Multichannel Merchant’s second annual Operations Summit is off to a great start. Here are a few photos from the first day of the show.
It was a full house at Patrick Allard’s session “Creating Your Best Omnichannel Returns Process.” Allard, our director of sales, discussed a road map that will make retailers’ returns handling a reason customers shop with them.
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Speaker Patrick Allard will share secrets and best practices to create a seamless omnichannel returns process
AUSTIN, Texas—April 23, 2013—Newgistics, a provider of order fulfillment, parcel delivery and returns management solutions, today announced it is the headline sponsor of the 2013 Operations Summit, April 23 – 25 in Columbus, Ohio. Patrick Allard, Newgistics’ director of sales, will speak on Wednesday, April 24th at 11:15 on the topic of “Creating Your Best Omnichannel Returns Process.”
In its second year, Multichannel Merchant’s Omnichannel Summit is the only conference exclusively designed for eCommerce and catalog operations and fulfillment. The conference covers all areas of direct-to-customer sales, including warehouse; order management; picking, packing and packaging; reverse logistics; inventory management; shipping, distribution and delivery; technology, IT and systems integration; transportation; customer service, call and contact center; HR/workforce management; and payment processing and fraud prevention.
“We’re proud to sponsor a show specifically catered to the unique issues of direct-to-consumer merchants,” said Patrick Allard, Newgistics Director of Sales. “One of Newgistics’ core values is to improve retailers’ bottom lines through stronger, more loyal relationships with their customers. Operations Summit connects Newgistics with merchants that share the same priorities and are passionate about customer engagement.”
Allard’s session, “Creating Your Best Omnichannels Returns Process,” will be held in the Delaware CD room on Wednesday. Allard will speak alongside a retail partner, and the session will help merchants learn how to improve returns efficiencies while reducing costs; deliver a better customer experience and improve customer loyalty; create cross-channel marketing opportunities; and boost asset recovery savings.
Additionally, Newgistics will exhibit at booth #103. If you would like to discuss your organization’s needs for fulfillment, delivery and returns solutions, please feel free to stop by the booth.
About Newgistics, Inc.
Newgistics provides order fulfillment, parcel delivery and returns management solutions for top brands in direct-to-consumer retail and other industries. With Newgistics, fulfillment and shipping go far beyond packing and moving parcels. Every order and return processed by Newgistics opens up new opportunities for merchants to improve the shopping experience and their own efficiency. To find out more, visit www.newgistics.com.
Jeff Ketner or Brittany Johnson
Ketner Group PR + Marketing (For Newgistics)
If you’re attending the show, be sure to check out the session “Creating Your Best Omnichannel Returns Process” on Wednesday, April 24th at 11:15 a.m. Our own Patrick Allard, director of sales, will lead the session and be joined by a retailer partner. Here’s the full description:
Customers and prospects consider your returns policies and processes an important factor in their buying decision and brand loyalty. Yet, most merchants agree that their returns processes are far from perfect, especially in an “omnichannel” world. Here’s your chance to go back to your organization with a road map that will make your returns handling a reason for customers to do business with you. Be a hero, attend this session and learn how to:
• Improve returns operational efficiency
• Save dollars in your processes
• Create an incremental revenue stream
• Reduce contact center involvement
• Create improved customer experience and retention
• Create cross-channel marketing opportunities
• Boost asset recovery savings
In addition to leading the session “Creating Your Best Omnichannel Returns Process” on Wednesday, Patrick will also moderate the roundtable discussion “Improving the Returns Process” on Thursday, April 25th from 12:45-1:30 p.m.
Newgistics will exhibit at booth #103. If you would like to discuss your organization’s need for fulfillment, delivery and returns solutions, please feel free to stop by the booth.
Operations Summit is the only conference exclusively designed for eCommerce and catalog operations and fulfillment. The conference covers all areas of direct-to-customer sales, including warehouse; order management; picking, packing and packaging; reverse logistics; inventory management; shipping, distribution and delivery; technology, IT and systems integration; transportation; customer service, call and contact center; HR/workforce management; and payment processing and fraud prevention.
Retail enterprises often organize management departments by channel. There’s the mobile team, the e-Commerce group, the brick-and-mortar operations department. Each department develops their own content, plans their own promotions, uses their own technology and reports to different bosses independent of each other. The trouble with this common scenario, though, is that the retailer’s shopper does not differentiate between channels. These invisible differences on the back-end do not change the shopper’s expectations of its relationship with the brand, but can disrupt the consistent experience shoppers anticipate. Consumers expect the same value, selection, quality, service and overall positive experience across all of the selling channels available to them.
It is more critical than ever to deliver on your brand promise, and not just in the store. A seamless omni-channel experience rewards loyal customers and inspires confidence to shop with you again in the future. And with the unlimited choices online shoppers face with even where to shop, much less the infinite selection of product on e-tailers’ endless aisles, winning repeat business in-store, online and on mobile devices is of utmost importance to a retailer’s success.
Retailers and e-tailers must think like their customer. When your customers shop with you, which channels are they shopping? What is their path to purchase—are they shopping online before or after a store visit? How near or far do online shoppers live to the closest physical location?
Based on these factors, and with customers’ expectations in mind, retailers should evaluate and optimize the following areas to deliver a world class, seamless brand experience at every customer touchpoint:
1. Price and promote consistently across channels. Technology-savvy shoppers are often flummoxed when they find that the price in-store is different from that online. To save the in-store sale, retailers should implement price-matching policies with themselves—the store will match the online price. Integrating technology across different channels’ marketing and sales team can create complimentary pricing policies that reflect similar promotions. Cross-channel pricing is too complex a topic to delve into in-depth here, but it is an area the most successful omni-channel retailers have mastered, and one that all retailers should consider seriously.
2. Offer online shoppers the ability to return merchandise in-store or with a pre-paid returns shipping label for a convenient, hassle-free experience. A return is almost always an experience at least bordering on the negative—perhaps the shopper realized they cannot afford the merchandise, the product was damaged in some way or did not meet the customer’s quality expectations, or the fit was wrong. One of the best ways to deliver a seamless omni-channel experience is to integrate your backend technology and separate digital channels with your traditional brick-and-mortar stores and in-store technology. Allow online shoppers to return merchandise, even online-only merchandise, to the store, and explicitly state this in an easy-to-understand returns policy. This integrated solution would allow for instant or early credit on returned merchandise purchased online but returned in the store, so the consumer is open to buy again onsite and primed for a sales associate to upsell on the original order. An integrated system would also allow online shoppers to print a returns label in the store to send the merchandise back to warehouse. These expedited returns not only benefit customers, they also benefit the retailer by reincorporating the merchandise back into inventory, hopefully before markdowns are made, while a unified inventory system across all channels gives retailers one true version of data from which to base decisions. For the customer that wants to return from home, offer a best in class pre-paid USPS SmartLabel® for a convenient, hassle-free experience. With an intergrated eCcommerce returns label, retailers can leverage email and text notifications to communicate with customers to mimic the up-sell, cross sell and loyalty promotions that your consumers experience when interacting with in-store trained associates. Never lose the power of valuable customer interaction regardless of what channel is used to return merchandise.
3. Deliver the same level of customer service across all channels. Customers expect to be treated well no matter where or how they shopped. If you’re a retailer with a strong reputation for delivering excellent customer service in-store, do not skimp on providing the same level of service to your online, mobile and catalog shoppers. Evaluate your call center capacity and procedures—how long is the wait time? Are your in-store sales associates more knowledgeable or better trained? Is there a language barrier? How often do call center representatives issue refunds versus correct the order to save the sale and capitalize on the customer contact to up-sell? An honest evaluation of customer service across all channels can go a long way in consistently delivering on your brand’s promise.
Consistency across all customer channels and touchpoints is the key to satisfying shoppers’ expectations. Positive shopping experiences can create a positive ripple effect across the enterprise, possibly resulting in new customer acquisition and customer retention, reduced call center volume, improved inventory management, better labor planning and more efficient operations, all of which reduce cost. Breaking down organization silos between sales channels not only streamlines enterprise operations, but better enables retailers and e-tailers to deliver exactly what shoppers expect—a seamless omni-channel experience.
Canada is much like the United States in many, many ways, though there are a few key differences within the respective retail industries. Not only do grocery stores sell milk in plastic bags instead of plastic jugs or cardboard cartons, Canadian shoppers also face a limited selection when shopping online with U.S.-based retailers due to restrictive shipping policies that do not accommodate shipping to Canada.
Newgistics believes this is an opportunity for, not a weakness of, U.S.-based e-commerce merchants and multichannel retailers. In this two-part blog series, originally featured at RIS News, we’ll share six key principles U.S.-based retailers should keep in mind when considering the expansion of shipping into Canada.
Reaching a ripe, untapped market
Eighty two percent of Canadians reported having shopped online by October 2011, and the rate at which Canadians click to buy is rising rapidly—Canadians spent C$16.5 billion ($16.0 billion) in online sales in 2010, and this is expected to double to C$30.9 billion ($30 billion) by 2015. Eighty three percent of online shoppers purchased goods through Canadian e-Commerce merchants, while only 60 percent reported they purchased from U.S.-based retailers or brands. The time is right for U.S.-based companies to tackle international shipping to Canada.
#1: Keep deliveries timely and cost-effective
Canada is massive, but fortunately for U.S.-based retailers, 75 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S.-Canada border. As a result, Canadians across the country expect competitive transit times for U.S. goods at cost-effective rates. Target delivery times should be within 3-7 days to all Canadian provinces and territories.
#2: Simplify the returns process
One of the biggest hassles for online shoppers is when they decide a purchase must be returned for any number of reasons. This negative experience—a shirt that doesn’t fit, or a lamp that arrived broken—is a critical moment for an e-Commerce merchant, and they can reduce a customer’s inconvenience by simplifying the returns process. Make returns easy and create the opportunity to build loyalty by providing your Canadian consumers with a prepaid return shipping label, available in the delivery package or online, to be attached to the order and returned via any Canada Post location.
#3: Minimize Customs headaches
International shipping is complicated by the customs process, which includes taxes and duties and the reclamation of taxes and duties on returns, currency exchange, and product import restrictions. Eliminate paperwork problems and accelerate the process by providing documentation to customs before the shipment reaches the border.
Though the sales growth possibilities are quite lucrative, it is no small decision to begin shipping to Canada. However, the process need not be overwhelming for retailers and e-tailers. Stay tuned for the final three key principles to efficiently make the expansion into Canada, from handling returns and transit time to customer loyalty and shipment partner relations.
Last week we took a look at three steps merchants can take now to prepare for a busy holiday season of sales and returns. In the second part of this two-part series, we’ll take a look at two additional tactics retailers can deploy before the real madness starts that will help alleviate both retailers’ and consumers’ holiday shopping and shipping headaches:
Examine the customer experience from purchase to delivery. A thorough review of web, mobile and in-store paths to purchase all the way through the potential returns process can expose areas where customers are more likely to experience confusion, frustration or delays. One common area of customer frustration is subpar website performance during peak shopping times, so merchants should measure and improve site performance ahead of the holidays to increase conversion rates online.
Additionally, the lag time between purchase and delivery is a good opportunity to communicate with customers and build ongoing loyalty. Each shipping event is an opportunity for merchants to reach customers in new ways with personalized, branded messages based on specific actions. In the case of returns, branded alerts can notify customers when a return has been received and when the refund is issued, creating a better brand experience and increasing the likelihood of repeat purchases.
Keeping customers in the loop doesn’t only benefit consumers—it provides door-to-door tracking visibility. The data races back to the retailer ahead of the return package, alerting the retailer to potential issues with quality, sizing, or any other number of problems, in time for buyers and planners to make sale-saving adjustments and negotiate vendor concessions. Better data can also improve labor planning, inventory management and asset-recovery rates.
Process refunds and store credits as quickly as possible. Another common area of frustration and anxiety for customers is the wait to receive a full or partial refund or store credit once the merchandise has been returned. Merchants should measure the current wait time to receive a credit and review the processes in place that could delay this transaction, though a quicker and less expensive fix is to communicate often and clearly with the customer.
Peak season will always be a hectic time for merchants, but applying these two principles to your operations can help ensure a smoother holiday sales and return season, while creating the kind of customer experience that drives repeat purchases.
eMarketer recently reported that online holiday sales will increase by 17% this year, according to Internet Retailer – another sharp increase over last year.
And while the projected sales increase bodes well for merchants, it also means they can expect a heavy returns season. This will almost certainly be the case this holiday season, when U.S. shopper are expected to spend $54.47 billion online, setting the stage for a record rate of returns. In this two-part blog series, we’ll talk about how merchants can get ready for another peak season of heavy sales and returns.
While most pre-holiday planning involves striking the perfect balance among inventory, increased traffic in-store and online, and competitive promotions, a few easy steps in advance of the holiday madness can help ensure post-holiday preparedness as well. Here are the first two of four steps that merchants can take now.
Review your returns policy. Is it clearly stated and easy to understand? Is it no-hassle for customers? Does it enable multichannel return capabilities? Does it include a controlled method for collecting data? If necessary, a returns policy review ahead of the holiday rush can speed things along at customer service without increasing the demand on staffing, while reducing wait times and improving customer satisfaction.
Make the returns process easy for consumers. Returns of mobile and online purchases present new reverse logistics complexities for merchants, as well as potential challenges for consumers. On the consumer side, merchants can eliminate much of the hassle by providing a pre-paid, USPS-based return label with each shipment. Not only do pre-paid return labels reduce customer frustrations with the return process and improve satisfaction, but merchants can also choose to deduct the return shipping cost from the refund, or charge a small premium for the use of the service, resulting in an additional opportunity for incremental income.
The sheer volume of sales during the holidays will always challenge retailers, but applying these two simple best practices can help avert problems before they occur, reducing operational issues on the back-end and improving the customer experience.
By David Marinkovich, VP Marketing and Field Sales, Newgistics
Trends in consumer behavior continue to indicate a changing attitude toward shipping options within the overall shopping experience. Market analysis shows that, despite relatively flat growth rates in the U.S. shipping market as a whole, the acceptance of value-based shipping is rapidly displacing premium time-definite services.
Why this transition? Aside from consumers watching their spending more closely, some carriers are facing continued pricing pressures (tied to core transportation services) and high fixed operating costs, leading them to modify their billing procedures and negotiate service agreements with shippers – and the higher rates get passed on to consumers. However, there are alternatives that can help shippers not only control costs, but also improve base service levels by leveraging untapped information and opportunities.
This is about more than just shipping: a company’s brand and reputation is on the line every time a customer places an order. While some merchants get consumed with evaluating each individual transaction, intelligent merchants look at the lifetime value of customer and implement services that meet the customers expectations in price, service, and performance – encouraging the customer to continually ‘invest’ in their brand.
Certainly, there are still customers who want the option to purchase time-definite, higher-cost shipping services – but considering the growing number of consumers demanding economical alternatives, prudent shippers must offer an variety of services in order to appeal to a the needs of the their most valued asset, the customer. Otherwise, they risk losing that customer to the big box retailer who may not offer the same level of convenience, but doesn’t tack on inflexible high-cost shipping, either. A comprehensive shipping offering can tackle these challenges and more – from increasing the lifetime value of a customer and reducing call center costs, to creating new marketing opportunities and streamlining IT processes.
Every year, more than 1,500 people from around the globe descend upon Las Vegas on Super Bowl weekend for the annual Reverse Logistics Association Conference & Expo. The audience is comprised largely of supply chain executives from the world’s best-known technology companies and consumer electronics retailers. The conference is a great forum to exchange ideas as companies improve their reverse logistics processes, identify opportunities to refine their sustainability programs, look at solutions offered by service providers supporting the industry, and reduce costs. Today I’d like to take a look at that last topic, reducing costs.
Limited product lifecycles and complex supply chains
To put it simply, the consumer electronics industry is cut throat. You are only as good as your last product, and nobody is safe from consumer backlash if a product does not “Wow!” them and deliver bottom-line results for the manufacturer. And unlike many retail products, the effective lifespan of a product and its ability to win big in the market is not just seasonal, it may have only days or weeks to perform before it is more or less obsolete. For that reason, the complexity of the supply chain required to support returns in such an industry can be accurately described as a maze littered with the remains of products that need to find a resting place at the end of their useful life. But these questions remain: where do they go?; how do they get there?; and what is the most cost-effective way to make sure they get to their final destination?
Once the consumer is through with the device, the challenge becomes to identify the most optimal way to manage the flow of goods and materials. Unfortunately, many companies look at isolated areas of cost (such as transportation, for example) rather than the big picture, and are dissatisfied because they have a difficult time addressing other areas of the business where cost overruns are apparent. It is imperative to understand that any business, regardless of industry, is a delicate ecosystem that involves every area of the operation that relies on open communication among all channels. So while operations may try to save a few cents in one place, customer service may have a difficult time managing call center costs because the data required to support their environment is not necessarily provided through the ‘low cost alternative.’ As for marketing, well, if they cannot monitor consumer behavior and proactively market to them based on specific events observed through the use of the data, customer satisfaction may suffer and the business may miss critical revenue opportunities. It is enough to drive finance nuts, as the business as a whole may be headed in the wrong direction and with no clear answers as to how to go about fixing it.
The best solution for your business may not always be the least expensive. Trying to shave a few cents out of your operating costs may wind up costing you dollars in the end if you are not careful.
The future is the consumer
We have seen a complete evolution in the ways in which consumers shop. From the times of Ben Franklin (the original catalog marketer) until the 1990s, very little changed as people purchased through traditional brick & mortar outlets or through catalogs. The revolution in retailing brought on through integration of technology, customer buying preferences, and marketing is still in its infancy, as alternate retail channels accounts for less than 5 percent of total retail revenues. Whereas ‘mobile commerce’ was revolutionary a couple of years ago, we are progressing to the point of ‘social commerce’ as more and more people use alternate devices and mediums to fulfill their needs. As such, they demand that the information and services provided to them be easily accessible, have the ability to be consumed at a time when it is convenient for them, and have meaningful content.
Despite the wonderful advances that consumer electronics companies and their sales channels continue to make to offer products designed to support consumers’ lifestyles, they must also make sure their policies and the way they support the consumer after the sale supports their lifestyles as well. Trying to adapt old processes and unfriendly customer service policies in an effort to reduce costs or prevent returns may cost a company significantly in the new age of merchandising and retailing. As new thought leaders in the market emerge, it is likely that the focus will shift to service – based on a desire to build lifetime customer value rather than the idea of ‘saving’ a dollar here and there. For companies only focusing on the here and now, there may not be much to look forward to down the road.
*Originally published in PARCEL Magazine’s January-February issue.
With the holidays behind us, the logistics industry can finally breathe a collective sigh of relief. However stressful, the past few months of peak season have also shown more signs of economic recovery. Consumers came out in record numbers, making the fourth quarter of 2010 a bright spot on what was undoubtedly a barometer for future retail trends. Some may wonder, “What does this have to do with shipping?” The answer is quite a bit, actually.
Competing in a Changing Marketplace
The days of simply focusing on the creating a positive in-store experience are long past. New technologies, combined with an increasingly perceptive consumer, force all of us to find ways to meet growing customer demands without breaking the bank. The fact that many customers no longer ‘marry’ themselves to a brand (as price is the number one purchase factor) means that merchants’ ability to drive long-term customer loyalty is dependent not only on the products that they offer, but also on the total landed cost of putting those products into their customers’ hands. This is where shipping costs play a critical role in building customer loyalty.
The Rising Costs of Shipping
Nobody likes rate increases when it comes to shipping, especially when it can account for as much as 40 percent of an organization’s total landed operational costs. Nevertheless, there are several things to keep in mind as we negotiate contracts with carriers:
Because shipping is such a large factor in an organization’s budget, it is often one of the first places executives go to identify areas in which to reduce costs to remain competitive. While it’s always smart to work with your carrier to negotiate the best deal, I propose that you look even further than your rate chart for opportunities to save, which many merchants are missing out on today.
Additionally, as you look at alternative carriers, remember that your most loyal customers expect a certain level of service from you. As long as you establish customer expectations through a comprehensive policy that clearly communicates expectations, there is no harm in offering a lower-cost shipping alternative. Reducing costs may even help you attract new customers and build customer loyalty among long-time customers.
As carrier rates increase, one of the largest areas of opportunity is the manner in which corrugate costs are managed. Oftentimes, carriers face the challenge of reducing costs while merchants have not looked at their own shipping practices costs. Some questions to ask are:
There are many questions that can be asked, and my experience is that while many companies take the right approach to managing their business, there are an equal number that truly do not get everything they can out of the existing resources they have at their disposal.
In order to continue serving customers profitably, merchants must ensure that they’re doing everything possible to improve the level of service they receive from existing service providers, or be willing to utilize the services of others when their needs aren’t being met. And rather than placing the entire burden of cost reduction on service providers, businesses must also look to ways to reduce their own costs while meeting customers’ expectations. In an increasingly competitive market, your customers are not the only ones looking to you to deliver a better value – your shareholders are as well.