It wasn’t long ago when same-day delivery service was reserved for extremely sensitive and important business documents and medical supplies, or highly perishable gifts such as fresh flowers. Even purchasing next-day delivery has traditionally cost a fortune. Of course that’s all changed now, as large retailers like Amazon, Walmart and Target are competing for customer loyalty by offering same-day delivery for a few more dollars than other options. Same-day service isn’t available for all items in all markets from these retail giants, but that’s certain to expand in due time. The mainstreaming of mobile apps like Uber and Lyft have made the stakes higher, with just-in-time ride services that are super easy to use and affordable too.
Consumers increasingly prefer companies that give them really good experiences. A recent survey by logistics and warehousing provider 2Flow found that nearly half of shoppers are more likely to shop online if same day delivery is offered, while 63% say that receiving information about an estimated or guaranteed delivery date is an important factor in online shopping.
While speed is critical — no one is used to waiting long anymore except when stuck in a traffic jam or at the airport — that’s not the whole game. How about allowing customers to specify delivery times that work with their schedule? Many online grocery delivery services allow buyers to request a two-hour delivery window, and that’s especially helpful when you’re ordering perishable goods.
There’s also the risk of ordering high-value items (such as mail order prescription medicines and electronics), which might be sitting for hours on your front porch. A late 2017 survey by Comcast found that one third of Americans have experienced porch theft of packages. Then there’s the problem of ordering goods that require somebody to be home for a signature, such as alcohol, or to let the delivery person into the house, such as with an appliance or piece of furniture. Sitting at home for several hours waiting for such delivery people to show up isn’t practical (or desirable) for most people. There’s a new breed of delivery services emerging now, offered by Dolly and others, that gives consumers more precise control over delivery times.
Can the average retailer accomplish same day delivery or small delivery windows like this? For one, it requires leasing warehouse space to store products in the markets that you want to offer these services, but you don’t need a fleet of trucks. Partnering with independent local drivers can make this type of service viable and scalable.
There are other options as well, such as in-home delivery. Amazon (once again) is innovating in this area with Amazon Key, a smart lock device that allows delivery people one-time entry to place a package inside your door so that you don’t have to worry about porch theft or be home for those special deliveries. This requires a compatible smart lock and the Amazon Cloud Cam Security Camera, which gives buyers a video recording of the delivery in case something goes awry.
Let’s say some of your customers aren’t keen on allowing a stranger access to their home, regardless of these tracking technologies. Consider the possibility of partnering with local businesses that could serve as an off-site pickup point near the customer’s home. UPS Kiala Point offers this service today, delivering packages to storage areas at everyday businesses such as grocers and convenience stores. Or perhaps the product could be delivered to the trunk of a car or to a lock box or shed at the home, with the help of a smart lock device.
Drones are another innovation promising to make deliveries faster. Drones also have the potential to bring an important item to someone wherever they are. Let’s say a business traveler realizes at the airport that she forgot her computer charger. She can order up the product, and a drone could deliver it to her hotel before she even lands. (This means hotels and businesses could need drone landing pads, but that’s another topic.)
Retailers might scoff at these notions: are consumers getting out of hand? Maybe, but the fact is, delivery is the last impression customers have of your brand. Screw this up, and they might never come back. This is analogous to dining at a restaurant, when the waiter delivers superb service until your meal has been received and then he disappears. Forget about ordering another drink or getting your check when you want it — he’s moved on. This is not the experience you want any customer to suffer through.
If you are going to take the next step on customer service excellence by giving your customers more control and flexibility around how they receive orders, it will take some change inside your company. Expel the notion that you need to establish a long-time relationship with one or two delivery people. That’s nice for your staff, and perhaps it gives you peace of mind, but the customer could care less if it doesn’t allow them to receive the item when or how they wish.
Online retailers also need to develop different pricing models. For a customer wanting a specialized service, such as delivering groceries on the same day and placing perishable items in the refrigerator while putting away other items in the cupboard, it’s going to cost more. With personalized delivery, variable pricing is something that the business will need to operationalize and customers will need to accept.
This is an exciting time for shipping and logistics, an area that has traditionally been a bit boring. Now, companies can differentiate by personalizing every aspect of the business — from marketing and recommendations to ordering, paying, delivery and returns.
Kristin Toth Smith is currently the COO of Dolly, a technology platform, app and marketplace that connects people to local truck owners who are ready to help with their moving and delivery needs. Before Dolly, Smith was CEO of Code Fellows, VP of Operations at Zulily, and held various executive positions at Amazon.