The retail sector has experienced its biggest shakeup in a generation. With the high street spending much of 2020 in hibernation and the population urged to stay at home, ecommerce and delivery services have skyrocketed. Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that online sales in January 2021 accounted for more than a third of all retail, a new record that even surpasses the first lockdown and the peak of the pandemic.

Since the onset of lockdown, footfall decreased by almost 85%, and almost a year later, the ‘death’ of the high-street is slowly becoming a reality. The recent collapse of Arcadia Group, Debenhams and Thorntons has set the tone for things to come – a future dominated by online shopping and deliveries. More than ever, offering a connected experience across physical and digital channels is paramount for survival, and retailers must be all too aware by now that they need to align their operations to disruption rather than let CX be disrupted.

David Grimes, CEO at Sorted

Connecting with customers in new ways

As retailers closed their stores in early lockdown, they saw a huge influx of online order volumes almost overnight. High street retailers struggled to manage the huge wave of new online customers and delivery networks were stretched to breaking point in response to online being the only way to shop. With 47% of British shoppers reported to have issues with parcel delivery due to a breakdown in the customer journey, customer teams and operational staff took the hit. As ‘Where is my order’ queries increase, retail teams are also battling the challenges of social distancing, reduced staffing levels and changing restrictions. 

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With high street retailers now competing in the same world as major digital players – namely ASOS and Amazon nailing the delivery experience – this has pushed customer expectations exponentially, despite the ongoing uncertainty. Citizens Advice Consumer Service reported that retail delivery complaints nearly doubled during the pandemic, as customers were left in the dark, growing increasingly annoyed that they weren’t getting answers fast enough. As a result, a lot of retailers faced an increase in cost to serve, in an attempt to put problems right and to deal with the influx of dissatisfied customers.

To tackle this, automation and delivery tracking have really come to the fore for retailers. Particularly as 87% of customers say that being kept informed is the most important delivery factor to them – getting proactive with communication to customers is a key focus. With automated delivery updates, retailers can keep customers informed in real-time and allow them to self-serve their queries. Likewise, retailers are able to monitor and track any potential delivery issues, ensuring they stay one step ahead of any potential disruption. By connecting retailers and customers, brands can boost CX and reduce the pressure on teams. As we see a new generation of digitally literate customers, now is the time to attract and retain these customers with a 5* post-purchase experience. 

Having a backup plan

When faced with sudden disruption, retailers need to be proactive with a plan B. As the pandemic and Brexit brought last minute restrictions, new processes for international shipping, and ever-changing requirements – we have seen brands struggle to pivot their operations fast enough. Plus, when stock is left untouched hundreds of miles apart across the UK or stuck somewhere overseas when it needs to be in the hands of the customer – this just adds fuel to the fire.

To get on the front foot, brands are implementing the ‘ship from store’ initiative to combat unforeseen supply chain disruption; a proposition to turn traditional stores into hybrid warehouses. Brands such as Farfetch, are using this model to decentralise logistics across multiple boutiques all over the world, to boost the customer experience, increase customer access to stock and keep customers happy.

Both Brexit and the pandemic has shone a light on the need to flex operations that are at risk, as those who were too reliant on a single carrier have been hit the hardest when faced with unexpected disruption. To that end, a multi-carrier approach has been a lifeline when retailers are faced with disruption. With a multi-carrier system, retailers can get proactive, make changes easily to quickly reroute parcel shipping and split parcel volumes should disruption be on the horizon. In turn, these initiatives can help meet customer promises and relieve the pressure on the strained customer contact centre staff. 

Insights plus connections

From your digital channels and online checkout, to warehouse logistics and delivery, every single touchpoint is a chance to turn the delivery journey into one of the most powerful customer retention tools. To mitigate future disruption, brands need to use insights and agile tech to better serve their customers, pivot operations and keep promises – even when the unexpected happens. 

Despite all the challenges that retail has encountered, one thing will forever remain the same – communication and connections are everything in the customer journey.