Everybody who shops online will have experienced the frustration of being presented with inadequate delivery options when they reach the virtual checkout. What if you need to wear an item of clothing to a function tomorrow night, or will not be around to receive a delivery during the day, so would like the option of choosing a late afternoon delivery slot? You’re going to find another site that will meet your needs, and will wish you’d not just wasted ten minutes’ browsing time.

In many cases delivery costs do not become clear until you reach the checkout; some websites make it difficult to get an idea of delivery options without performing a dummy run, pretending you wish to buy items just to get an idea of what’s on offer.

No hiding place

The JDA/Centiro Customer Pulse Report 2015 reveals that in the last year, almost half (46%) of UK adults chose to buy from a retailer offering a choice of delivery options over one with just a single type available. The ecommerce field is widening daily, and with the proposed European Union Single Digital Economy on the horizon, retailers will only experience increasing levels of competition over the coming months and years.

This could lead to an ever-increasing number of abandoned baskets for those who fail to give consumers the choice they crave. But delivery options shouldn’t be a monster to lock away in the closet, quite the opposite: retailers can enjoy success by trumpeting the options they have available. Just look at John Lewis for example, which is well-known for its delivery and returns service, which is currently free in the UK if you purchase an item costing £20 or more. At the moment it also offers click & collect, next day delivery, nominated day and evening next day delivery options.

Give them what they want

Half of the 2,000 UK adults surveyed said the most important part of a delivery service was how much it cost. The second-highest scoring category was convenience, which a quarter of respondents said was most important to them, with 18% favouring sheer speed of delivery.

Of course retailers should be looking to meet these three needs as a priority; while cost and speed seem obvious concerns, based on my conversations with decision-makers, convenience is growing in importance. If you present potential customers the opportunity to choose a method of delivery that works for them, they will be likely to return as they will be confident in your ability to meet their needs again in the future.

But remember that thirst for convenience is not quenched when the order button has been clicked: UK adults like to stay in the driving seat and dictate the format in which they are sent notifications once an order has been placed. 23% of respondents said the most important service they could receive after placing an order online is being able to customise how updates are communicated (by text or email, for example). In the infancy of ecommerce it was understandable that all systems might not be totally synchronised, so confusing delivery status messages from unknown carriers could be forgiven, but that’s no longer the case. A fifth of respondents wanted the safety net of being able to alter their delivery date, timeslot or address after the initial order, and 17% said they needed the ability to enter special delivery instructions.

Delivering under pressure

Once retailers are offering potential customers the cost, convenience and speed they’re after, and are able to give them what they want once the order has been placed, that’s not the end of the story. You then have to be able to deliver the goods during peak periods and special shopping events and days. For example, the BRC says Black Friday 2014 saw a 2.2% increase in retail sales compared to the same period 12 months previously, and the shopping day is expected to be an even bigger one this year. It can cost retailers big time if they cannot handle a spike in orders, as the Customer Pulse research revealed that more than half of UK adults (56%) who experienced an issue during peak times in 2014 are likely to avoid shopping with that retailer this year.

To stop that unthinkable scenario from happening, retailers need to ensure they have effective delivery management processes in place. They can vary wildly within the industry, with some systems being almost held together by sticky tape. Today’s delivery management platforms need to be flexible and be able to manage a diverse carrier network. Running on near real-time information when it comes to delivery windows and giving retailers the ability to add new carriers to the mix at short notice, should be a prerequisite. With this in place, retailers can head into peak trading periods full of confidence.

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