The UK’s ongoing supply chain crisis, with both Brexit and COVID related issues, has resulted in an extremely unwelcome vortex of challenges for the retail sector. This has spared unsurprising concern from consumers and suppliers alike. Warnings of disruption from sector leaders at various points across the supply chain, whether from retailers or shipping executives, has been met by consumer angst and has resulted in a call to action for many in the run-up to Christmas.
To reduce the risk of late deliveries, consumers are planning to prepare for Christmas earlier than they usually would. However, some fear that consumers - rightly rushing to secure gifts for loved ones - may exacerbate the UK’s already stretched supply chains. With the world’s biggest shipping company continuing to divert vessels away from Britain’s ports due to congestion and gridlock, there is a real risk of delays and shortages in the run-up to Christmas. In our mind, this analysis misses the point and in this article, I’m going to explain why.
How are our buying patterns changing this Christmas?
Customers expect a reliable service from businesses. For reasons beyond their control, this may not always go to plan. However, the very least customers require is transparency and open communication if there are issues along the way. Whilst the logistical challenges businesses are facing are clearly severe, and delays in many cases will be unpreventable, it is essential that these same companies prioritise the customer experience and do not look to shift blame. A first-class customer experience and transparency of process can still be delivered in times of turmoil – in many ways, this is when it is at its most important.
A new report, conducted by parcelLab, illustrates widespread concerns, and ongoing coverage of the supply crisis has motivated consumers to prepare early for Christmas. We found that almost half (47%) of online shoppers plan to order earlier this Christmas compared with previous years. Moreover, 29% revealed they had already completed their holiday shopping or had plans to do it before December.
With consumers bombarded by marketing material and pressure growing as early as September, it is commonly quipped that Christmas is arriving earlier each year. This year, it is consumers who are taking the initiative. These actions may appear somewhat drastic given Christmas is still nearly two months away.
However, in the context of repeated failures from retailers to deliver basic functions - even outside of supply chain issues - they become much more understandable. Nearly two-thirds of consumers revealed that they have previously had a package delayed by more than one day, with a further two-fifths reporting they have ordered packages that never even arrived.
These findings speak for themselves: there are clear shortcomings when it comes to the customers online shopping experience. This will not be new information for many customers, but when combined with an international supply chain crisis decisive action becomes the only option.
Can customer experience save the supply chain crisis?
The above-mentioned consumer expectations for delivery are not unreasonable. However, our findings show that online retailers are not living up to basic promises regarding delivery and communication. There are numerous ways retailers can respond, even amid an ongoing supply chain crisis. Let’s walk you through the three main principles that can help retailers meet customers’ expectations this holiday season.
1. Enhancing transparent communication
The first, and most simple, is transparent and clear communications – especially if things don’t go to plan. Consumers should be immediately notified when their order is dispatched and provided with accurate tracking, while also being informed of any delays with an explanation. The option of rescheduling should also be as simple as possible, along with streamlining the return process.
2. Prioritizing experience
Most poignantly for businesses looking to learn from the ongoing crisis, is that our research revealed consumers will punish businesses that don’t prioritise the customer’s experience: nearly half of consumers claimed that a poor experience would stop them from shopping with the retailer again. This is a lesson retailers must take to heart.
3. Practicing accountability
The supply chain crisis will increase the likelihood of delays and shortages , therefore, making it key to offer the customer traceability and accountability. There needs to be an emphasis on enhancing the experience at each touchpoint for the customer, ensuring a proactive line of communication with the customer and helping to manage expectations, reduce enquiries, and in the process building brand loyalty.
Consumers have come to expect accurate delivery dates and a seamless and transparent experience. Before gifts make it under Christmas trees, they will have to navigate some of the most severe traffic jams that modern supply chains have faced. It is vital – amid these challenges – that the customer experience is prioritised and that expectations are managed via clear communication. Retailers will find consumers can be very understanding. The only hurdle to jump is establishing the right practices to assure customers they’re always put first.