Diversifying through delivery in an omnichannel world

 

According to psychologists, it takes around 66 days to form a new habit. As lockdown hits week 13, with nearly 90 days under our belts, shoppers have formed many new habits – and one of them is shopping online.

 

The lockdown has done many things, but one of the more positive ones is usher in a new golden age of eCommerce. While many retailers and brands had been tinkering with selling direct to consumers (D2C) online, many had yet to perfect it. The coronavirus pandemic, and the many new habits it has forced consumers to adopt, has changed all that.

 

And this has fundamentally changed retail. It has, whether retailers and brands like it or not, made retail truly omnichannel – changing what it means to be a retailer and how any retailer or brand sells to its customers.

 

Adapting to this change – and the change that still lies ahead as the current new normal adjusts again – is based on diversification into omni-channel retail.

 

In a recent webinar hosted by delivery management company Parcelhub, the true nature of this change was laid bare. With retailers and brands now having to sell online, the usual tropes of price and brand value have sort of gone out of the window, replaced by a need for better customer experience.

 

“We did some research with Trustpilot before the pandemic and found that 77% of the complaints seen on Trustpilot’s reviews weren’t about products, but about service,” Stuart Pick, VP of alliances and strategic partnerships at Brightpearl told the webinar audience. “This is now more pressing than ever with everyone having to sell online.”

 

As practically every retailer in the world has created an online presence to sell during lockdown – with mixed results – so eCommerce has become more competitive. Where once price was the over-riding factor in consumer choice when purchasing, now experience is the differentiator.

 

“As many as 45% of people have said that they have bought something online that they have never bought before during lockdown; this is a lot of new people shopping online for things – and if they meet resistance or don’t get the experience they want, then they will go elsewhere,” stressed Pick, who himself bough a shed online during lockdown.

 

Delivery is key

What consumers want from their online experience today is one that encompasses more than just a nice looking and functional website. In the new world order of eCommerce ushered in by coronavirus, experience covers finding what they want, getting it delivered when they want and being happy with what they buy.

 

The delivery part of this process can’t be overstated. “Many retailers have had to adapt pretty much overnight,” said Ian Moore, MD of TymeOnline – who also is a first-time, online shed buyer. “Do you have the website in place, can you use marketplaces and do you have the carriers?”

 

He continued: “Some 50,000 new sellers joining eBay in April alone and this has put a huge demand on carriers – planning how you deliver to meet the new levels of customer experience demanded is now crucial.”

 

Moore gives the example of how one of TymeOnline’s clients saw demand online skyrocket when lockdown began. “It began taking orders in droves, then found that its carrier was limiting deliveries to 80 items,” he said. “This meant that suddenly the retailer had the demand and had the product, but couldn’t deliver.”

 

This is where agility with delivery becomes a vital ingredient in the new online selling regime. “We had to contact Parcelhub, which aggregates delivery from a wide range of carriers, and managed to get a better delivery system in place for a client that could also match their orders. Last week they were doing 800 items a day,” Moore said.

 

Joined up experience

For many brands that have traditionally sold B2B, the shift to online is not only one of shifting to selling online, but to selling individual items instead of goods by the pallet or even lorry load.

 

“It changes everything,” Pick said. “It changes warehousing, staffing needs – and their jobs – how they take payments, delivery and customer service. Stock now needs to be shipped item by item, which has implications for picking and packing, it means payments are being taken individually and items have to be shipped individually and often very rapidly.”

 

But it is joining this all together to make a cohesive eCommerce strategy that is a real challenge for B2B brands that are trying to shift to B2C. “Making it all work together is vital to deliver customer experience, and that is a hard transition to make – and one that has to be made rapidly,” Pick added.

 

Perhaps the biggest headache here though is in customer service. With experience being everything in the current climate, handling customers’ questions and complaints is vital – and that isn’t something B2B brands have any real experience of.

 

James Hayes, director of business development at Parcelhub told the webinar: “Brands have gone from handling perhaps one call from a retailer about a pallet of product to handling calls, potentially, about every single product that would have been on that pallet.”

The same applies to picking and packing, labelling and getting product out the door, warned Hayes.

 

The answer, believes Moore lies in automation. “Automating as much as possible, so when something is sold it clears from the inventory across all platforms, gets a label and is shipped by the most effective carrier – automatically assigned – and is automatically tracked.”

 

Hayes agreed: “We have seen many more WISMO [Where is my order?] calls coming in – usually before the actual ‘your package will arrive on…’ date. We have tried to automate this to handle the increased volume and help deliver the level of service needed.”

 

Moving beyond lockdown

With lockdown easing and stores starting to open, retail is set for another change. While the sudden closure of stores in March caught many retailers on the hop, they have had many weeks to now refine their online and marketplace offerings.

 

Now they have to look at how to get back to being omnichannel, with stores brought into the mix – and at that is a tough call. No one can predict just how many consumers are set to come back to stores, nor what impact that will have on online.

 

If new habits have been formed, it is likely that more people will continue to shop online going forward. For the next few months, fear of coronavirus is likely to see store footfall remain low. Will that continue into the golden quarter? Will it still be like it next Spring? No one knows… which is why continuing to plan to be flexible is now more vital than ever.

 

“If you sell on multiple channels and sites, you need to be really on top of managing inventory, as well as speed, and delivery,” warned Pick. “You have got to make sure that you know what has been sold and where and if it’s been delivered or not – you can’t sell things that you have run out of, as that leads to perhaps the worst experience of all.”

 

With so many more entrants in the market, service is going to be key – even when the shops have opened-up again and the picture of how consumers now behave has changed again.

 

While the issues of delivering customer service to shoppers in the new world and building loyalty are key, keeping your suppliers loyal and happy is also going to play a big role, believes Moore.

 

“You have to also extend loyalty and service to suppliers,” he told the webinar. “You have to make sure that, say, your carriers are working with you to help you deliver. Keeping them onside is a vital – and often overlooked – part of the process.”

 

Conclusions

The coronavirus pandemic has changed life beyond all recognition and across the board. For retailers this has thrown up a range of challenges: the need to embrace online, the need to be customer focussed and the need to deliver the best possible experience.

 

For many this has been something on the ‘to-do’ list for some time. The pandemic has made it happen. Now retailers are competing in new ways and in new markets and need to adapt how they do things accordingly.

 

Pre-pandemic, delivery was starting to emerge as a key differentiator between brands and retailers and this has been magnified by the change in how people shop.

 

Moving ahead, though, these changes are likely to stick, as well as other changes in consumer behaviour emerging as the landscape changes again – and again. What is clear is that retailers need to be ready to change quickly – and that means staying on top of delivery.

 

About Parcelhub – where proactive delivery management comes as standard

 

Parcelhub is a bespoke multi-carrier delivery management and proactive tracking support solution. Flexible and scalable, its unique portfolio of services integrates seamlessly with marketplaces, eCommerce platforms and order management systems, providing hundreds of multi-channel retailers, global brands and wholesalers with one access point to 20+ carriers and 600+ delivery options.