Online ordering is very much here to stay – and a good customer experience demands a good post-sale fulfilment experience. Consider the case of a consumer who moves to a new house and orders a microwave and refrigerator from the same big-box retailer. After waiting for five days, the consumer asks about delivery, only to find that the while the microwave was available for immediate shipment, the retailer decided to wait for the refrigerator to arrive at the distribution facility.
The consumer, understandably frustrated and upset, goes to social media to complain to the largest possible audience. For the retailer, the lesson is this: The customer may love the product and the purchasing experience, but poor last mile fulfilment can negate everything that came before.
In today’s world, retail and logistics enterprises that offer a superior fulfillment experience will enjoy a substantial competitive advantage. Here are seven effective strategies for enhancing customer experience during last mile fulfilment.
Strategy #1: Offer omni-channel fulfilment options
Retailers got creative about fulfilment options during the pandemic with curbside pickup, buying online and picking up in the store (sometimes called BOPIS), shipping from the store, shipping to the store, and even the “endless aisle,” which integrates the physical and virtual experiences. Retail customers like these options: according to lbbonline research, 50% of consumers plan to continue using BOPIS going forward. While American retailers have adapted quickly to this new normal for fulfilment, European retailers are a bit behind. According to a report from Shopify, only 11% to 24% of adults in select European countries are using click-and-collect compared to a 39% adoption rate in the United States. Having omnichannel fulfilment options is a retailing necessity in the future.
Strategy #2: Provide delivery date flexibility
Consumers expect complete control when it comes to delivery dates. True flexibility in delivery dates implies offering same-day delivery (SDD) as well as offering a delivery date weeks ahead. While consumers look for instant fulfilment for items such as grocery or daily casuals, specific categories such as furniture or home décor require advance planning in advance. The same applies when it comes to planning for holidays and special occasions (birthdays, anniversaries). Retailers can offer a wide range of delivery dates from SDD to weeks in the future through effective capacity planning with their third-party logistics (3PL) partners. This helps them manage their inventories and also plan for transportation capacity to match demand with supply.
Strategy #3: Enable real-time transparency and dynamic notifications
Consumers value – and expect – real-time transparency throughout the order fulfilment lifecycle. They appreciate knowing about the status of their orders, when they are being prepared for shipment, when they are actually shipped, where a shipment is at any moment, and, of course, the estimated time of delivery. Retailers can enable real-time tracking and dynamic notifications by integrating their platforms with those of their third-party logistics partners, including point of sale systems, operations management systems, transportation management systems, scheduling, route planning, and delivery platforms.
Strategy #4: Communicate flexibly and intelligently
Obviously, consumers want to know the status of the fulfilment process, so communication is a key element of the overall customer experience. But communications should be done with flexibility and intelligence. Here are four keys to remember when it comes to communications:
- Use multiple touchpoints for order scheduling: Be mindful of consumers’ channel preferences when reaching out to let them choose a delivery date. Some people prefer social media platforms like WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, while others would rather be contacted by email, text, or through a mobile app (and some still do prefer phone calls).
- Leverage personalized channels: Deriving channel affinities from historical data of consumers can enable personalized experiences. Selecting the right channel can maximize response rates, saving time for the fulfilment team.
- Establish two-way communications for hassle-free coordination: While it’s essential to provide status updates to consumers, it’s also critical to enable consumers to reach out to whoever has real-time access to shipment information (e.g., customer service, scheduling team, dispatchers, and drivers). Two-way communications can help prevent missed deliveries and avoid extra trips to and from the warehouse.
- Optimize communications: It is possible to communicate too often, which can lead to communications fatigue that negatively affects the customer experience. Retailers and third-party logistics partners should consider restricting outbound messaging frequency. Is there a need for real-time updates on every leg of the shipping journey? (For some buyers, the answer is a definite “yes,” but for some it’s a definite “no.”) Enterprises should consider personalization using insights derived from an artificial intelligence platform – or let consumers choose what to be notified about and automate notifications with a rules-based engine.
Strategy #5: Use a rules-based Order Management System for multiple shipments
As the example in the introduction suggests, assuming how people want to receive orders can lead to a poor CX. It’s a balancing act, because waiting can lead to disappointment for consumers, while separate shipments will raise transportation costs. An Order Management System (OMS) configured with business rules can streamline multiple shipment handling to optimize the trade-off.
Strategy #6: Enable contactless last mile
While shipments of grocery and apparel can generally be left at the front door (and verified with Electronic Proof of Delivery [ePOD] or an e-signature), larger items usually must be accepted in person, especially if they require assembly and installation. Retailers also need to digitize the return process as much as possible. A contactless last mile experience can be enabled by training delivery team and equipping them with scannable mobile apps (and personal protective equipment and sanitization supplies).
Strategy #7: Empower associates with cross-functional intelligence
Empowering associates at every stage of the delivery value chain with real-time intelligence can help retailers and 3PL partners build trust and loyalty with their shoppers. Here are a few examples of capabilities that can help associates across business functions enhance fulfilment experience and drive repeat purchases:
- Customer Service: Dynamic shipment tracking, contextual product recommendations
- Scheduling team: Dynamic shipment tracking, consumer channel affinities
- Driver & Delivery team: Dynamic route updates, consumer communications
These common-sense recommendations about last mile fulfilment have substantial technological repercussions, of course. To make last mile fulfilment into a source of competitive advantage, retail enterprises, and their partners, should start with a thorough and careful assessment of their own capabilities (and the capabilities of their main competitors). Then it’s time to create a capability roadmap and start choosing the technologies to turn that roadmap into reality.
Making optimal decisions – What capabilities should be prioritized? What should be done in-house? What can or should be outsourced? What is the right technology? – is not easy. Partnering with domain and technology consultants for a comprehensive capability assessment is essential for profitably embarking on the right roadmap to deliver a customer-first fulfilment experience.