Balance Speed with Sustainability To Drive Online Sales & Brand Credibility
Fast and free shipping is proving an attractive offering, often outperforming other cost-saving strategies. Understandably, these deals grab the attention of deal-savvy consumers who want their items delivered quickly and without extra charges on top of their original basket cost.
In fact, how many of us have paused, hesitated or even abandoned an order for the opposite reason? Well, you’re not alone: 64% of all online consumers expect their orders to be shipped for free and within five working days. What’s more, 68% of us will check a returns policy before making a purchase. Present major obstacles here, and retailers will be providing an instant turnoff in an ultra-competitive sales sphere.
Ultimately, an attractive delivery option can make all the difference in a customer choosing your products over a competitor’s. Unless they have developed longstanding brand love, the chances are low that a customer will remain loyal to an offering they can get less expensively and more quickly elsewhere.
This isn’t to undermine the importance of sustainability and environmental responsibility, though. While fast and free shipping is expected, it may not necessarily be the most ethical business model, particularly if it will mean greater emissions for more frequent deliveries, and cost-cutting measures in other areas of the business to make up for lost shipping fees.
Global reports state that consumers would be more likely to purchase from companies with an established reputation for sustainability as well. This suggests it is just as important for online businesses to focus their efforts on acting ethically as it is for them to fulfill orders efficiently.
But with the rise of online shopping, which has been propelled by the pandemic with a 48% increase in online spending coming as a result of lockdown restrictions, businesses may be finding themselves weighing the two against each other. Clearly, there is misalignment between consumer expectations and commercial values here; choosing between the two will require more than a look at a business’s bottom line.
Sustainability and credibility
Today’s consumers are incredibly switched on when it comes to buying from sustainable brands. They can see through the smoke and mirrors or false claims to make informed decisions about the products and services they choose. And, more often than not, these decisions are based on a brand’s credibility.
Any business can say they are doing certain things to protect the planet and their people. However, not all can provide sufficient evidence. And as competition increases, these are the businesses that are finding themselves falling behind.
We only have to look to recent examples such as boohoo for proof. In 2020, the fast-fashion giant found itself in hot water when it was revealed that the company was not following sustainable or ethical business practices. Poor warehouse conditions, less than minimum wage pay, and inadequate health and safety standards were just a few of the concerns.
As a result, the company experienced huge losses, with its share price falling by more than a third during the first two days of the scandal coming to light. There is an undeniable perception about sustainability and ethical working practices; people do not want to support brands that don’t support their economy and their people.
Interestingly however, as a fast-fashion retailer, boohoo is renowned for its speedy shipping and low prices, even offering unlimited next-day delivery for a small, one-off yearly cost. Therefore, in this case, it is clear that efficient fulfilment alone is not enough to sustain commercial success. Its ethical responsibility had a larger part to play.
And while the company has attempted to correct its wrongdoings internally and then communicate these through marketing strategies, its tainted reputation is proving difficult to rebuild, suggesting just how important credibility is for a sustainable business.
But that’s not all. When it comes to free and fast shipping, credibility continues to play a significant role in shaping consumers’ perceptions of the service they are going to receive. For larger brands with established reputations, this is less of an issue, but for smaller companies that may be starting their business or ecommerce journey, it is vital to appear as a reliable, trustworthy, and credible enterprise that is going to follow through with its promise of a fast and free delivery.
This may be through clear contact details for consumers to get in touch with queries, customer reviews, business information, and responsive and helpful customer service through email, live chat, direct messaging, or phone calls, for example.
A balancing act
Of course, building credibility will not solve every issue for a business, but it is a place to start. It is also a common denominator for sustainability and fulfillment and can help businesses differentiate themselves from the competition.
However, the misalignment between attractive cost saving deals and sustainable business practices can cause confusion. Lower delivery fees and fast shipping incentives, particularly for items that are already low in price, often can set off alarm bells and leave customers questioning the ethical impact of their purchase. Alternatively, high fees and long delays can send customers looking elsewhere. Both are bad for business.
Instead, businesses must find a balance. Find the point at which free and fast shipping can be offered without affecting profit margins, and therefore, the sustained success of the business.
The threshold will be different for every business, but through the use of data and analytics tools, the amount that is best for your business can be found quite easily. These tools can also help centralize activity, from sourcing and manufacture to product marketing and post-purchase service. With this in place, processes can become much more streamlined, which in turn, can increase the efficiency of order fulfillment. If things are delayed, for instance in the case of pandemic disruption, email updates can be automated, ensuring you are also providing high-quality customer service.
With all this in place, not only will a business be sustainable and efficient, its credibility will only go from strength to strength, too.
Nate Burke is CEO and founder of U.K.-based Diginius, a software and solutions firm focused on helping businesses achieve maximum impact from their online sales and marketing activities. An early e-commerce pioneer and entrepreneur, he launched his first Internet business in 1997 and is a two-time Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year nominee.
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