery orchestration from warehouses to the customer's preferred location is a complex task, especially during high-demand periods. It all starts with the customer's physical location, product's shipping parameters, inventory locations — warehouses, distribution centers and stores — to business hours of your fulfillment centers, carrier cut-offs and pick-up times, and finally, the last-mile leg of the product journey.
Lack of industry standards
Many e-commerce business say something like Usually ships within 2-3 days. It doesn't help a customer who only really cares about the delivery day and hour — they don't want and don't trust delivery window estimates. Then again, when does the delivery clock start? According to surveys, 50 percent of consumers think the estimated delivery timeline starts at checkout, while the remaining half believes it starts when the order actually ships.
Accurate inventory levels are essential in setting accurate delivery promises. Out-of-stock items can lead to delays and delivery anxiety on the part of your customers. Managing inventory across multiple locations requires a unified view and visibility across your network. Is your demand far enough from customers to justify opening a fulfillment center in a certain market? What type of delivery promise should you offer based on your most popular items? These are just some of the questions to be answered.
The final leg of the product journey delivery holds perhaps the biggest set of challenges and requires a data-driven, multi-carrier delivery strategy. Which delivery carriers have the best, cost-effective delivery times? What are the most popular delivery methods in each of your markets? Do you have enough contracts to provide a same-day delivery or a next-day delivery?
High sales volumes
Are you ready for this year's sales peak? Sales events can result in a massive influx of orders, putting immense pressure on the entire supply chain, from order processing to delivery. Customer expectations are especially high. Holiday sales campaigns, especially those centered around the Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas, are almost like a double-edged sword for online retailers. While they offer the potential for increased revenue and customer acquisition, they also turn up the heat in maintaining an accurate delivery promise which consumers learned to expect as default.
Here's how a delivery promise becomes a successful delivery
Set realistic delivery promises that you can reasonably fulfill, even during busy periods. Avoid overpromising and underdelivering. It's much better to be exceeding delivery expectations than disappointing your customers.
Smart business logic
Now, you need a software tool to suggest flexible delivery options and a precise delivery time for each purchase, location and preference in real time. The suggestions — ordered by price, delivery method, sustainability level and carrier — will feature the cheapest, fastest and greenest shipping options based on the customer's zip code and your carrier integrations. Ideally, amid rising consumer expectations, this needs to happen before checkout, so take into account your product pages and a mini shopping cart, for instance.
Multi-carrier delivery strategy
Integrate with multiple carriers in each of your markets and give your customers the power of delivery personalization. Delivering with multiple carriers lets you compare rates and performance levels to choose the best option for your needs, while also offering the most popular delivery methods in every location. As an added benefit, you can leverage your relationships with other carriers once it's time to negotiate your shipping rates, which gives you greater power in the process.
When a retailer commits to a delivery timeline, customers expect them to fulfill that promise. As soon as they hit the buy button, shoppers start treating the product as theirs and they eagerly check tracking updates for any news. To foster trust and eliminate delivery anxiety — especially in case of a home delivery — it's essential to keep customers informed throughout the entire delivery process. This can be achieved by sending order confirmations and delivery updates. Moreover, retailers should promptly notify customers of any changes in the delivery date, whether it's earlier or later than initially estimated.
Streamline order fulfillment
Every online shopping experience should lead to a delivered product. Yet, taking control of transport operations and associated costs is challenging for most e-commerce businesses. Consider using 3PL services to help you scale your operations and handle high volumes, especially during sales peaks. You can also keep your fulfillment operations in-house if there's the right technology at hand — nowadays, there's a variety of cloud-based software-as-a-service solutions to choose from.
More locations, shorter delivery times
To make sure you can keep your delivery promises, think about improving the last mile of the delivery process. You can do this by expanding and diversifying your delivery network for more efficiency. One traditional way of doing it would be to open more warehouses or distribution centers, though it comes with higher costs long-term commitments and less room for flexibility. That's where micro-fulfillment comes in as a more dynamic and cost-effective alternative — if you have physical stores, you can use them for in-store pickup.
Monitor and analyze performance
Consistently analyze data to check if the actual delivery date matches your estimations and note any differences. Consider factors like the time of day and week, delivery area and other key fulfillment factors. It's also crucial to find a solution provider that can help you track and improve the metrics you're looking at.
Get ready for seasonal sales
Retailers often use website banners and marketing emails to communicate deadlines for guaranteed delivery leading up to holidays. Delivery cut-off dates before seasonal sales can be helpful, but they don’t give customers enough information about when an order will arrive. Display estimated delivery dates instead to give the customer as precise delivery times as you possibly can. You can also add a checkout notification about potential delays due to higher order volumes to avoid surprises and the dreaded Where is my order? questions.
Turn a reliable delivery promise into a revenue driver
Not only a promised delivery date helps you nurture customer satisfaction and sell more — it also creates a unique business opportunity in the form of merchandising your delivery process. Whether or not you want to offer free shipping — a business standard for some, a cost pressure for others — an accurate delivery promise on each order helps you foster customer loyalty and trust.
When you offer precise delivery times and personalized, hassle-free deliveries, you can turn it into a revenue driver. Introduce a free shipping threshold on standard delivery, upsell free delivery or premium delivery options, or A/B test different pricing points and start charging cost-effective delivery fees altogether. Ultimately, it's a sure way to boost conversion rates and the average order value, and with that, achieve a scalable business growth in the highly competitive e-commerce landscape.
E-commerce delivery promises that fit people's lives
In conclusion, keeping your e-commerce delivery promise is not just a matter of customer satisfaction. It's a strategic move for scalable business growth. Consumer convenience and mental wellbeing ☺ matters, and so do deliveries.