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In The Age Of Ecommerce, Retailers and Shippers Are Still Very Much Figuring Things Out


 Sometimes I get a startling reminder that, even though we live in the age of ecommerce, the systems that support clicking that ‘checkout now’ button are still a little… under ripe.

Shopping online is my preferred modus operendi; it’s easy, its painless (especially with PayPal directly siphoning from my bank account), and there’s never a line up or a crowded parking lot to contend with. But checking out with my loaded e-shopping cart is deceptively easy, as that simple click of a ‘pay now’ button is actually the beginnings of a logistic and shipping contortion act.

While superstars like Amazon make receiving your items at your doorstep the next day seem like child’s play, there are evidently some ecommerce and omni-channel retailers out there that are very much still figuring it out.

Here are just two examples from my mailbox that just so happened to arrive on the same day. I couldn’t help myself – I had to laugh. But in all serious, these two packages point to something serious: e-tailers and omni-channel retailers need to get a better handle on shipping and delievery… before the negative impact on their customers’ experiences are too far gone to be redeemed.

If you’ve never seen the Buzzfeed article on Canada Post fails, I strongly suggest you check it out. The article is obviously funny for the painful truths the series of images depict, and is even funnier because it touches on a reality that most of us have experienced.

Although these experiences aren’t the norm, the fact that an article like Buzzfeed’s resonated with so many people to the point of being social shared across a number of mediums means two things to me:

  1. The customer journey, and thus their experience, is not finished until the package is safely in the hands of the customer. This includes the package being delivered on time, as expected, with the proper contents. If any of these expectations are violated even in minor ways, customers will take to social media to share their experiences.
  2. Shipping is still not where customers expect it to be in this digital age. Whether it’s a box of expensive designer items left on your doorstep unattended when the delivery instructions specifically required a signature upon delivery, or a ‘do not bend’ envelope crammed inside your super box, customers have developed a sense of what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to delivery.

These two points being said, I experienced two separate (minor) failures of meeting my expectations as a customer when two items I had ordered from separate retailers just happened to arrive on the same day.

Package No. 1


Now, I have a great relationship with my mail lady, to the point that if she has a package for me to deliver when I’m not home during the day, she goes the extra mile to drive a few blocks over to leave my package at my parents’ house. My sister messaged me when the box above arrived – she, and I, were curious what it could be. The box interestingly said it was from Ebay; I hadn’t ordered anything from Ebay. Nor had I ordered anything that would have come in a box as large as this one was.

When I arrived to pick it up, the weight of the box gave away the mystery to me. I said to my sister, “I bet it’s that cream I ordered that I couldn’t find at Sephora [online or in store]”. She didn’t believe me, so I broke into the box then and there. And lo and behold, mostly air, and my sad little cream box wrapped haphazardly in a small piece of brown paper.

This didn’t meet my expectations as a customer. Being fairly conscientious of the environment, I’m aware of what the costs in dollars and pollution in shipping an extra large box for a tiny bit of cream are. To me, this just seemed wasteful and unnecessary. A padded envelope would have gotten the same job done.

This feeling of one facet of my expectations for delivery being violated jaded all of my other expectations: for example, I can’t tell you if the package got to me on time, early, or late. All that I can remember now is that big darn box was.

Package No. 2


After picking up package no. 1 from my sister, I continued my drive home. As per my usual schedule, I parked my car and walked across the street to my super box to get the mail. Unusually, I found an envelope I had been expecting – one of the ‘do not bend’ variety – crammed into the slot.

And I couldn’t get it out for the life of me.

I bent, contorted, wiggled… everything I could do to try and get the envelope out of the box without damaging it further. No luck. As you can see, I finally had to resort to ripping the envelope open so I could rescue the documents inside before rolling up the envelope into a tube to extract it so I could reach the rest of my mail.

The contents of the envelope were thankfully unharmed, but the fact that I had to stand at my super box problem-solving for 5 minutes on how to get my mail out of the mail box eclipsed everything else. To compound the feeling of a let-down in the customer experience department, I had already experienced some issues with receiving this document: what was supposed to come in a single package has now come in 2 envelopes delivered to me in two different ways (the first was delivered to my local post office for pickup) – and I’m still missing what I can only assume is at least one more package.

These two packages left a slightly bad taste in my mouth. As an avid online shopper, I rarely encounter two of these ‘interesting’ deliveries in a single day, never mind in a single month. I’m perhaps more easy-going than the average online shopper thanks to my industry knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in getting these packages to their final destinations. But what honestly blows my mind is that the actual receipt of the goods by the customer is your last touch point with the customer, and your last chance to leave a good impression. And a lot of companies are blowing it.

I had pleasant (or at the very least, average and expected) experiences with both e-tailers the packages were from up until the final delivery. But the fact that the shipping experiences were not the customer experiences I had expected threw everything off kilter for me that day.

“Delivery is the last touch point you have with a customer.”

The big-box-for-a-ridiculously-small-package was the fault of the e-tailer, or perhaps the pick-and-packer. Who knows, maybe they were just out of smaller boxes that day. The crammed-into-my-mailbox was the fault of the shipper, AKA Canada Post, not respecting delivery instructions printed clearly on the outside of the envelope. How a package is delivered is almost as important as the online customer experience. It’s your last chance to show the customer how awesome your company is. And if you blow it, you might just lose that customer.

To be fair to Canada Post, I’m not trying to pick on them – it just so happened that these two packages came on the same day, and both via Canada Post. The irony was just too good to ignore, and instead of getting mad I had to laugh out loud and deal with my online orders getting into my hands in unusual ways. I’ve had, as I’m sure we’ve all had by this point, similar stories from other shipping companies that are far worse.

But again, the point is that delivery is the last touch point you have with the customer. Its the last mile! You need to make it count. If you haven’t planned out your customer experience all the way to the finality of the customer opening their package with either a smile or a frown on their face, then you haven’t planned out your customer experience.

Your customer experience has a lot more to do with how your customer manages data then you might think. From enterprise resource planning (ERP), ensuring you have enough small boxes on hand to ship small packages, to 3PL integration to make sure your ‘do not bend’ envelope reaches it’s final destination without getting bent, your business’ data informs your customer experience.

So make sure you’re thinking your customer experience all the way through, and that your business’ data is behind informing the customer experience from start to absolute finish.

Is your business’ data working for or against your customer experience?

Book a call with VL’s experts to see how omni-channel data integration can make a world’s difference.

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