This year has challenged us all in almost every way possible. As the world dealt with a global pandemic, the retail industry saw monumental shifts in consumer behavior and the acceleration of many trends already in motion, plus some fantastic innovation at speed. The temporary (and in some cases, permanent) closure of physical stores led to a significant increase in ecommerce purchases, exceeding the volumes that the industry is normally only used to seeing during Holiday.
And just like that, the traditional Holiday season is upon us. The good news is that the past 6 months have been basically a practice run, as volumes at the height of shelter-in-place mirrored that of traditional peak shopping. Here are some key learnings we can bring forward about how to avoid customer friction and enhance post-purchase experience that can be applied to your Holiday strategy.
With such a significant shift to ecommerce, and with many consumers still unlikely to travel to loved ones this year, many experts including us at Narvar, are predicting one of the biggest online shopping seasons on record. Knowing that supply chains and logistics networks will reach or exceed capacity as we saw during the height of the pandemic, we can expect delays across the industry. Promoting holiday shopping and gifting early and often could help spread out demand and reduce customer friction.
More customers will likely opt for shipping directly to the gift recipient this year, but you may also want to encourage this to alleviate some of the strain on the logistics network. As an added bonus, Narvar now allows for gifters to easily share tracking details to the giftee directly from the track page!
Consider adding “gift guides” to all consumer touchpoints, including your Narvar tracking page and emails, and clearly communicate shipping cutoffs and deadlines earlier than usual to ensure that customer expectations are clearly set.
Pro tip: If you have “e-gift cards” as part of your shopping ecosystem, promote these prominently. This is a great way to encourage gifting without adding volume to your logistics network — and on-time delivery is assured.
It’s more important than ever to proactively communicate about the status of deliveries across multiple communication channels. In Narvar’s latest consumer study, “State of Returns: New Expectations”, we found that nearly half of those consumers that experienced significant delays in delivery during COVID did not feel they were kept adequately informed, resulting in a negative overall experience.
Given that we anticipate similar disruptions during Holiday and beyond, providing frequent and proactive delivery updates is a crucial step in setting expectations and alerting customers of any delays, so they can make alternative arrangements if needed. Narvar has also seen an uptick in retailers adding on new triggers to their communication suite, including “fulfillment delay” and “carrier pick-up delay” emails which both provide updates to address new logistics friction points that emerged as fulfillment times stretched longer. Consumers have made it clear there is no such thing as overcommunication when it comes to packages they’re anticipating.
One of the most immediate impacts of the closure of physical stores was the shift to more ecommerce returns being completed digitally - we saw online returns double during lockdown across the Narvar platform. This increase in digital returns drove adoption of more varied returns methods as consumers sought safe, quick, and convenient options for completing returns. Two such examples are printerless returns using mobile QR codes and alternative drop-off locations.
Over the past 6 months, we’ve seen a 60% increase in overall adoption of printerless returns across the Narvar platform as more consumers lost access to printers and were also looking for contactless ways to make returns. Our most recent consumer research validates this shift, with nearly 30% of respondents indicating they desire labeless return options. We saw similar adoption growth in consumers electing to drop off their return at convenient locations such as Walgreens (for FedEx shipments) and other close-by physical locations.
With this holiday season likely to be spent more online than ever before, offering convenient returns options is critical in winning and retaining new customers, as 76% of first-time customers who had an easy return experience said they would shop with that retailer again. On the contrary, 36% of repeat customers who had a difficult time making a return said they would not shop with the retailer again.
Despite the unpredictability of 2020, we’ve found that we can all be more nimble and innovate faster than we ever thought possible. By applying some of what we learned through some of the toughest times this year, we can be more prepared than ever for a successful holiday season.
David is a Director of Retail Strategy at Narvar, with over 10 years of experience in Retail & Technology.