The eCommerce revolution has changed almost everything about the customer buying experience. Customers, instead of browsing aisles, browse webpages. Instead of dealing with a cashier at checkout, customers interface with an online shopping cart. Instead of walking out of the building with the product, it ends up at their doorstep weeks, days, or even hours later.
What many eCommerce founders have yet to understand is that this last stage is in many ways the most important. In the brick and mortar business model, the time between payment and delivery of goods was instantaneous. Now, with a delay between purchase and delivery, it’s more important than ever to choose a fulfillment center that can utilize this delay to deliver a delightful customer buying experience.
Here are three ways that shipping can help or hinder your customer’s overall purchase experience.
1. Damaged Packaging or Product
Imagine purchasing the hottest new video game console only to open the box and find the product damaged! Or imagine spending two thousand dollars on a designer bag, and find its presentation marred by a hopelessly mangled box!
Both of these nightmare scenarios affect both the customer and the merchant. The customer, of course, is mightily disappointed. The merchant will likely incur the customer’s wrath, and the brand will be subsequently damaged.
Interestingly enough, however, neither of these issues actually had anything to do with the quality of the product. Rather, these were both avoidable situations that were brought on by shoddy fulfillment processes.
Fragile products must be bolstered. This can (and should) mean some combination of packing paper, bubble wrap, foam peanuts, or full length Styrofoam braces in some cases. Consider that these packing materials are generally a fraction of the cost of most of these products, and this sort of small investment will be entirely recouped by the savings in avoided product loss.
The second scenario concerns itself with presentation and brand identity. The unboxing experience is extremely powerful, and it is a moment that can and should delight your customer. Securing your product and its box within the confines of a sturdy corrugated cardboard box with the appropriate dimensions and packing materials will ensure that your customer gets the positive and rewarding onboarding experience they deserve.
2. Slow Delivery Times
Think of customer excitement as a curve. The excitement builds as the customer discovers the product and peaks at the moment of purchase. Thanks to the delay in between purchase and delivery unique to eCommerce, that excitement wanes considerably in the next several hours.
Your goal as an eCommerce founder is to preserve the excitement as close to initial-levels as possible up to the point of the unboxing experience. Doing so will allow your customer to reach a second excitement peak – that moment when they interact with your product for the first time in-person.
The only way to do this, however, is to ensure that your customer receives their product as quickly as possible. Obviously, everybody would like to live in a world where overnight shipping was practical and affordable. But you don’t need to offer overnight shipping or even 2-day shipping. The magic delivery timetable is 3-5 business days. At this point, customers feel like they are getting their product “on time”.
Many eCommerce stores currently offer shipping that takes 2-3 weeks. This is entirely too long. Delivery times in this time range lead to diminished customer satisfaction and heightened returns and exchanges. Your customers were excited for your product when they ordered it – don’t let them down now!
3. Shipping Costs
We live in an age where customers demand free shipping. However, this demand is actually founded in the roots of eCommerce. Think back to the brick and mortar commerce model. The customer paid for the item and walked out of the store with it. The fulfillment and shipping stage was nonexistent. With the advent of eCommerce, customers are reluctant to pay for what they perceived as a “necessary inconvenience” – the shipping process. In the mind of the typical customer, they are willing to delay gratification a few days to receive their product, but they certainly don’t way to pay to delay their gratification.
Fortunately, free shipping is something that nearly every store is capable of offering. There are two ways to offer free shipping practically.
You can average the cost for domestic or international shipments from various locations weighted towards the regions where most of your customers want your products shipped. If you discover that 75% of your customers live in the Midwest, and that it costs you $10 on average to ship your $70 product to them, you might consider raising your price to $80 in order to offer them “free shipping”. The advantage to this strategy is that it not only saves you from having to deal with cart abandonment once your customers realized that they would have to pay an additional $10 for shipping, but it also helps your customers in that they will have a much higher perceived value of the product.
Remember, customers ascribe little to no value to shipping. So a $70 product with a $10 shipping cost is valued as a $70 product. An $80 product with a $0 shipping cost is valued as an $80 product. And the best part is that they are both describing the exact same thing.
If you are averse to raising product prices, to include shipping fees, all hope is not lost. Let’s say you are selling a particular good with extremely high price sensitivity: even a slight increase in price will cause your customers to flock to your direct competitors. You can consider eating your margins to offer free shipping.
This technique isn’t as foolhardy as it sounds. If you can beat your competition on price, and that price comes in the form of shipping fees, you will likely gain a significant following for your competitive prices coupled with free shipping. As long as you are not operating at a net loss by offering this pricing, any short term losses on margin will be made up by gains in volume.
No matter which way you lean, you should elect to offer free shipping to maximize perceived value.
While eCommerce and traditional brick and mortar commerce may have fundamental differences, the consumer’s mentality is the same: they still want the same product with the same value. Shipping – a component unique to eCommerce – is a major sticking point that can hinder your customer’s buying experience. However, if you apply what you’ve learned in this article and offer free shipping, expeditious delivery times, and robust packaging, you stand a very good chance at delighting your customer and elevating your brand.