6 Steps to Refine Your Shipping Strategy and Get Returning Customers
Here's a 6-step plan that will develop your shipping and fulfilment process so that customers purchase from your eCommerce store time and time again.
Why is it that some eCommerce companies gain loyal customers and others don’t?
What persuades an online customer to evangelize and tell their friends about your eCommerce store?
How can you keep people coming back to your website, multiple times a year?
Nothing motivates repeat purchases like great delivery.
Ultimately, when a web visitor comes across your online store, they are looking to buy a product. They don’t care if your website has frills. Your customer chooses to shop with you because your website sold a desirable product. What keeps them coming back? The delivery experience blew them away. They felt joy when they opened your parcel. And that joy is sure to keep them coming back for more.
To gain repeat customers for your eCommerce store: make them feel like a kid at Christmas!
Get this: I love the creativity that goes into creating an exceptional shipping and fulfilment experience for my customers. But as an eCommerce consultant, I have noticed that I’m often alone in this train of thought. Most of my clients did not care for refining all elements of the shipping process, until they started working with me. Nowadays, one of my clients gets rave reviews for their eco-friendly packaging material! On this page I will reveal 6 steps to refine your eCommerce shipping plan and win loyal customers.
Follow this plan and you will learn the power of creating an exceptional eCommerce delivery service. Truly, a great shipping and fulfilment plan will influence how your customer feels about your business, which is outrageously important. In fact, this is the stuff that will set you apart from your competitors. Get this part wrong, and your customers will continue to browse your competitors, before choosing an eCommerce site to purchase from. They are looking for a reason to stay loyal to a business. They are looking to feel good as a result of spending money. You can get their human affections with a brilliant eCommerce checkout and delivery plan. It’s that simple.
Your Checkout Should Be Stunning & Slick
The checkout page should make it easy for customers to provide their details and move on. At this stage the customer has committed to buy and wants to get through this section as quickly as possible.
How can you improve your online checkout page? It needs to be smooth and secure, whilst only asking for the minimum information.
I think we have probably all tried to buy something online, but the checkout process has been so arduous that you’ve actually abandoned the purchase out of sheer frustration.
If you want to understand what cart abandonment could mean financially for your business, there is a great article here. It provides different way to calculate this loss. This can be helpful if you need to present a substantiated rationale to your team to improve your checkout page.
I have identified 4 different sections of your checkout page which directly impact on checkout abandonment rates. Get them right and conversion rates will go up. Make sure your e-commerce site is reaching its true sales potential. Don’t let yourself down at the final hurdle.
- Customer service information
Simple changes to the above, could have a really positive impact on sales.
The address should be clear and easy to complete. If relevant, make sure the auto fill is on and logical. Anything you already know about the visitor should be completed already. These days people don’t expect to have to input their entire address. I am a big fan of predictive search in address lookup. The double click approach whereby the visitor enters their house number/name and postcode and then selects from a list of possible addresses is simple, popular and easy to use. Anything that makes it easier for the customer is a winner. This may all seem very basic but I am often surprised how many websites I come across that haven’t bothered to include simple things which can speed things up considerably for your customer.
Some e-commerce sites, normally from sectors that see themselves as ‘down with the kids’, will use a ‘fresh’ or different layout for their address section. I would suggest this is unnecessary and can often cause confusion. The more ‘traditional’ form layout, with the label outside the box and a border just around the form field is usually the best. Customers are used to this design. They have already committed to buy, providing the form in a style with which they are accustomed, may make it easier for them to complete.
Make sure it is frustration free. If the customer presses the back button don’t make them complete the address section again. We all know how irritating this can be!
Think about how your checkout page will appear on a mobile or tablet. The form needs to be relatively large and clear. Remember someone actually needs to be able to press the buttons with their fingers. The form should not be so small (i.e. before the user has enlarged it) that it is impossible to complete. The form also needs to work when rotated from portrait to landscape. Thinking about these simple user requirements will reduce checkout abandonment rates.
The delivery section should be simple and clear. I don’t think anyone particularly enjoys completing a web form. The longer and more complex it is for your visitor, the more frustrating it will feel. Given that you are only moments away from making a sale, don’t ask for unnecessary information or make things complicated. Here are a few ideas that will speed things up for your customers:
- Use the customers IP address to geolocate where they are in the world. Don’t make them scroll through Azerbaijan to Timbuktu, if you know they are in the UK, then pre-populate this field for them.
- Set the delivery address as the default billing address. Or include the option to check a box so that the delivery information is pre-selected from the billing address. This takes the headache out of completing this information twice.
- Include a link or pop-up that explains what the different postage options mean. Not everyone understands the difference. Having to look this information up adds another unnecessary step to the purchasing process.
- For some websites, it may be worth testing a ‘complete your order in the next x minutes and we will send it today’. Sometimes including a sense of urgency can help secure the purchase. Amazon use this technique to good effect.
Once again this step is critical to the buying process. It needs to be simple, clear and function well. When I am working with e-commerce companies, things that I look out for include:
- Have all the main navigation links been removed? If not, they should be. There shouldn’t be anything on this page which distracts the customer away from the task in hand.
- Customers are very security conscious these days, make sure your site instills confidence in the buyer with secure payment logos and Feefo ‘trusted merchant’ if relevant.
- It helps to format the credit or debit card fields so they are the same as the customers actual card. Once they have selected their method of payment, make sure the boxes that appear are in line with those on the card e.g. if the numbers appear in blocks of four, then that is also how the form should appear. This makes things easier for the visitor and gives the payment fields more credibility.
- Use iconography to show the customer where they are in the buying journey. This is relevant for all the above steps.
Customer service information
If is often helpful to include the customer service links on the final checkout page as well. Customers usually feel more at ease if you include statements like “Have a question? Do get in touch. We would love to help you”. This should either be a link or should be followed directly by a phone number, live chat, an e-mail address and/or web form.
Do show the returns policy as a sales feature on this page. This will encourage buyer confidence. If they can clearly see that they have 30 days to return their item, free of charge, then that will often give the customer the extra reassurance they need to press the ‘buy now’ button.
Most websites want you to buy something, be it a product or service. Difficult, confusing or just not user friendly online checkouts, can be a really blockage to a visitor becoming a customer. Make things as easy as possible with the best checkout experience.
Not only should your customers feel secure at your eCommerce checkout, they should also feel as though you are holding their hand, even after their purchase. Simply put, there is no such thing as over-communicating with your customer. In fact, I would strongly suggest sending out an email sequence, one your customers order goes out.
Email sequences are when you send one email to one person, but send multiple emails over a period of time.
First off - your sequence should trigger when a customer has purchased from your site.
The sequence might look like this:
Day 1 -Thank you e-mail
Day 2- Email with extra content, a blog post or offer.
Day 3 - Ask how their order experience was, did they have any trouble?
Send up to maybe five or seven emails in a sequence. And that is super, super powerful.
What is the purpose of this sequence?
Firstly, you want your customer to know that they are valued. You haven’t forgotten about them, even if they have difficulties. Second, you want them to get used to opening your emails, by using the sequence you create content which leads onto the next e-mail, so they’re looking forward to when it arrives. When they get used to opening up your e-mails, and they like what they read, THAT’S when you’ve succeeded.
By leading them on a journey through e-mail sequences you can onboard them, develop and nurture them, THEN they’re ready to buy.
How to set out these e-mails to maximize your customer relationship!
1. Headline - a good headline goes a long way!
A good headline is like gold. You have a matter of seconds to grab their attention. If you Google headline formulas, loads will come up. Read a magazine, have a look at headlines, change it to fit what your offer is and just make it super simple, look at the words that your customers use.
One great book which I have shared with my team, is 'Email Marketing Headlines That Make You Rich' by David Garfinkle.
It's literally a book filled with headlines. Read it, and just try them out!
Once you have a headline which will grab their attention.
2. Subject Line
The subject line is critical. Spend some time thinking about it. In some respects it's almost more critical than the email because it's the subject line that determines whether the email is opened
I have learned that it is most effective to combine the following:
- Find the words that your customers use
- Create short punchy sentences that grab their attention
- Find offers that they like
If you're wondering 'How do I find this information?'
It's pretty simple - call them! Some of my team get on the phone, they ring them and ask what e-mails they like, what they would like to see more of. Your customers love giving you feedback, again it benefits your relationship with them.
To learn more about creating the perfect email sequence, checkout my blog post: everything you need to know about email marketing for your eCommerce site.
Don’t Fluff Your Shipping Rates
Free delivery is fast becoming a rule, rather than an exception. Customers will often abandon cart if they see a high delivery fee at the checkout. You need to carefully consider your shipping rates for this reason. If you can, make delivery free over a certain cost.
There’s no arguing that same day delivery is best. In fact, you might be surprised to discover that most customers are concerned with the speed of their delivery. 50% of UK adults consider quick and efficient delivery highly important.
Another way to gain repeat customers is to offer a click a collect service. This feature is becoming more and more popular with customers who work during delivery hours. They don’t have to collect their parcel from the post office, instead they can pick it up from a newsagents or supermarket that suits them. This is a service that is worth it’s time in silver. It is stellar and your customers will love it.
Make Picking and Packing Simple
Picking and packing can quickly become an issue if you have various products. (Especially if the products look similar, as with my eCommerce site Jersey Beauty Company!)
For this reason, it is important to calculate the cost of errors made during the picking and packing process. For example, as my beauty company grew, we began to notice a greater volume of orders with more errors. We calculated that we were losing £7000 every month in errors from picking and packing products incorrectly. So that is when we thought about the system and invested in creating a plan that works.
Firstly, we use a clear packing slip. Each product has a unique bay location that appears on the packing slip. We also use a scanning system. You scan your product and the computer picks out any errors you are making. Nowadays 99.9% of orders are sent out correctly. You can buy scanners for around £30 online and it will save you an incredible amount of money.
My tip: use technology to make sure you get it right.
Remember: any eCommerce business will get returns. Allow for a 1-2% average return rate on your products - this may be higher if you are selling clothing. Set out a process for this in your warehouse. Who will contact the customer if an order is sent back to your warehouse?
It’s important to consider tracking your parcels. Most couriers will offer a tracking service and you can send the tracking information, by email, to your customer. It is rare that an eCommerce site won’t offer a tracking service in the UK. You need to make sure this service is added to your eCommerce site.
Consider Drop Shipping
As an eCommerce entrepreneur, one of the things you have to think about is stock. If you buy a lot of stock it has no value until you sell it. It is essentially cash stored in your warehouse (or kept in your home - depending on how new you are to eCommerce!) It is cash, sat on your shelf. This is where drop shipping becomes exciting for a lot of people, because you don’t have to carry stock! You can buy a product from a wholesaler, they will carry it and they will ship it for you. You never have to touch the stock, simply concentrate on selling. Sometimes, it works incredibly well, especially if you are a start-up looking to make some money.
However, one of the high downsides to drop shipping is that you tend to ship products that are quite commonly sought-after. It is a hyper-competitive eCommerce method. Also, you do not get to choose the packaging and the label and all of those little details that make your eCommerce store sing.
Drop shipping tends to work if you sell something you love. Sell something you are passionate about. Remember, you are basically marketing and selling a product. You don’t get to brand the packaging or create the ideal delivery experience.
You can get another person to do your fulfilment for you. This means, you buy the stock and the packaging but you get another person to ship it out for you. This is great because you don;t have the problem of storage, shipping and staff. You can create an incredible experience, with less work. I currently own a warehouse that offers a fulfilment service. Contact me if you have more questions about fulfilment [email protected]
The Rules of Amazing Packaging
Choose a great Parcel Delivery Courier as a partner
Who you partner with for shipping is really, really critical. Like or not, your customer sees them as an extension of your service and company. They are representing you, so choose carefully.
The cheapest shipping company isn't always the best choice
It's tempting to choose the cheapest company or service when you look at shipping your parcels to your customers. This is because we often view shipping as a cost centre in our company - and we have to fight to keep costs down.
Having tried a lot of delivery companies over the years, I can tell you the cheapest is often not the best and it can cost you more in the long run, especially if you start losing customers as a result of your shipping company.
That said, the most expensive delivery service won't necessarily give you the best service for your customers either and you can spend a lot of extra money for no real gain.
The bottom line, you are going to have to test different suppliers. Get feedback from your customers about the service. Monitor shipping errors and lost parcels. Work with them to ensure that you are sending out parcels in the best possible way.
Send parcels to yourself on a regular basis, you want to see how they turn up and how your courier handles them.
Use eco-friendly packaging
We've all seen the images on TV or YouTube of animals caught in plastic straps. To be fair, it's usually the smaller types (such as the plastic that holds beer cans together), but nevertheless you have a responsibility with your packaging.
And whilst we are talking about environmental issues, let's think about the plastic bubbles. I used these a lot in one of my eCommerce companies, Jersey Beauty Company, but have moved away from using them in recent times. They were great in the sense that they are lightweight, easy to handle and protect product really well. But the reason we moved from them is that they are pretty boring and they are not that great for the environment.
So what did we use instead?
Popcorn! It's a fun, biodegradable packaging material that suits Jersey Beauty Company’s values.
Use the right sized box
There are pictures all over the web of customers receiving their order in a box that is way too big for the products sent. We've fallen foul of this ourselves in the past. The trouble is, customers find it annoying. Make sure you get a made to measure box. Again, check out various packaging companies before settling on a price and design.
Don't neglect the packing slip, it's full of opportunity
Packing Slips are important. Sure, they are a humble piece of paper that is put in the box but don't make them an afterthought. Really think through what you can do with your packing slip to better engage your customers.
Many eCommerce entrepreneurs assume that most people throw packing slips away, so don't really give much thought to designing them. But, you'll be surprised how many of your customers will actually read them.
So be creative with your packing slip. Make sure it looks good, and include an offer on there or a way to connect with you on social media.
- Avoid shredded paper. It can't be put in the recycling and it's messy.
- Pick one type of packaging material, otherwise it looks a mess.
- Pick material that connects with the products, values and brands you are sending.
Adding Free Gifts to your order
I could give you thousands of examples of how giving has worked for my eCommerce stores. Simply put, adding a free gift to your customer’s orders will make them come back for more. Think about it - at the heart of your business is relationship with your customer. If you give your customer a gift, they will feel valued in their relationship with your business. They will feel loyal. This is not to be underestimated.
Start small, add a free sweet or chocolate to your orders, or perhaps a hand-written note. Watch the ‘thank you’s flood in and you’ll soon see customers desperate to return to your eCommerce store. Plus, you’ll be reminded of the real reason you set up this business in the first place - to create a business that brings you joy.
Identify each item
If there is a smaller object in your customer’s order, make sure this object gets a label. There’s nothing more frustrating that hearing that your customer has thrown their product away!
Packaging the expensive stuff
‘Gifting’ is the key to everything that we have talked about on this page. If you can make your order feel like a gift, you will guarantee returning customers.
When it comes to expensive orders, don’t take those for granted. Even larger companies should make a fuss of their high-priced orders. Wrap with extra care, add a handwritten note - make it feel like the greatest gift you have ever received! Be creative.
Logos on boxes
A pet hate of mine is that companies like to put a large copy of their logo on the packaging. By all means add your logo, but keep it small. It's about the customer, not your logo. The customer doesn't care about your logo. They care about what your product is going to do to enhance their life. Tell them that instead and connect customers to your values and story better.
Adding leaflets to your packaging
If you add leaflets to your order, make sure they also match your brand. If it's a high-end brand, add quality leaflets.
Think about your international Audience
The Internet has made the world a much smaller place and you can now order anything from anywhere. So as eCommerce website owners, we should be aware of our international audience.
International markets can add a significant percentage to your bottom line, so make sure you help them engage with your products when they get them.
Putting it all together
When you send an order to customer, really think about your packaging. Don't just send the order in any old thing. It's an opportunity to really connect well. Remember the box is the first real interaction with your company. Up until that point, everything has been digital pixels. The box is the first real thing that they touch and feel. Make sure it connects well with them and celebrates who you are as a company.
If you want to learn more about connecting about creating a customer-focused eCommerce business, download my cheat sheet “How to build a customer-focused website: the ultimate guide.”
Revolutionize Your Customer Service
What is customer service?
In a nutshell, the definition of customer service is the service provided to customers before, during and after purchasing and using goods and services. Good customer service provides an experience that meets customer expectations. It produces satisfied customers. Bad customer service can generate complaints. It can result in lost sales as customers may take their business to a competitor.
As a business, Zappos is very values led and very customer service led. How have they brought the two elements together? Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh was talking from experience when he said,
"If you get culture right, other stuff like great customer service or building a long-term brand will happen on its own." Tony Hsieh
When Zappos shifted focus from selling shoes to pleasing customers, employees became more engaged and passionate, customers were happier and sales went through the roof.
"When you hire, train and motivate your employees based on your core values, everything will fall into place on its own." Tony Hsieh
A good question to ask yourself is: What’s your WOW factor? What core values does your business live and breathe by? Are you willing to live them in good times and bad? If the answer is yes, you have a strong start to creating a culture you and your employees want to work in.
I recommend that you spend a bit of time thinking about recent times that you received great customer service: what was good about it and how did it make you feel? More importantly, did that feeling inspire you to take any particular action?
Here is a list of things that work for us at Jersey Beauty Company:
- Make art out of your positive feedback emails from customers – read them out in huddles and forward them around to the whole team on a regular basis.
- Everyone in the team should know how to answer the phone.
- Everyone in the team should be able to handle basic requests over the phone.
- Everyone in the team should know who to refer to, how and when.
- The CEO should regularly answer the phone and speak to customers.
- Each customer interaction should be seen as a learning experience.
- Continue to train your staff on customer service and continuously look for opportunities to improve.
- Talk in your regular team huddles about how to approach certain scenarios in ways that are informed by the company values.
- E-mail examples around of great customer service from other businesses.
- Have a shared library of information that is easy for the team members to access and search.
Regardless of the contact you have with a customer, be it over the phone, via e-mail, on social media or even face to face, it is really important to get it right. We always want to exceed customer expectations. For more about delivering incredible customer service, read my blog post: How to Deal With Online Customers When They are Wrong.
Remember: Savvy Shipping is a Crucial Part of Your eCommerce Business
How did extraordinary eCommerce businesses get that way? I believe it is quick and memorable shipping that makes a internet store a huge success. Your website might be incredible, your product - divine! But if you send items out late, with rushed and damaged packaging, you will not find customers returning to your store, or leaving rave reviews.
In 18 years of running eCommerce sites, I’ve seen good, the bad and ugly stores. By far the best companies love to get creative when it comes to shipping and fulfilment, they do not value their shipping strategy as less than their marketing strand. I encourage you to refine your shipping strategy and rejoice as customers return to your eCommerce site again and again.