Here we go again, it’s that time of year: Singles Day, Black Friday (or Blackvember), Christmas deals and New Year sales. Retailers are not holding back when it comes to sales events in the last quarter of the year.
However, the culmination of several sales at once presents retailers with several logistical challenges, and with consumers in 2018 being more demanding than ever in terms of delivery options, customer service and returns, this amounts to a great deal of pressure on the supply chain.
Popular delivery options
For online shops with physical stores, this is an opportunity not only to reduce the pressure on the supply chain but to drive vital in-store traffic through Collect in-store options. For retailers, this is an extremely cost-effective option, with goods being transported from warehouses to the store anyway as part of their stock replenishment process.
Online businesses without physical stores also have the possibility to offer pickup in a store via the delivery option Click & Collect. This is an alternative to a standard delivery option and is especially important when the customer doesn’t know if they will be home and/or can’t receive parcels at work. This is also quite a cheap delivery alternative for online shops as the carrier only has to deliver the parcels at stores, often in bulk with less stops than standard deliveries.
Another delivery alternative and one which is a relative newcomer to the market are delivery locker services. These again offer the convenience to the customer of being able to pick up their item at their leisure, whilst knowing that their item is secure. However, one possible advantage the locker systems have over click and collect, is that the receiver doesn’t need to queue up in-store to take delivery.
For those shoppers not wanting to wait for delivery, or those who have simply left their Christmas shopping until the last minute, there are the old stalwarts of same day and next day services. Whilst these create extra time pressure on supply chains, they are now an expected option for many shoppers, and retailers could find themselves losing sales if they don’t offer them at a reasonable cost (or free).
How to offer splendid customer service
With all these deliveries going out the door, retailers can expect to see a spike in their Where Is My Order (WISMO) calls from customers especially on same day and next day deliveries. To manage this, retailers need to ensure that they’re receiving the latest information from carriers regarding their deliveries in the form of track and trace details, notifying their customers during delivery, and/or have systems in place to make sure that customer service can access this information quickly in case of a WISMO call.
Once products are out the door there is then the added pressure on the returns process. One survey after Black Friday 2017 indicated that 51% of shoppers purchased clothing and/or footwear in last year’s Black Friday sales online, and with research suggesting that online fashion returns could equate to 30% of sales, this is a huge number of returns. I recently attended a returns specific conference in London which indicated that returns aren’t given the time they should by some retailers who often see them as a loss generator rather than an opportunity.
As highlighted throughout the conference, companies who give returns a high level of importance are seeing huge growth in sales. Important takeaways from the conference include:
- Remove any friction in the online returns process.
- Make returns policy and return procedure easy to find on the website.
- Good return procedures generate loyal customers.
- Offer free return to store, if you have a physical store. This way you can create a personal in-store experience and have the possibility to upsell.
Managing these varying delivery and returns options in a warehouse environment can be extremely challenging for even the most seasoned warehouse professionals. However, automating as much of the process as possible goes a long way.
Whilst many warehouses are still a long way from robots operating in their pick and pack teams, they can at least put some systems in place to ensure a worry-free busy period. These include implementing a suitable order management system, ERP or WMS in plenty of time, have agreements in place with several carriers who specialise in alternate delivery methods and returns, and finding a system that can manage their carriers, shipping rules and label production so that warehouse operations run like a finely tuned machine.