There are many facets of an e-commerce retail business that contribute to its success. From product design to marketing, retailers have endless opportunities to grow a loyal customer base. However, due to today’s retail giants, shipping has become one of the most important aspects of an e-commerce business. According to a recent study by ShipStation, 80% of consumers say the shipping experience is what stands out the most in their online shopping experience because it’s the final touchpoint they have with a brand.

Rising Expectations

More and more frequently, news headlines showcase the ongoing shipping speed race between Amazon and Walmart, from two-day shipping to same-day capabilities. Though such convenience was previously unimaginable, consumers have quickly become accustomed to speedy shipments. In fact, 88% of consumers say that Amazon’s shipping options have increased their expectations of shipping speeds from other online brands. Now more than ever, shipping is a crucial consideration in consumers’ purchasing decisions.

In addition, shoppers now consider the speed and cost of shipping just as much as they consider factors like the retailer’s product selection, pricing, or customer service. Specifically, shoppers are two times more likely to value the cost and speed of shipping over customer service, and 39% are more likely to say the cost of shipping is more important than product selection. This is critical information for any online seller trying to compete with today’s retail giants. For some, this might mean a change in work processes and budget in order to ensure customers’ shipping expectations are met.

Long-term Loyalty

Retailers put in a great deal of effort to create and perfect their product to ensure a happy, long-term customer. However, ShipStation’s research shows that product satisfaction is not enough to ensure they’ll shop again. Specifically, it shows the shipping experience’s influence on long-term loyalty, with 88% saying it directly impacts whether they will be a repeat customer.

And there’s a lot at stake for retailers that get it wrong. According to the study, when it comes to negative shipping experiences, 90% say it negatively impacts their perception of the retailer and 88% say it makes them less likely to purchase from that retailer again in the future. Additionally, consumers aren’t afraid to share their negative experiences on the internet, which leaves a lasting impact on the brand: 56% of consumers say they would post a negative review based on a bad shipping experience, and 42% would share about their bad experience on social media.

Nailing the Basics

With such fierce shipping competition, e-commerce businesses must learn new ways to retain their customers and gain new ones. One way to meet customer expectations is getting it right in the fast or free shipping debate. ShipStation’s data shows that almost 70% of shoppers would rather wait longer for their delivery to avoid paying shipping costs. Also, 68% are more likely to cite the cost of shipping as “very important” compared to the speed of shipping.

Additionally, perfecting the returns process can give retailers a competitive edge. In fact, 72% of shoppers say return policies directly influence their online purchase decisions. Though 94% of consumers agree that brands should offer free returns, cost isn’t everything. Creating a hassle-free returns process is a low-budget alternative, with 63% of consumers considering ease of returns more today than they did just one year ago.

Because shoppers don’t differentiate between carriers and brands, it’s critical that e-commerce retailers implement an efficient, customer-focused shipping strategy. With careful planning and the right process in place, retailers can meet customers’ rising expectations and remain competitive in the e-commerce retail race.

Andrea McFarling is VP of Marketing at ShipStation.