Evolved peak presents new opportunities

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Simon Croft (left), carrier account director at MetaPack, explores some of the growing trends we can expect to see this peak season.

The period from Black Friday up to and beyond Christmas Day is always hotly debated, but as the industry has honed its response to this annual consumer extravaganza, it is not always the obvious outcomes that determine overall success, particularly when it comes to shaping the relationships between customers, carriers and retailers in the months to follow.

We already know from tracking data on our own delivery platform that volumes are on the increase year-on-year. In fact, while we fully expect to see the same kinds of peaks following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, expected growth of around 20% does not just reflect deliveries on those two occasions but across a much longer period of time.

Amazon, the arbiter of e-commerce trends, has been kicking off its Black Friday deals earlier and earlier and clever retailers are following suit. Why squeeze all the good offers into one or two days and put yourself under pressure, when you can do it over six or eight weeks?

Out of the chaos that reigned just a few years ago, our industry has evolved and both retailers and carriers now have well-rehearsed procedures in place to ensure they can meet their delivery promises.

We are more confident than ever that 2017 will mark another smooth peak season. What will be interesting about it is the extent to which customer buying behavior will make its impact. Today’s consumer is accustomed to a wide range of choices when it comes to how they receive their goods.

We know from recent research that free and low-cost delivery encourages consumers to buy more during peak online sales periods. However, one-hour, two-hour and same-day delivery options are now appearing more frequently on retailer checkout pages, as is the option to ‘try-before-you-buy’, and we can be sure that consumers will expect those options to also be available during peak.

In fact, given the urgency to receive goods at this time of year, it’s likely that customers who have not previously selected these options, will try them. This could be challenging for both retailers and carriers but it also provides a unique opportunity to deliver an enhanced customer experience, which will pay dividends if customers then decide to use these lucrative options more often.

Delivery features such as ‘track-and-trace’, ‘inflight changes’, ‘deliver to neighbor’ and ‘leave safe’ are now so much a part of the carrier/retailer offer to customers that we don’t anticipate any problem with these being successfully fulfilled throughout the period.

Carriers are already investing in staff, vehicles and sortation capacity in order to be prepared, and months ago agreed the capacity levels they would offer to retailers. Those carriers that normally provide one-day or three- to five-day delivery support will continue to do that, even with the rise in volumes.

What could have a negative impact, however, is if any decide to relax their restrictions and we then experience a higher peak in orders than expected, or we hit bad weather which slows deliveries down.

Retailers will want to take advantage of increased spending by customers and will do everything they can to encourage loyalty and return business. A big part of this will be fulfilling delivery promises and finding a balance between managing stock and working with carriers to help them manage capacity.

In the last two years, peak objectives have focused on successfully controlling this intense period and meeting customer expectations without a hitch. This year, however, we know that solid processes are in place and can be relied upon, so we are more likely to see a wider variety of delivery options being offered by retailers in a bid to differentiate themselves from the competition. Peak as a testing ground? This could be interesting.

November 21, 2017

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