For Holiday Shoppers, Shipping & Returns Can be a Key Differentiator

By David Sisco

Special to the eTail Blog

Retailers are trying their best to prepare for the upcoming holiday season. We may not know how much consumers will spend, but we’re certain they will spend it online. E-commerce grew 16% last year, showing there’s been a fundamental shift in consumer behavior.

Knowing that online sales are coming, how can e-retailers position themselves to be consumers’ top choice once the cyber rush begins? According to ComScore’s recent Online Shopping Customer Experience study, it’s all about providing shoppers with control over the post-purchase experience. In the survey commissioned by UPS, consumers ranked free/discounted shipping, delivery dates and easy returns as the top three factors influencing their online shopping experience.

Start with Returns

As more consumers shop online, retailers are faced with the prospect of more returns. While consumers love the convenience of shopping online, they don’t like complicated returns policies.

According to the ComScore study, 63% of shoppers review a retailer’s return policy before ever making an online purchase. Another 48% said they would recommend that retailer to a friend if the returns policy was lenient and easy to understand. When asked what they mean by “easy,” more than 60 percent said they want a return label in the delivery box or one that is easily printable online. In sum, with a hassle-free returns policy, retailers not only stand to gain return customers but also more first time buyers and positive brand recognition.

It’s All in the Delivery

During the holidays, delivery timing is critical. Nearly half of online shoppers said they are not willing to wait more than five days to receive their purchases. Another 60% of consumers said they want a guaranteed or estimated delivery date at checkout and 42% have abandoned an online shopping cart because of the delivery date.

When it comes to the holidays, free shipping is popular but so is next-day delivery. While 47% said free shipping is the most important option at checkout, a third of shoppers said they would pay for shipping in order to get their package faster. Don’t scare away customers with an “all-or-nothing” approach; instead offer a variety of shipping options and accurate delivery time frames.

Of course once they ship it, customers want to track it – 75% believe every retailer should offer tracking information and 45% prefer to receive it via email or text message. Shipping providers can offer a variety of services to make tracking easier for retailers and their customers.

Overall, holiday spending is hard to predict due to uncertain peak season demand. However, if e-tailers evaluate consumer behavior now and begin enhancing their post-purchase customer experience, they can boost their competitive advantage, securing new and return customers for peak season and beyond.

David Sisco is the Director of Retail and Consumer Goods Marketing at UPS.