In the fast-changing world of e-commerce, it‘s sometimes rather hard to keep up with all the trends and the ever-changing (and ever-growing, we might say) expectations of customers. Fortunately, organizations such as comScore are there to guide and help us in understanding online shoppers’ needs. Last year, comScore published a study commissioned by UPS about online shopping customer experiences which provides quality information on where e-commerce stands right now and where it is headed to. Interestingly, most of the points regarding the expectations and satisfaction of customers have something to do with shipping, which, of course, is one of the most important parts in the process of buying online.

However, the significance of quality shipping might be even greater than you would think. In this 2-part blog series, we will try to reveal how relevant shipping actually is, and what can be done to improve it to suit your customers’ needs the best. In the first part (the one you’re currently reading), we will elaborate on the best practices of shipping – the actions which will make your customers come back and recommend your business to others.

To begin with, it’s important to note that out of 11 most important aspects that influence the online shoppers’ decision whether to buy from a certain online store, 6 are directly related to shipping. The shoppers are already quite satisfied with some of these aspects, for instance the online tracking ability of their shipments, the number of shipping options they can choose and the options of free or discounted shipping, but some of the factors still leave plenty of room for improvement – for example, the flexibility to choose a delivery date or re-route the packages when delivery has already started. Ease of returns and exchanges also can be improved, as it satisfies only two thirds of the e-commerce customers, but this aspect is directly related not only to shipping practices, but the store’s policies regarding these matters as well. So, as it’s evident that most of the online stores can improve the shipping experience for their customers, what exactly can be done to meet their expectations?

Free and discounted shipping

Free shipping doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to offer to deliver any product for free, even if it costs a couple of dollars. It’s just that most of the customers expect free shipping when they pay you a certain amount; usually it’s around $50. Discounts can work as well as anywhere when it comes to shipping, but the final cost the customers pay you is still the most important thing, especially when they compare the prices between a couple of stores. What is more, it’s usually a good idea to have a flat rate of shipping regardless of the location of the customer – a larger than expected shipping price that appears too late is something you really don’t want to happen.

A choice of shipping options

Although 67% of online shoppers usually choose the cheapest available shipping option, you shouldn’t forget about another third of them who have no problem to pay some extra money to have the products they bought sooner. Up to 30% of your potential customers expect a next-day delivery option to be available, so it’s certainly a good idea to provide it for them – even if it will actually be chosen only by one out of fifty customers.

Package tracking systems

During the last several years, the ability to track the delivery process has become a standard in the e-commerce business. Although it’s only averagely important to online shoppers, package tracking systems are among the things customers are most satisfied with when shopping online, so it’s certainly a must for any online store. Therefore it’s very important to choose a shipping company that has package tracking available to handle your deliveries.

Readiness to accept returns and exchanges

While great customer service comes naturally for any successful online store, there’s more to it when it comes to returning and exchanging the goods. The first step is communication, a clear and concise returns policy is a must with 63% of customers looking for the returns policy before making a purchase.  A hassle-free experience of shipping the products back to you is equally important to online shoppers. So, especially if you expect your customers to return to use your services again, you should include a return label in the box or at least make it available online for printing. It only gets better if the shipping’s already prepaid.

Overall flexibility

As we’ve mentioned before, the flexibility of shipping is one of the things that online shoppers are least satisfied with. Therefore, if you let your customers pick a delivery date, re-route packages, give special delivery instructions or choose a way to ship the products back to you when doing returns, you’ll probably stand out from the competition. This way, even if the customer is slightly discontented with your products or prices, their overall online shopping experience will be better – leading to repeat sales and recommendations.

All in all, shipping is an essential part of your online business. Unless you sell e-books or other types of electronic media, you have to painstakingly plan the shipping process for each and every customer and take their needs and expectations into consideration. A customer whose needs are completely satisfied becomes a repeat customer who recommends your business to others – and that’s exactly what you want, isn’t it?

Come back next week for the second and final part of this blog series in which we will review the most common mistakes that online businesses do when it comes to shipping… and the ways to avoid them.

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