Disrupting delivery with better customer service

Online giant Asos estimates that a quarter of women’s orders are returned. That’s an incredibly high return rate, and it creates an incredible amount of waste. 

There are a few reasons why women are returning so many clothes that they order online, and they are worth investigating. But the fact of the matter is that current retail delivery is inefficient, environmentally damaging and ripe for disruption. And improving the experience for the customer is the first step to tackling it.

The extent of the problem

A 95% spike in eCommerce returns is prompting brands to re-evaluate lenient return policies. This is a good thing because it should inadvertently decrease the amount of waste that returns create. According to one estimate, in the US returns alone create 5 billion pounds of landfill waste and 15 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually, equivalent to the amount of rubbish produced by five million people in a year. In the EU, total packaging waste in 2016 amounted to nearly 87 million tonnes or about 170kg per person.

While data can be used to see why a product is being returned and potentially improve sizing issues, the delivery process itself is also contributing to this spike in returns. A Which? survey quizzed two thousand shoppers about their online orders between November 2018 and January 2019 and found that 54% had at least one delivery that did not go to plan. It’s no surprise then that McKinsey & Co, found that 25% of consumers would pay a premium to receive products the same day. Customer experience shouldn’t just stop at the point of sale – it needs to continue to delivery.

Improving the customer experience

According to a report by I-AM, 74% of millennials say they prefer physical stores compared to shopping online despite the fact that high street chains have closed nearly 6,000 stores so far this year. However, research by the Gensler Research Institute, indicated that only 56% of consumers have fun shopping. Having fun while shopping usually comes down to the experience, which is something only a quarter of retailers are currently focusing on. It’s safe to say there’s a gap between what customers need to enjoy the shopping experience, and what retailers are currently providing.

Consumers miss out on the tactile element of shopping when they’re online, which can make it more difficult to make decisions about their purchases. Some companies are trying to tackle this. Renowned online direct-to-consumer beauty company Glossier recently opened a pop-up shop, allowing customers to test and experience products directly. Similarly, Amazon’s Treasure Truck sells discounted products from a truck that travels around the country, letting people order online and experience in person. Fusing online with physical experiences creates an optimum shopping experience, and this extends to the delivery process as well.

Tackling operational challenges

An online retailer is only as good as its ability to meet logistical challenges. An analysis by the consultancy McKinsey and Business of Fashion found that operational efficiency was one of the main differentiators for the 20 fashion companies responsible for the vast majority of the industry’s profits

When there are thousands of customers placing orders online, it creates complexities when finding goods and shipping them out quickly. Retailers need to leverage data and Artificial Intelligence to determine what’s being returned, what didn’t sell, and what they should produce less of.

Alternative delivery options

Some (but not nearly enough) retailers have noticed that the standard inefficient and impersonal delivery process is ripe for disruption. Farfetch now offers 90-minute delivery in 10 cities globally, while Net-a-Porter is striving to improve the shopping experience by providing its top tier with a ‘You Try, We Wait’ same day service. Waitrose is also trialling a ‘While You’re Away’ service in south London, which gives delivery drivers a unique code that grants them temporary access to the customer’s property via new lock technology.

When it comes to overhauling delivery, innovation is key. A first logical step is to switch to electric vehicles, something that most companies can do right away. There’s also an opportunity to incorporate elements of traditional concierge services, which allow shoppers to try on at home with a stylist so that they’re more familiar with the brand’s sizing and quality before buying. Adopting this more personal delivery experience also helps bridge the gap between shopping online and in physical shop locations.

When shopping online, the experience doesn’t end until the item has been delivered. That’s why brands should be coming up with new ways to overhaul the current delivery system and address the number of returns they’re getting. If they do, they’ll make their customers happy, while improving their carbon footprint.