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How to improve delivery times and reduce returns

Imagine this scenario: a customer orders from your website and within 24 hours, demands to know where their parcel is - even though they checked-out using the economy service level for delivery. When the parcel arrives at its destination, the customer wants to return the item because it is the incorrect size. Does this sound familiar to you?

In all likelihood, most online merchants will probably have faced this scenario in some form at least once since starting their business. These headache-inducing, stress-producing situations can be reduced and perhaps eradicated completely with the right processes in place. In this article, we explore how to improve delivery times, manage customer expectations and reduce returns, and thus ultimately increase your customer satisfaction across the board.

Improve delivery times

Unless your company has its own fleet of delivery vehicles, most online merchants rely on courier companies to deliver their orders to their customers on time. Unfortunately, courier companies do not always deliver within the specified service level time periods, leaving online merchants completely at the mercy of the couriers they are shipping with.

Although not much can be done about speeding up this delivery process, delivery times can immediately be improved by fulfilling orders and booking collection with the courier as soon as possible after the order has been placed by the customer. The quicker the order is ready for collection, the sooner the courier can pick up the parcel and start the delivery process. It is also extremely important to keep customers informed on the status of their parcels, either manually or by using the email notification feature on uAfrica. Along with the status updates, it is recommended to allow your customers to track their parcels online. It may not speed up the process, but it does improve the entire experience for the customer - something that plays into our next talking point.

Manage customer expectations

Notification emails that update customers on the status of their parcels, as well as allowing customers to track their parcels online will help manage customers expectations. Managing customer expectations is vital to good customer service. As the saying goes, “Under-promise but over-deliver”. For this reason, it is always recommended to manage expectations in a reasonable and realistic manner.

A method followed by various uAfrica merchants is to add a description to the service levels offered at check-out. For example, although the economy service level usually takes between 48 to 72 hours to deliver, some merchants opt to change the description of the service level to “delivery between three and five days”. This small change better manages the customer’s expectations - rather let the customer be surprised by faster delivery than disappointed by a late parcel.

Another method that can be implemented when using Real-Time Rates on uAfrica is to edit the rates to show the lead times upon checkout. You can activate this on uAfrica by selecting the checkbox next to “Show estimated delivery date”. This will then show as part of the Rate Name. This estimated date is compiled based on (1) delivery time statistics generated by uAfrica for relevant service level, and (2) the Lead Time (in days) that you have added to this text box (see below example of how this will display at check-out). In other words, you can even manually add additional days to the expected delivery day to better manage customer expectations.





These are just two simple examples of managing customer expectations that can be implemented easily into your business processes. These methods are unfortunately not a “one size fits all” kind of method, and thus it is important for each online merchant to see what works best for their customer base.

Reduce returns

The rate of returns increases as customers switch from physical shopping to online shopping. As revealed on Practical Ecommerce, “According to David Sobie, co-founder of Happy Returns, which operates a network of physical return locations for items purchased online, ecommerce returns average about 15 percent, with apparel returns closer to 30 percent. In comparison, only 5 to 10 percent of physical-store purchases are returned.” Unfortunately, the biggest problem with returns is that the cost of the returns, in monetary terms and in time and effort, falls on the merchant.

The costs can affect the bottom line and thus, it is up to the merchants to try and reduce returns. The obvious solution is to make the return policy stricter, but merchants then risk losing customers altogether. The question then becomes: How do I streamline the returns process to benefit both my business and my customers? Customers value, and often expect, a quick and easy return process. In fact, it can often be the deciding factor when purchasing online!

The goal is to reduce returns as much as possible before the customer has even checked out online. The best way to do this is to provide as much information as possible about the item. For apparel, provide customers with accurate sizing charts, allowing them to feel completely comfortable with the measurements before they place their order. Provide information on the materials used, the dimensions of products, the look and feel. The more details customers have upfront, the less likely they are to return the order.

However, returns are inevitable and merchants must have a system in place to handle returns in a quick and streamlined manner. uAfrica offers a simple and fast return process for merchants. With the click of a button, a collection request is sent to the courier to pick up the parcel again from the customer requesting the return. The item is picked up and shipped back to the merchant for exchange. But this can become quite an expensive process due to the additional shipping costs, as the exchanged item will once again need to be shipped to the merchant. Another option is to offer store credit instead of exchanging the item. This means that although the shipping cost to return the item to the merchant still needs to be covered, the cost of shipping the new item will be paid for by the merchant when they use their store credit. Merchants can even allow customers to return items to their physical store or address. Regardless of the returns process, it remains a costly, but necessary issue.

The three issues outlined above are necessary divisions of an online business that merchants need to place an emphasis on in order to manage their costs and run a streamlined fulfillment and shipping process. When set up correctly, these processes can improve overall customer satisfaction. They can even be the deciding factor in whether or not a customer chooses to purchase from that online retailer - the ultimate clincher!

Useful resources:
uAfrica.com
uAfrica takes the messiness out of running a successful online store. With quotes from various couriers, automated shipping labels and a multichannel feature that updates inventory and centralises order management. Logistics has never been easier!
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