What are the Key Learnings from Brexit, COVID & Peak Creating a Robust eCommerce Delivery Strategy for 2021
The cumulative effect of Brexit, COVID and Peak has tested the most resilient of retailers in 2020. Earlier in the year, the pandemic caught many businesses off-guard. As orders flooded in, border closures and social distancing measures left stock hanging in the balance. This led to massive delays in the supply chain and delivery waiting times of 10+ days. During peak, businesses were continuing to balance high volumes and disruption, with Brexit adding additional complication. Despite this, in many ways it was one of the best peaks for ecommerce retailers. Parcel volumes were up 60% from 2019, with the sports category in particular bringing in high volumes.
As we head into 2021, Britain’s departure from the EU is expected to bring more turbulence. In addition, shifts in shopping trends and customer behaviour are set to become permanent. This peak period has shone a light on the lack of contingency planning, and highlighted that businesses need to be more agile and flexible than ever. Businesses who take the learnings from Brexit, Covid and 2020 peak and create a robust ecommerce delivery strategy will be the ones best able to succeed in 2021.
Plan, and Plan Early
At the beginning of peak, carriers were warning that forecasts should be sent in early to avoid any problems and protect their networks. There was concern that the carriers wouldn’t be able to cope with volumes or have to turn off certain services. Luckily, during 2020, peak carrier performance held up, with them operating at 90%+ (and 100% some days). Forecasts helped carriers plan effectively and ensured that they could handle the load. This has shown the importance of planning effectively. Whilst some things cannot be predicted, the best planning and contingency planning will make sure you are prepared whatever happens.
Broaden Your Supplier Base
Despite the benefits, relying on an international supply chain isn’t without risk. Anything from changes in domestic policy to political crises can cause supply disruption. The global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic really shifted this fact into focus. When the virus was first discovered in China, the country immediately closed their borders, meaning supply stopped instantly. This left many retailers unable to order the stock they needed to keep up with demand.
One of the key lessons retailers can take away from this is to broaden your supplier base. This means that, should any issues arise, you have the option to order stock elsewhere. This will be particularly key if you have suppliers in the EU. Whilst a complete halt on supply is unlikely, changes at customs are likely to lead to longer transit times. Spreading out the potential risk will mean you always have alternatives
Use multiple carriers to give yourself flexibility and agility
Just as supply was affected, so too was delivery fulfilment. Retailers and carriers alike are well practised in anticipating peak, but no-one was prepared for COVID. As demand soared overnight, carriers implemented peak level contingency measures to protect their services. Limiting flexibility, capping parcel volumes, switching off non-core services and cancelling collections at short notice were all experienced. This meant that retailers who relied on one carrier were left with nowhere else to go and experienced a huge backlog of customer orders and big delays as a result.
The trick, therefore, is to rely on multiple carriers for your deliveries rather than just one. Doing so means that if one carrier runs into problems, you can pivot according to demand. The additional benefit of a multi carrier approach is that you can select a range of carriers best suited for your business and your products. The result will be a much more flexible and tailored service for your customers.
Give Customers Choice To Help them and You
At the start of the pandemic, shoppers were quite understanding over delays and long waiting times. 9 months down the line, and it is likely they will be less patient. Protecting the customer delivery experience is essential, and a great delivery service starts at the checkout.
45% of customers abandon a cart if there is a lack of delivery options, so it is essential you offer your customers choice. These could include same day, next day, nominated day or click and collect, for example. Not only will a range of delivery options mean customers can pick the one most convenient for them but, if partnered with the right technology, you can add or remove delivery options at the checkout. This will give you greater control over your orders and help to prevent bottlenecks further down the line.
Delivery options also help your operations by spreading the traffic volumes. During 2020 peak, 30% chose a Friday rather than the weekend for delivery when given the choice. By giving your customers more choice about how and when they receive the parcel, it also allows you to ensure all your parcels aren’t going out at the same time to avoid delays.
Despite all best efforts, unexpected issues can arise post-purchase. Updating your customers on the whereabouts/expected delivery time of their parcel will prove invaluable. Reassured, happy customers mean positive reviews and less time spent managing queries.
Delivery excellence: Balancing cost with customer experience
As we look to 2021, the safest bet is to be prepared for the unexpected. The most resilient retailers are the ones who can pivot their business model according to demand. This means having a wide safety net of suppliers to protect your stock levels and using multiple carriers for delivery back-up.
Managing multiple carriers can be time-consuming and costly, however - which is why many retailers are partnering with a multicarrier specialist to maintain all their carrier contracts on their behalf. Working with a delivery expert such as GFS means you have access to the widest network of domestic and international carrier providers at the most competitive rates. This means you can offer your customers the choice they want whilst having only one cost and one relationship to worry about. Pro-active parcel tracking will also help you prioritise returns and ensure parcel misroutes or delays are dealt with swiftly – enabling you to build a delivery strategy robust enough to tackle 2021 head on.
Written by Bobbie Ttootlis
Bobbie Ttooulis is executive director of Global Freight Solutions, a UK-based multi-carrier shipping and e-commerce delivery company.