When the pandemic hit back in March, consumer behaviour shifted overnight. As online orders stacked up and demand rocketed, many retailers found their processes were not equipped to handle peak-level order volumes at the drop of a hat. Social distancing measures in warehouses only exacerbated the issue, leaving many with no choice but to advise of 10+ day delivery times. Some stopped trading altogether.

The trend towards online retail has been growing for a long time – it seems the pandemic has simply accelerated this. E-fulfilment must become a core focus for businesses. In order to avoid the delays and backlogs experienced earlier in the pandemic, retailers need to ensure their delivery and returns process is agile and robust enough to weather any storm. 

Streamlining the shipping process to improve agility

Delays in the shipping process not only mean disappointed and disgruntled customers, but a backlog of orders lying around the warehouse increases the likelihood of mistakes, missing stock and lost profits. With an on-going pandemic and Brexit providing further uncertainty, boosting warehouse productivity and improving efficiency is essential to protect the delivery experience for your customers. 

To achieve this, retailers need to ensure they have maximum visibility of their shipments. Doing so means you can monitor your carrier services, spot any issues as they arise and respond accordingly. Improved visibility will mean you can better prepare for returns too, and returns are not just for Christmas! At any time, nearly a quarter of all parcel types are a return.*
They are very much part and parcel of the delivery experience, and they cost retailers a massive £60bn per year,*. Getting them right is essential not only to your customers, but in protecting your margins too. 

Assembling an optimum mix of carriers

Another area the pandemic highlighted was lack of carrier contingency planning. Although it is not uncommon for carriers to stop taking new clients or ‘switch off’ non-core services at peak times like Christmas, the unexpected nature of the pandemic left many retailers with no cover as they hadn’t forecasted for it. The safest approach therefore, is to spread your shipping requirements across a range of carriers, rather than relying on just one. This not only means you have the agility to pivot capacity according to demand, but you can also build a mix of carriers best suited to your business, customers and products.  

Part of your Brexit contingency planning should be to ensure your shipping platform can handle customs data so you can provide your carriers with the right customs information. For this, technology is available to automate label printing and parcel routing. If you are labelling your parcels manually, it is easy to make a mistake. Incorrect documentation risks your carriers being held up at customs and can land you with a hefty fine. Automating this process will provide peace of mind that your parcels will stay on the move and ensure you avoid any nasty surprises.  

A cost-effective, customer winning delivery and returns process

As we approach 2021, not only are we looking at further flux and uncertainty, but a much more competitive online environment. The customer delivery and returns experience cannot be underestimated. A bad offering will prevent customers from shopping with you, a bad experience will prevent them from returning. This means armouring yourself with a robust shipping process – one that provides maximum visibility so you can spot any issues early, and one that relies on multiple carriers for your shipments so you have extra contingency when you need it. 

But how can this be managed whilst protecting the bottom line? 

Establishing a relationship with a single multi-carrier and logistics expert is one solution. With access to hundreds of carrier services worldwide, they can maintain all your carrier contracts and relationships on your behalf. This means that you can be assured that the right carrier is being selected for the right job, and you only have one cost and relationship to worry about. This way you can be assured that your customers are receiving delivery excellence whatever the ‘perfect storm’ may bring.

Bobbie Ttooulis, Executive Director, Global Freight Solutions

* IMRG Returns Review 2020