Going the extra mile for the final mile

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With a range of options forever at their fingertips, customers naturally assume exceptional customer service to come as standard. Yet while these high expectations are not new, disruption as a result of Covid-19 has encouraged customers to hold a stronger emotional connection with ordering online and receiving a delivery – more so than ever before.

E-commerce is now offering customers a sense of control, buying goods and services at a time when they feel they have little control over their living circumstances. In turn, brands have found themselves rapidly shifting their operations – including both stock levels and logistics – to support a huge percentage growth in orders and customer demand.

But why is delivery key to offering the best possible experience? With many brands having heavily invested in their in-store experiences and product offerings for a number of years, delivery practices need to receive the same investment. For many retailers, there is a huge disconnect between the exceptional store and physical brand experience offered and the resulting delivery experience. Yet most importantly, many organizations don’t seem to realize that delivery is the last crucial experience that will solidify customer satisfaction as their lasting impression of a brand.

Methods of control
With services like Amazon Prime demonstrating the capabilities of a well-oiled delivery service, customer expectations have been set high. In turn, this has led to an influx of new delivery practices in sectors that we once did not expect, such as same-day supermarket delivery.

This new desire for control held by customers also includes their desire to know the specific details of their order at any given moment. Arguably, with this awareness also comes the need to make edits to their package at any time in the order, picking and delivery cycle. This includes the need to order, pay, track, receive and return wholly on their own terms, at a specific time of day. These expectations are the new normal, despite ‘all day’ delivery options not causing significant issues while many customers now remain at home during the pandemic.

With this, customers now have a new control over the future of delivery infrastructures, demanding new flexible options and often at a fraction of the price. Modern infrastructures now need to be technologically advanced and supple enough to offer both diverse and cost-effective options, and as a result, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of premier delivery subscription options on offer.

But customers do not care about the financial cost to the retailer, making it a new issue for brands to overcome. For example, options offered by ASOS and Tesco are available for as little as £5 (US$6.40) per month – a small token that sets the benchmark for how little customers are willing to pay extra for a premium service.

Store versus online
One thing that has become clear amid the Covid-19 disruption is that the ‘bricks versus clicks’ image of retail is coming to an end, and delivery expectations are reflecting this. These two channels are now blended and multichannel, more than ever. In a similar way to how a customer would enter a store and pick up physical goods at a time they deem convenient, this same customer also expects their orders to be delivered at the time of their choice too. Live tracking and management of deliveries and a seamless blend between online and offline is no longer a ‘nice to have’ – it is the new benchmark for customer service and is an essential offering for survival of brands.

Retailers throughout the UK are trialling a number of possible solutions to solve the ongoing disconnect between in-store experiences and online ordering. With customer expectations high, increasingly personalized solutions are hitting the market. During the Covid-19 pandemic, this has been proven by the number of leisure establishments attempting to bring their services to their customer’s doors while being closed. For example, in April 2020, Central London pubs offered ‘pulled pints to your door’. Despite this offering being on the extreme end of the scale, it demonstrates the expectations and high benchmarks that are faced by retailers in adversity and other on-demand goods organizations.

But how else can retailers and their delivery partners mitigate the new final-mile demands that customers are placing on delivery chains? And how can it be done cost-effectively? One thing to note is that customer expectations now often combine aspects of both physical and online store experiences. So, with valuable stock often sitting in stores and unable to be sold through e-commerce channels, investment needs to be focused on how to bring hyperlocal fulfilment to add another layer to the omnichannel experience. Localized ‘ship from store’ delivery is addressing this problem, offering cost-efficient and eco-friendly ‘in-territory’ delivery for customers despite the main warehouse being closed.

Changing behaviors
With heightened delivery expectations becoming the new normal, retailers must do all they can to assess the needs of their customer base. Despite customers being able to order items for next-day delivery while they remain at home during the pandemic, retailers must show that they understand and sympathize with customers who still enjoy the ‘event’ of shopping. Making the journey seem as connected and seamless as possible is key to brand reputation and survival.

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