Online retail has changed at such a fast pace since the introduction of virus control measures that it has presented real challenges to business owners trying to adapt and survive. It’s especially challenging communicating these changes, and what they mean for online shopping, to our customers.
The shopping habits of the nation are changing as people get used to being in lockdown. But people are still buying, and online retailers are finding ways to fulfil orders wherever possible in attempts to sustain their businesses.
Over recent years, consumers have come to expect fast delivery times, simple returns processes and plentiful stock levels. All that has changed now supply chains are compromised and our usual operations have become difficult, if not impossible, to maintain. It is vitally important to manage customer expectations by keeping them up to speed with how you are functioning and what you can and can’t do at this present time.
Delivery Lead Times
Even if warehouses are open and operating, social distancing measures mean that there are fewer staff members on the ground and so the capacity for fulfilling orders is reduced, having a knock-on effect on delivery times. If you can’t offer your usual delivery options, be honest about it. Under normal circumstances, the next-day delivery option tends to prove popular but, despite your best efforts, the logistics of meeting next-day delivery in the current situation are subject to external influences outside your control. Of course, it may be possible in some instances to complete a fast delivery – logistics companies and Royal Mail continue to work to meet demand – but warning your customers of a potential delay, and updating them on where their order is, keeps that line of communication open.
When customers are satisfied that they are being kept in the loop, they are less likely to feel dissatisfied with their shopping experience.
Offering an Apology
Although the current circumstances are totally out of your control, it’s still appropriate to offer an apology to your customers. Of course, you have no choice but to comply with restrictions (and do so willingly), but a sincere apology for not being able to deliver the impeccable service that you usually do reminds your customer that their experience is at the forefront of your mind.
Working with decreased staffing levels also means that you might take longer to respond to emails, answer queries and deal with concerns. A breakdown in the supply chain might result in you being slow to restock some items.
Expressing your apologies and keeping your customer base up to speed with these changes means you can manage expectations accordingly.
Adapting Your Returns Process
Social distancing measures have rendered the returns process extremely difficult for customers who wish to avoid post offices and drop-off points. This is likely to put online shoppers off making a purchase. Most retailers have mitigated this with adjustments to their returns policy. We have seen some businesses declare that their returns period starts when we exit lockdown. Others have extended their returns period to 100 days or more to allow time for lockdown measures to end.
Identifying current barriers to buying, and explaining how your company can overcome them, will help give your customers the confidence to place orders.
The same methods that would usually grow a satisfied customer base still apply now. Clear communication is key. People are aware that the retail sector is unable to operate as normal under current conditions, so explaining the difficulties your company is faced with and how you’re working to find solutions encourages a customer relationship based on openness and trust.
Online retailers can inform customers of these changes through all available channels. A banner at the top of your website means visitors know instantly that operations are affected, and the message can be shared across social media, on Amazon or other relevant selling sites, and in customer emails.
This open and frequent communication means that you can also broadcast positive messages. If you’re still open for business, tell people! Now is the time that the work you’ve done to build up and nurture your customer base will pay off. You may find that your loyal customers are more than happy to continue shopping with you, despite the current situation. Now, more than ever, people want to support the brands they love.