Supply chain services retailers can still implement for the holidays

The holiday shopping rush is in high gear, but there are still some quick steps retailers can take in their supply chains to help drive sales and deliver a great customer experience.  

In a year of unpredictability, this holiday season promises to be full of question marks for retailers. Deloitte projects overall holiday retail sales to be flat compared to 2019, but e-commerce to be up 25%-35% year-over-year. Store owners will be counting on online sales to shore up what is expected to be a down holiday - and year - for in-person shopping. That means greater reliance on shipping and delivery services, adding a layer of complexity and uncertainty to the process.

With so much riding on these next few weeks, retailers must take advantage of every possible tool at their disposal.

Get specific with shipping timelines
It’s safe to say there are likely to be delivery challenges for retailers shipping this holiday season. Some major carriers have delayed transit times, and many carriers have instituted peak surcharges that can increase the cost of a residential delivery by upwards of $5 per package.  

While we expect shoppers to be somewhat understanding of capacity challenges this year, the last thing any merchant wants is to be the reason someone’s gift doesn’t arrive in time. Amazon has done a great job of giving timelines for when to expect delivery. It’s clear during the order process that if you order by Date A, you will receive the item by Date B. That same functionality is available to retailers by displaying shipping rates on your product pages, including cut-off times, shipping options and delivery dates, within your cart and checkout. 
Independent e-commerce sites like Music Box, Attic, and Spiceology take advantage of tracking apps to give customers a realistic estimate for when they can expect their purchase to arrive, and the benefits go beyond providing great customer service. This has the ability to drive more conversion in checkout, reduce shipping losses, and free up a lot of time for busy employees to work on other priorities.

Use third-party insurance that covers porch-pirating
Is there any worse Grinch during the holiday season that someone who steals packages off the porch? Unfortunately, these thieves aren’t going away, and we should expect them to be extra active with the increase in e-commerce this year. When an item gets stolen after it has been delivered, the customer’s options are limited. The carrier won’t cover it, so it often falls to the merchant to replace the item. Many do that in order to keep the customer happy, but it quickly eats away at the bottom line.

With third-party insurance apps, shoppers can purchase additional protection at checkout to protect against loss, theft or damage. According to delivery service provider Dropoff, 94% of customers blame the retailer if something goes wrong with a delivery, so in a way, these services protect both the shopper and the merchant. 

If there is a problem with a delivery, some insurance apps even handle re-ordering and re-shipping with claims completed directly within the app. Many provide shoppers with a visual tracking app that allows shoppers to see the location of their in-transit packages across multiple sites.  

Offer a user-friendly warranty experience
Anyone who has ever had to make a warranty claim knows it can be a pain. Retailers vary greatly in how they back up their product guarantees, but those who value their customers and their own reputations make sure to stand by their warranty offerings. Until recently, there was really no way for small and mid-sized merchants to offer warranties without taking all the risk themselves, but that has changed. There are now a range of services available as integrations with your e-commerce storefronts.

Warranties are especially important for high-dollar purchases such as furniture, wallets, jewelry, sporting equipment and electronics. And there are benefits to warranties beyond customer service. Warranties increase product registrations, which give merchants more valuable data to leverage in the future. They also ensure you don’t lose customers due to a bad product, and they help merchants learn about weaknesses in their products.

Streamline the return process
Returns are another area where Amazon has influenced consumers to expect an easy process where the merchant covers the cost even if they did nothing wrong. Even if merchants are willing to offer free returns, the process can be difficult.

Raney’s Truck Parts is one merchant that has chosen to make the process as easy as possible. Customers simply hover over an item in their purchase history to prompt a menu asking if they want to make a return. Once they make their choice, a pre-paid return label is automatically downloaded and ready to print. Shoppers also have an option to instantly purchase another item, rather than waiting seven to 14 days to get a credit.  

According to data from Returnly, merchants can convert a return into an upsell and happier shopper integration with a return service provider.  

With so much riding on this holiday season, retailers need to do everything they can to ensure a great experience for their customers while avoiding unexpected and unnecessary expenses. 

Matt Crawford is GM of shipping at BigCommerce

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