It is that time of year again. The count-down has already started and retailers are gearing up for another year’s festivities and hopefully bumper sales. However, with this comes the knowledge that how shoppers buy and how goods are delivered continues to change and evolve. 

E-commerce is the fastest growing retail market in Europe, according to a report by the Centre for Retail Research, with online sales in Western Europe forecasted to grow by more than 14% in 2017. And it’s easy to see why. Today consumers can buy what they want, when they want it, and have it delivered to their workplace, home, a local store, you name it.  Invariably the goods are in stock when you order online, whereas they’re often not available in-store, and consumers can browse a wide range of products whilst out and about or from the comfort of their own homes. In fact, it has never been easier to shop online: penetration of smartphones in the UK is now over 80% and with more and more retailers making it straightforward to purchase and free shipping becoming the norm, there are fewer barriers than ever before.

NetDespatch, recently commissioned research that looked into consumer expectations around their shopping and delivery experiences. They asked consumers what they love about online shopping. Convenience and ease not surprisingly featured highly. 82% of respondents said they love the convenience of online shopping, 90% love the ease of shopping, and 82% love that they can get what they want when they want it.

However, as fast as the rate of online orders is rising, so consumer expectations are also increasing. This means that retailers must work closely with carriers to ensure customer satisfaction and build a positive reputation around delivery.

What this also means is that the customer experience doesn’t simply end at the checkout but continues on into delivery. The different delivery options, especially now we are in the run-up to the Christmas period, need to be clearly explained.  This means letting consumers know the different types of delivery services available and the various costs associated with these.  From same-day to chosen-day to click-and-collect, to local convenience stores, to secure, to depots, garages, lockers, work or at home, the options are now extremely varied. 

However, the subtle but important nuances between the options don’t always get communicated to consumers. This is often where difficulties can arise because it can lead to poor customer satisfaction if consumers don’t get the level of service they thought they had requested. It is therefore down to the retailer to clarify the different options during the checkout process and recommend what may be suitable, where appropriate, including a clear specification of cost for each option.

Again, in research that we did around delivery expectations, we found that 88% of respondents were happy to pay for same day or one to two day delivery.  We also found that by categorising the purchase as a Must-Have, a Need-to-Have or simply a Nice-to-Have meant that the respondents were happy to wait for purchases if they considered they were not needed immediately – in some cases up to 8 days. 

But it is not just about peak. With the volume of online deliveries expected to rise by 13.8% in 2018, it is essential for retailers to accommodate a greater variety of delivery needs and to explain to their customers that the cheapest delivery option isn’t always the best. By educating consumers about the different options available, customers will be able to make an informed decision, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty.

For every retailer, large or small, delivering Christmas for customers is a massive responsibility. Any mishaps and retailers risk a serious backlash, which can result in lost sales and loyalty and potentially damage the bottom line.

A great way to avoid a nightmare before Christmas is to ensure you have educated the consumer about their delivery options and to have multiple carriers on tap to deal with deliveries. Spreading delivery across a range of carriers avoids over-reliance on one delivery company alone.

Likewise parcels can travel long distances. It is important to recognise that not all deliveries are equal and delivering to the Scottish Highlands during winter presents different challenges to inner-city deliveries. Choosing a carrier that can perform at speed in a specific geographic area will make the process quicker and more convenient for consumers.  This includes making sure that the carrier has a seamless automated shipping process with as little manual intervention as possible so that parcels can fly out the door.

Make sure you are providing your customers with a choice of delivery – after all, peak is not just a busy time for retailers, customers will be just as busy and will need flexible options to build a delivery that is convenient to them.

In my opinion, the focus is firmly on delivery this year, as consumers leave shopping until the last minute – thanks to the convenience and immediacy of ecommerce.  This means both retailers and carriers are under more pressure than ever. But by planning ahead, making delivery options plainly available, working with the right carriers and automating as much of the process as possible, you will ensure that everyone enjoys a Happy Christmas.


[Matthew Robertson, Commercial Director NetDespatch]