From a client perspective, the retail shopping and purchasing experience has changed dramatically over the last 10 to 15 years. For instance, today’s digital economy supports the distribution and sale of an infinite number of goods and services through the Internet, which makes the buying and selling of goods immediate and without boundaries. Consumers not only desire safe and speedy transactions, but they are now in the driver’s seat and want to be in complete control. As a result, product has become a commodity and the overall shopping experience is playing a greater role in how value is determined. 

During the last decade, two of the biggest changes in retail models that have emerged are the “click and collect” model, which is “buying an item online, picking it up in a store,” and direct-to-consumer shipping. Both of these models are changing the way a retailer reaches its customers and the way those customers are making buying decisions. Consumer loyalty and expectations have also changed with these models in terms of who a shopper does business with, how they do business, and the decision they make about returning to that retailer for their next purchase.

In a world where the customer is always right, the ability to build loyalty now must extend to the entire consumer experience regardless of what part of the omni-channel world they uses to make their purchase. Retailers should address the following four key areas of consumer delivery if they expect to create the kind of experience their customers expect:

1) Reasonable shipping costs. Customers today are looking for packages to be delivered to them in both a timely and cost-effective manner. The concept of free shipping is not new. However, the ability to provide free shipping in under three days is rapidly becoming table stakes. Customers respond favorably and loyally to free shipping, but they are also willing to pay something for expedited shipping. That something is a small amount with the expectation of one or maybe two days for that price.

2) Flexible delivery. In an omni-channel world, the purchase is just beginning. Today, customers are not only looking to shop through their favorite channel, but they also want to have items provided to them in a channel that is consistent with meeting their needs. For instance, being able to seamlessly provide store pickup or direct delivery to the customer’s home or place of work, and even the notion of same day delivery, are now becoming critical factors in customer loyalty.

3) Communication and visibility. It’s not enough for just the parcel carrier to provide tracking. The retailer must understand the progress of a shipment to the consumer, help ensure it is delivered, and even provide the opportunity for feedback to effectively build a new kind of relationship that leads to return business.

4) Effective returns. Returns have long been a source of frustration for both the customer and the retailer. Returns now must become a new opportunity for retailers to make a positive statement to customers regardless of the reason for the return. Retailers must be proactive in providing the mechanism for clients to return problem purchases. Also, retailers must embrace the notion of online purchases in sufficient quantities for the consumer to test the product and return those that don’t meet their standards.

Regardless of the method, customers today are looking to the retailer to provide them with an experience that differentiates them from their competitors. The retailer’s ability to provide effective solutions for shipping and returns is fundamental to building loyalty with a customer who is always right.
Jim Hendrickson is Vice President and General Manager, Logistic Solutions, Pitney Bowes Inc.