Choices and Convenience key for online retail
Customers want more choices when it comes to shopping online, more control over when their purchases will be delivered and a convenient returns process, according to a report by comScore and UPS.
The customer experience study, named UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper, analysed e-commerce preferences including mobile trends, social media impact and the integrated buying experience of shopping in physical stores and online - also known as omnichannel retailing.
Earlier this year, comScore asked 3,000 consumers which factors led them to shop more on their computers, smartphones or tablets; to abandon shopping their carts, and to recommend retailers to friends.
Findings show that online buyers are using social media to shop for the best deals and expect more shipping options from e-tailers, where 44 percent said they would more likely shop with a retailer if they could buy online and pick up the item in the store and 62 percent want the ability to buy online and return items to a store.
Mobile is key
Mobile and social channels continue to change the way consumers shop - 46 percent said they are less likely to comparison shop when using a retailer's mobile app, and 47 percent said they want a retailer to send a coupon to their smartphone when they are in-store or nearby. Not surprisingly, 84 percent of online shoppers use at least one social media site. Among Facebook users - the most popular channel - 60 percent "like" a brand to receive an incentive or promotion.
"Consumers have a growing number of digital touch points, with more ways to stay connected with their favorite online retailers through every phase of the shopping, buying and fulfillment process," said Susan Engleson, comScore senior director. "What will set apart one retailer from another in a competitive marketplace is how well they meet the rapidly evolving needs and expectations of customers."
Channels, Choices and Convenience
Shoppers expect more shipping options from online retailers, but 78 percent continue to choose the least expensive option. To qualify for free shipping, three out of four shoppers have added items to their carts. After free shipping, the ability to review estimated shipping costs and delivery times before checkout are most important. Almost all (97%) of those surveyed said tracking a purchase is essential or nice to have.
Only 44 percent of consumers are currently satisfied with their ability to reroute a package. Retailers supporting changes while orders are in transit have a competitive advantage. "As consumers move more of their shopping online and gain exposure to a variety of purchasing experiences, their expectations for retailers continues to grow," said Alan Gershenhorn, UPS's chief sales and marketing officer. "Now consumers can shop from anywhere, at any time and are looking for online retailers to have an integrated and robust set of options as the customer experience no longer ends at checkout. Whether large or small, UPS helps retailers develop innovative consumer-driven global supply chain management strategies."
According to the report, more consumers are returning online purchases. Last year's Customer Experience Study showed 63 percent of consumers reviewed a retailer's return policy before making a purchase. This year it's 66 percent. A hassle-free returns policy can make the difference in driving return customers - 82 percent of consumers said they would complete the purchase if they could return the item to a store or have free return shipping; 67 percent said they would shop more with that retailer and 64 percent would recommend the retailer to a friend.
Driver shortages: Why the industry needs to be worried
While driver shortages are a global problem, with a recent survey from the International Road Transport Union suggesting that driver shortages are expected to increase by 25% year-on-year across its 23 member countries, the issue has very much made itself felt for UK businesses in recent weeks.
A perfect storm of factors, which many within the industry have been wary of, and warning about, for months, have led to a situation wherein businesses are suddenly facing significant difficulties around transporting goods to shelves on time, as well as inflated operating costs for doing so.
What’s more, the public may also see price rises as a result due to demand outmatching supply for certain product lines, which in turn brings with it the risk of customer dissatisfaction and a hit to brand and stakeholder reputation. Given that this price inflation has been speculated to hit in October, when the extended grace period on Brexit customs checks comes to an end, the worst may be yet to come.
"Steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole"
That said, we have already been hearing reports of service interruption due to lack of driver availability, meaning that volumes aren’t being transported, or delivered, to required schedules and lead times. A real-world example of this occurred on the weekend of 4-6 June with convenience retailer Nisa, with deliveries to Nisa outlets across the UK affected by driver shortages to its logistics provider DHL.
But where has this skills shortage stemmed from?
Supply is the primary issue. Specifically, the number of available EU drivers has decreased by up to 15,000 drivers due to Brexit alone, and this has been further exacerbated by drivers returning to their home country during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changes to foreign exchange rates making UK a less desirable place to live and work. This, alongside the recent need to manage IR35 tax changes, has also led to significant inflation in driver and transport costs.
COVID-19 complications have also meant that there have been no HGV driver tests over the past year, meaning the expected 6,000-7,000 new drivers over the past year have not appeared. With the return of the hospitality sector we understand that this is a significant challenge with, for instance, order delivery lead times being extended.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the Road Haulage Association (RHA) earlier this month became the latest in a long line of industry spokespeople to write to the government about the driver shortage for trucks. The letter echoed the view held by much of the industry, that the cause of this issue is both multi-faceted and, at least in some aspects, long-standing.
So, many in the industry are in agreement as to the driving factors behind this crisis. But what can be done?
Simply enough, outside of businesses completely reorganising their supply chain network, external support is needed. In the short-term, the government should consider providing the industry with financial aid, and this can also be supported more widely with legislative change.
Specifically, immigration policy could be updated to place drivers on the shortage occupations list, which would go some way towards easing the burden created by foreign drivers returning to their home countries. Looking elsewhere, government should also look for ways to increase the availability of HGV driver tests after the blockage created by the coronavirus lockdowns.
Looking more long-term, steps must be taken to make a career in the industry a more attractive proposition for younger drivers, which will require a joint effort from government, industry bodies, and the sector as a whole. As it stands, multiple sources suggest that the average age of truck drivers in the UK is 48, with only one in every hundred drivers under the age of 25. We must therefore do more to increase the talent pipeline coming into the industry if we are to offset more significant skills shortages further down the line.
On the back of a turbulent year for the supply chain industry, it has become increasingly clear that the long-foretold shortage of drivers is now having a tangible and, in places, crippling effect on supply chains.
Drivers, and the wider supply chain industry, have rightly been recognised for the seismic role they played in keeping the nation moving and fed over the past year under unprecedented strain. If this level of service is to continue, we must now see Government answer calls to provide the support the sector needs, and work hand-in-hand with the industry to find a solution. If we do not see concrete action to this effect soon, we are likely to be in for a turbulent few months.
Rob Wright is executive director at SCALA, a leading provider of management services for the supply chain and logistics sector