Does your online shipping and delivery cut the mustard?

Red post box

It may not be the most glamorous area of e-commerce, but shipping and delivery is a fundamental part of the online buying process and underestimating its importance can have a detrimental effect on the success of your business.

Why is shipping and delivery so important?

Get your shipping and delivery strategy right and you are rewarded with increased levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty. Get it wrong and you risk reducing your profit margin, alienating customers and damaging your brand image.

Customers expectations rise as they become increasingly web savvy and research findings repeatedly tell us that delivery has a direct influence on a customers buying decision.

According to research carried out on behalf of MetaPack:

  • 68% of potential customers abandon online sales at the delivery page
  • 42.5% of customers look at the delivery pages first
  • It costs 10 times the cost of the original delivery when a delivery fails first time

More food for thought…

Research findings from a recent ComScore White Paper on behalf of UPS  found that although 83% of respondents were happy with online shopping overall, some of the lowest satisfaction scorings were in the area of delivery and returns.

In addition, a IMRG UK Home Delivery Review 2013 found that:

  • 74% of consumers said that a good delivery experience would encourage them to shop with again with a specific retailer
  • 75% would like access to clear delivery information prior to purchase
  • 80% would like online tracking
  • 78% would like the ability to choose a specific day for delivery

Five best practice tips to help meet customers expectationsDelivery Man

When planning your shipping and delivery strategy, spend time thinking about each of the areas of best practice suggested below and see if they can be incorporated into your shipping and delivery service.

1. Shipping rates

Make sure you are offering shipping and delivery rates that the customer deems fair. Getting the prices right for your market is essential.

“The setting of shipping fees have a dramatic effect on both conversion rates and profitability” (Internet Marketing, Chaffey et al, 2009)

Rates can be varied for the length of time it takes to deliver. For example checkout Amazon’s list of delivery options.  Amazon offers seven different shipping rates with costs varying depending on the time it takes for delivery. Customers can take advantage of free super saver delivery shipping if they are willing to wait 3-5 days for delivery, pay a premium for next day delivery or take advantage of Amazon Prime – Amazon’s loyalty programme where customers pay an annual fee to qualify for free next day purchase.

Know your product delivery costs  – find out exactly what the costs are to ship a product and make sure you check what your competitors are offering. With a bit of research you can offer shipping rates that keep your customers happy and your profit margins where they should be.

2. Free shipping

76% of online shoppers would like to see free shipping options at checkout (UPS ComScore research)

It is not always possible to offer free shipping on items, however wherever you can you should try to offer the option.  Customers are often willing to wait longer for something if it can be delivered for free (think Amazon). If you can’t offer a permanent free shipping option then think about using it as a sales promotion technique. For example, ‘spend £50 or over and get free delivery’ or a time limited offer such as ‘free delivery this week only’. If free shipping is really out of the question for your business then think about offering ‘real time’ delivery – where customers pay exactly what you have to pay to ship products.

3. Returns

Make your returns policy clear and as customer friendly as possible. Returns are always a bit of a pain, so try to make it as convenient as possible for a customer to return your item. For example, offer free returns with a pre-printed, postage-paid returns label that the customer can simply peel of and stick back onto to the original packaging. Think about signing up to a returns service such as Collect + where customers can drop their parcel into a local shop rather than having to go to the post office.

4. Flexibility

Try and be as flexible as possible with your delivery options. We’ve all experienced the frustration of waiting in all day for a delivery.  Where you can offer flexible delivery instructions that can be passed on to the delivery service such as, leave in garage, leave with a neighbour, leave behind the bins and so on. Where the customer has to be in to take receipt of their order then think about offering options where the customer can pick a delivery day, or a morning or afternoon time slot. Put yourself in your customers shoes and think about what kind of options you’d like.

5. Communication

Keep customers informed about the status of their order. People like to know when their order has been processed and is out for delivery. Implement delivery notification emails with shipping tracking references. Not only do you keep your customer happy, you are also cutting down on potential calls to your customer service department.  So when choosing your delivery service and shopping cart software think about whether they offer these options.

Shipping and delivery is a critical part of your online business, so keep your customer in mind and research your market.  And remember one size doesn’t fit all – have a shipping and delivery strategy that reflects your own individual business requirements.

 

We’d really love to hear your thoughts on this post, so please do leave a comment.

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How to use online vouchers, discount codes and e-coupons successfully

online disount vouchersCoupons and vouchers have long been used by businesses as a way of driving sales and encouraging loyalty.  I’m sure those of you old enough to have been around in the 1980’s will remember the famous green shield stamps and parents religiously collecting Esso’s Tiger Tokens to exchange for some questionable glassware.

The last few years have seen the use of online vouchers, discount codes and e-coupons grow significantly, and we’ve witnessed the increasing popularity of online discount voucher sites  – think Groupon, Wowcher, VoucherCodes and Savoo.  According to research by Savoo and Affiliate window, between 2009 and 2012 there has been nearly a 40% increase in the number of people searching for deals online.

A combination of general human instinct  (we all love a bargain), a long period of recession and customers becoming increasingly web savvy  (I can’t remember the last time I bought something from Boden without first checking what discount codes were available on the web) have probably all contributed to the rise of online voucher codes.  And, according to recent Forrester research conducted on behalf of vouchercodes.co.uk, growth looks set to continue:

“…the online voucher code market is still in a period of significant growth and advertisers utilising vouchers as a marketing channel enjoy a number of measurable benefits”

Benefits of online vouchers, coupons and discount codes

E-coupons can be downloaded and printed to be presented in-store or through a unique code that can be redeemed at an online store’s checkout. There are all sorts of ways businesses can incentivise customers with offers using online vouchers and discount codes. For example common offers include:

  • Buy one get one free
  • Money off codes such as 10% discount or  £5 off your order
  • Spend over £100 and save 20%
  • Free delivery and returns
  • Three for the price of two
  • Money off next order
  • Recommend a friend and receive money off your next order

Whatever type of incentive or offer you decide to implement make sure you think carefully the value of the offer and the length of time you intend to run the promotion – for example how would your profit margin fare if you offered 15% and free delivery for two weeks?

Voucher codes and e-coupons are a great, short term tactical sales promotion tool. They can be quick to set up, are easy to measure and split test, they are flexible and can be promoted at low cost via email, social media channels and on your website

The most effective ways to use vouchers, discount codes and coupons

1. Increase sales

Vouchers are a good way to increase sales to your website through incentivising prospective customers. For example you could use them to them to boost sales on a product that isn’t selling quite as well as you hoped or to invigorate sales to help reach a particular monthly sales target.

2. Rewards, loyalty and retention

Retention of customers is essential –  as we  all know our existing customers are our most profitable. Offering special loyalty rewards such as a £5 money off voucher can work really well. It makes a loyal customer feel valued and can lead to a spontaneous purchase.  Also, offering a new customer a discount on their next order is a good way of encouraging new customers to return.

3. Drive traffic and acquire new customers

A timely email containing an e-coupon can be an effective way of drawing new customers to your website. New customers may be more willing to take a risk and buy something if they feel they are getting a bit of a bargain to boot.

4. Launching new website, service or product

Online clothes retailers often use offer early bird discounts with next seasons previews. Voucher codes are a good way of generating interest in something new or trialling a new product.

5. Customer service tool

Often nothing appeases a disgruntle customer more than an apology with a nice discount voucher attached to it.

6. Generate leads and promote newsletter registrations

A discount code can be a good way of getting people to sign up to your newsletter – Gap and Banana Republic have successfully used a 15% discount code as  their as their newletter sign-up incentive for a few years.

Now a few words of caution…

  • Don’t overuse discount vouchers to the point that they reduce your overall profit margin.  Put objectives in place first and be clear about what  it is you want to achieve. Think about your incentive and for how long you should offer it for. Remember there is no one size fits all solution –  you must research and  test what works best for your business
  • If offering discounts make sure your discounts are genuine . You don’t want to fall foul of the Office of Fair Trading – I’m sure we’ve all seen the recent news on the investigation into some popular high street carpet and furniture companies.
  • Make sure any sales promotion activity you undertake complies with British Code of Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing. You can find full guidelines at http://www.cap.org.uk/Advertising-Codes.aspx

The internet has have provided us with  more options and an additional delivery channel but the key benefits remain the same. Used intelligently, with specific business objectives in mind then online vouchers, e-coupons and discount codes can be an invaluable sales promotion tool and I suspect, somewhat more appealing to this generation of savvy consumers than a set of crystal tumblers from their local petrol station.

7 website essentials for a successful online presence

Web Design Button on Keyboard The basic principles of good website design are universal, regardless of whether your website is a small brochure-only site or an all singing, all dancing interactive experience.  Understanding and implementing the following suggestions will help result in a positive online experience for your customers’ which in turn leads to the increased likelihood of sales and repeat visits for you.

Whether you are building the website yourself, outsourcing development to a web designer or reviewing your current online presence, an understanding of what makes for a good website is essential. By combining a number of key elements you are more likely to create a successful commercial website.

1. Start with your website goals

Before you begin have a good think about what it is you want from your website – what purpose does it need to serve? Are you looking to sell your products online and therefore need it to be e-commerce enabled? Do you need a site that serves as an online showcase or catalogue for all your products? Or is it primarily an additional channel to enable customers to contact you? It is important to have a clear idea about your website’s objectives prior to embarking on any design and development.

Navigation hand with compass2. Navigation

Navigation is essentially how simple it is for the end user – your customer –  to move around your website. Can your customer get to the information they are looking for within a few clicks?  The more complicated it gets the higher the likelihood that your customer gets lost, gives up and abandons your website.  A good rule of thumb is to try to keep the number of clicks it takes to reach any piece of information to a minimum and to make sure your menu arrangements, page layouts and signposts are clear and logical.

3. Usability

Usability is a test of how straightforward it is for a user to complete an action on your website such as purchase a product, fill in a registration form or book an appointment. Your customer should be able to complete these tasks efficiently and effectively. Get people to test your site  – not just you or your web designers – but people who are representative of a typical user of your site. Ask them to perform specific task whilst you observe how easy it is for them to complete the process. You can then identify where, if necessary, changes need to be made.

Hands catching TRUST letters4. Credibility

Does your website make a customer feel secure enough to feel confident about completing a transaction on your site? Or does it make them leave to find a site that feels more trustworthy? In addition to making sure your security credentials are clear to see, there are lots of other things you can do to build-up credibility and trust online. For example make sure customers can get in contact with you easily and that your organisational details (registered address, VAT no. etc) are available. Content should be accurate, up-to-date and error free (no matter how small, errors make your site look unprofessional). Include testimonials or client lists and deal with queries any quickly and efficiently. Essentially make sure your site, no matter how small, looks and feels professional.

5. Accessibility

Accessibility is a central requirement for your website. Legislation states that your website needs to be accessible to everyone. Your customers should be able to interact with your website regardless any disabilities they may have. A full checklist of guidelines for website design and HTML coding is available from the World Wide Web Consortium, following is a link that gives you a useful overview of the guidelines. http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG20/glance/ Another aspect of accessibility you need to consider is that your website can be viewed equally well from any device, whether it is a laptop, desktop, iPad, or a handheld mobile device.

6. Content

61% of global internet users use the internet to research products online (Interconnected World: Shopping and Personal Finance, 2012).   Don’t underestimate the importance of quality content and clear, concise copy on your website. Your customer has come to your website to look for specific information and so you need to ensure that the content on your website is accurate, informative and reflects your customer’s information needs. How your content is presented is equally important; visually it must be clear and easy to find. And, don’t forget to continuously keep your content fresh and up-to-date.

“Get rid of half the words on each page, then get rid of half of what’s left.” Steve Krug, Don’t Make me Think: A Common Sense Guide to Usability 

People read information differently online, they tend to scan information and jump around  the page. Users are unlikely to read through reams of text.  It is therefore essential you keep your copy concise and to the point using key words and phrases that customers are likely to pick up on. Your page layouts should be clean and clear, so it is easy for your customers to scan the page and find the information they are looking for – quickly.

Sitemap image7. Design and structure

‘Keep it simple, keep it stupid’ Bryan Eisenberg

A sensible approach when looking at the design and structure of your website is ‘simplicity is best’. Everything should be self-evident to customers so they don’t have to think too hard about anything. Here is a link to a useful article by Bryan Eisenberg that despite being written well over 10 years ago gives some helpful website design advice – much of which is still relevant today.  For example:

  • Make sure everything is obvious to the end-user
  • Do not assume your customer is an expert user
  • Keep everything short, sweet and to the point
  • Use simple and consistent navigation

The key things to think about are how the overall structure of your site works, individual page design (paying particular attention to your landing pages) and how you present your content to your users. Make sure your website is visually attractive and remember, if an image is appropriate then ‘ a picture paints a thousands words’.  The effective use of  relevant visuals can engage a user and reinforce a message.

Finally, remember to always keep your end customer in mind and try to think about  the points we have listed above as a useful checklist that will help create and maintain your online presence.