A customer buys from you online, the item gets delivered, and (as far as you know) everything went to plan. Yet, that same customer never returns to buy again. Sound familiar?
It’s a no brainer to say that order fulfilment is a key part of the end to end customer experience and crucial for earning customer loyalty. Then why are so many retailers getting it wrong when it comes to selling larger items online? It’s hard to say, but if the sales process involved dropshipping, that might be a good place to start investigating.
“Dropshipping” is a retail fulfillment method where a retailer doesn’t keep the products it sells in stock. Instead, when a retailer sells a product, it purchases the item from a third party vendor and has it shipped directly to the customer. As a result, the merchant never sees or handles the product. Dropshipping can have significant logistical- and financial-saving advantages, but if the customer experience suffers, is it worth it?
My recent experience of purchasing a product from a retailer using dropshipping was not a good one. I decided I needed a 20-foot ladder (because who doesn’t?) to feel the wind in my hair as I did manly things at great heights. I had a look on several mainstream DIY sites and found a good one. The retailer offered free next-day delivery on orders over £50 (or about $67), and since this ladder was no slouch on price I had hit the limit (and then some).
I expected my ladder to arrive on Saturday, Sunday at the very latest. Having my purchase arrive during this timeframe was not so bad since I was available over the weekend, but it’s also where problems begin.
Chasing information about my package status
Sadly, my new ladder had not arrived by late Saturday. I decided to call the retailer directly from where I bought it. To my dismay, the retailer said the shipping delay was not their problem and informed me it could not help. To find out the status of my purchase, I would now need to call the manufacturer directly to chase my delivery — very frustrating, indeed.
As consumers, we don’t care how a retailer sources, stores, or arranges delivery for a product. If they sell it, we expect them to be responsible to getting it to us. This is a typical example of customer expectation being out of sync with retailers’ priorities — and, as a result, causing problems.
I had to deal with the manufacturer directly and I re-arranged to be at home mid-week for the delivery. Though it arrived 3-4 days late, I got my ladder in the end and she is a beaut. I didn’t blame the manufacturer and the product was fine, but the problem was with my expectations not matching with the experience I was given by the retailer. I expected to get the product sooner, while assuming that I wouldn’t have to jump through multiple hoops if there was a delay.
That said, is this experience likely to affect where I buy my next large item? Definitely.
What to do when dropshipping obscures the customer experience
Some companies choose to own the entire logistical process to make sure this sort of thing does not happen, but that is not necessarily the best way. Selling items you don’t stock directly has some great advantages in terms of breadth of inventory, not to mention the savings made in storage and transport. However, it needs to be done well.
The key for maintaining good customer experience while utilizing dropshipping is stellar accountability and good measurement. These two factors can show what changes need to be made, as well as backed up by how impactful these changes will be on customer loyalty, repeat purchases, and recommendations.
So, what’s the problem with dropshipping? Nothing, if retailers make it seamless for the customer, but this is often not the case. Businesses should set expectations clearly at the point of purchase and make sure they can look after their customers when they call for help.