It’s the rare seller who isn’t approaching this holiday season with some trepidation. Whether it’s a clogged supply chain or worry about how much consumers are prepared to spend when facing lingering COVID concerns, there is plenty to cause sleepless nights. We hate to add worry, but one other issue is the likelihood of hiccups when items are shipped directly to your customers. Other than simply hope they don’t occur, how do you keep customers happy through holiday shipping delays?
Whether it is EDI transactions connected to drop ship orders from your retail trading partners, purchases on your own eCommerce site, or orders from online marketplaces like Amazon, getting products to their intended destinations will be more difficult this year.
Instead of focusing on all the nightmare scenarios—unhappy buyers, expensive returns, damage to your reputation and relationships with retailers—shift your thinking and seize on the opportunity to use shipping mishaps as a way to actually build customer loyalty.
What’s that, you ask? How can a delay in a product arriving on a doorstep possibly be an opportunity to create brand-loyal customers? Well, it’s all about how your company handles it.
For starters, many customers understand that nothing is easy for merchants and suppliers this holiday season. Not all, of course, but many do. A steady drumbeat of news about labor shortages and global supply chain issues means that just about everyone is fully aware that even the most sophisticated operations will be challenged this holiday season. While there will certainly be difficult customers, others will be more understanding, especially if your company provides clear communication and is genuinely apologetic.
Here’s how to handle shipping issues this holiday season, manage the customer dissatisfaction they can create, and emerge a stronger brand because of your efforts.
Provide regular updates on the progress of products.
Tracking numbers, while essential, should be the bare minimum you provide if your company finds itself struggling to get purchases to customers in a timely fashion.
Start the communications early—be transparent even before a purchase is made. Acknowledge that shipping delays are an issue on your website, or in communications with trading partners. Buyers will be a lot more understanding if they get this news upfront.
After an order is placed, consider sending an email that shares an immediate update—the order is being packed as quickly as possible, it’s leaving the warehouse on a specific date, more updates will be provided throughout the shipping journey. Remember that accurate inventory reporting is critical to your ability to provide consistent communications, and powerful, integrated order processing software can make all the difference.
Offer gift cards or promo codes.
Don’t forget that you have the power to turn a bad situation into a positive experience. In other words, figure out how to turn that frown upside-down.
Can you offer a gift card or a promo code? Few people will argue with getting one, and they may even share the news of receiving one in online reviews or in conversations with their friends.
Remember that when you offer a gift card or a promo code to a customer, disappointed because their product has yet to arrive, you actually make them more likely to purchase from you again. Even if they don’t ever use their gift card or promo code, the gesture is an easy and cost-effective one to make. If they don’t use the gift card or promo code, it costs you nothing. And if they do, you’re making another sale.
Keep up the kindness.
Any company renowned for customer service has a track record of going above and beyond when things go wrong. Even after a package has safely arrived, follow up with a phone call from customer service if possible. Send an email with a survey that solicits candid feedback. And if you haven’t already, send that promotional code or mail that gift card.
This will be a challenging holiday season for any company trying to ship purchases so they arrive in a timely manner. Inventory may be slow to arrive in warehouses, labor is tight, and shipping companies are relying on outside contractors at a time when online sales are running at a record pace. Finally, the world is still trying to manage a pandemic that may be waning but is still problematic. So yes, it will be important to do your best to keep customers happy through holiday shipping delays.
Try to remember that frustrations could run high—it’s been a long year for just about everyone. But if you provide candid communication, some humility, and yes, discounts or free stuff, your brand can emerge from this holiday season stronger than ever before.