While singular themes are hard to identify at any event of the scale of the Internet Retailer Conference & Exposition held last week in Chicago – nearly 10,000 attendees, 600 vendors, and 130 sessions – a thread emerged I found particularly noteworthy for parcel shippers: the retail landscape is ever-changing and shopper expectations have been raised because of it.

Obvious, sure, but there’s a reason so much of the conversation at IRCE pivoted on the theme.

Two market research-driven sessions provided a snapshot as to why.

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During Tech-Savvy Shoppers Transforming Retail, co-presenters Louis Dejianne, director of retail marketing at UPS, and comScore CEO Gian Fulgoni premiered findings from their just-released 2017 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study. Of note:

  • Half of shoppers have used ship-to-store options in the past year; 44 percent of those shoppers bought more items while in the store.
  • While total discretionary retail spending is only growing by 3 percent, the e-commerce segment is growing at 40 percent (mobile alone grew by 43 percent). Leading the surge is apparel spending – a sign that free shipping (and returns) is having an impact, Fulgoni said.
  • More evidence of the Amazon Effect: Nearly 3 in 5 consumers are at least somewhat likely to abandon a cart online if they are asked to pay shipping costs at time of purchase. If a free shipping option is not available, or there is no means to reach a free shipping threshold – a purchase minimum or free ship-to-store option, for example – retailers will certainly fall behind the competition.

 

Per @UPS, shoppers expect free shipping & returns + delivery guarantees. Are you accounting for those costs? #IRCE17 https://t.co/0U97fPGhsl pic.twitter.com/hjADrnp94s

— VeriShip (@VeriShip) June 8, 2017

It’s increasingly clear that what happens post-transaction is important to the entire shopping experience, Dejianne of UPS said. The implication, which you’d expect from a UPS representative, is that the parcel carrier is a key player in the end-to-end, after-purchase experience that culminates with the package reaching the consumer.

UPS wants you to think of the carrier when you consider how to best “deliver” a superior experience to your customer. It’s increasingly important, as shopper expectations heighten, that your business also acknowledge your carrier’s role and ensure carrier accountability, a consideration further highlighted in a recent article for PARCEL Magazine by my colleague Jason Reeves.

“Because the role of the carrier is so fundamental to the entire shipping process, carrier performance is sometimes overlooked…,” Jason writes. “Upon a package’s departure, your expectation – and the carrier’s guarantee – is that the package will arrive to your customer at the agreed-upon time. We know this expectation is not always met, but how often it falls short isn’t easy to pinpoint if you’re a high-volume shipper.”

In the final session of the conference, Brendan Witcher, Principal Analyst at Forrester, put a bow on the theme.

“We are in the era of hyper adoption and hyper abandonment,” Witcher said in the opening moments of his presentation of Top Tech Investments for Retailers: The ‘Hot or Not’ List for 2017: What Really Matters to Win Today’s Retail Consumer.

Per @forrester, retailers seek tools w/ analytics — predictive & prescriptive. How to apply to #parcel: https://t.co/pdUzLwvIMs #IRCE17 https://t.co/m187UHQ6dN

— VeriShip (@VeriShip) June 12, 2017

Hot tech investments, according to Forrester, include:

  • Personalization. For the first time, in-store personalization moved to the top of the list alongside its e-commerce companion, Witcher said.
  • Omnichannel. While omnichannel fulfillment remains the largest segment, more retailers are considering technology for omnichannel pricing and engagement, among others.
  • Analytics. Retailers are looking for real-time data and business tools with embedded analytics. They want predictive and prescriptive insights, which VeriShip specializes in.
  • Artificial intelligence. Also a notable theme at Shoptalk earlier this year.

Retailers are looking to invest in technology that aligns with today’s customer expectations, Witcher said.

My takeaway: market data, like what we heard at IRCE from UPS and Forrester, is telling us that the post-click experience is a central, if too often underappreciated, factor in the holistic shopping experience.

Andrew Brueckner is VeriShip’s Vice President of Business Solutions.

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