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Do you know what’s on your customers’ wish list?

E-commerce is changing habits and, more importantly, changing needs. Following the markets and understanding these trends can help you deliver what your customers want even before they really know they want it.

Every year at this time, I’m not only bracing myself for the annual peak season spike, I’m also mentally preparing my Christmas list – not what I hope Santa will bring me, of course, but what I want to gift my family. Things are a lot different now. I’m old enough to remember when you actually had to carve out time in your day and fight the holiday crowds to find that perfect gift. Nowadays, you can shop for just about anything online. You have a choice. Although many people still like to browse around stores “offline” – in the real world – more and more are making their purchases in the virtual world while lounging comfortably on the couch.

If you’re in the e-commerce business, understanding the trends is essential. It helps you stay one step ahead of not only your competitors, but also your customers. The most successful e-tailers have a knack for knowing what’s on consumers’ wish lists even before they know themselves.

Crunching the numbers

The most successful e-tailers have a knack for knowing what’s on consumers’ wish lists even before they know themselves.

If you haven’t already grasped the enormity of the e-commerce trend, then it’s time to sit down and do your homework. Here are some numbers to crunch: In Germany alone, the e-commerce industry chalked up revenues of some EUR43.8 billion in the first nine months of 2017 – that’s a 9% increase over last year and 93% of the country’s total mail-order business. Germany is bested in Europe only by the UK, where the industry was worth EUR153 billion in 2016 and is on track to see 14% growth in 2017. And although over 50% of Europe’s e-commerce business is done in these two countries, the rest of Europe is catching up fast. We’re seeing outstanding results in Central and Eastern European countries, where online sales are up 25-38% in places.

Encouraged by these and past performance figures, we’ve established and are continuously expanding an alliance of postal and parcel companies in Europe. We now have members in 26 EU countries, including our home market of Germany. By working together, we aim to improve market access and mutually benefit from one another’s networks.

Changing society

The e-commerce boom is transforming societies. The way we shop, travel, research, and communicate is changing radically, which means our needs are much different from even a few years ago. Everything is literally at your fingertips and delivered to your doorstep. You can browse endlessly from store to store, comparing products and prices, without ever leaving your home. But now that consumers have grown accustomed to this convenience, they want and expect more.

For business, e-commerce means a wealth of opportunity. Remember the adage “location, location, location”? Now where your business is located no longer determines your ability to increase sales and expand your customer base. Online retailers don’t worry about the weather or holidays. They’re open 24/7, 365 days a year. And the internet makes it easier than ever to expand into foreign markets. But in order to remain competitive, e-tailers now need to worry about their online presence and the options they provide to consumers. Do you deliver a multi-channel or an omni-channel experience? Do you offer flexible shipping options? These factors are more important than ever before.

What do customers really want?

It’s all about the customer journey, which until recently primarily involved clearing the path from product to purchase and delivering on time. That’s no longer enough. The parcel shipping process is now one of the most crucial legs of the customer journey and a major factor affecting e-commerce business integrity and success.

We keep a very close eye on online shoppers for these very reasons. To remain competitive, we know that we have to continue offering more than what both retailers and customers expect. Through market research we’ve found that many different parcel delivery factors play a role in purchasing decisions.

In our survey, over 59% of respondents said they check shipping options carefully before placing an order online, looking closely at delivery options, pricing, and providers. Choice is a hot commodity: some 78% want to be able to choose a delivery option, saying they would select a preferred delivery time if given the opportunity to do so. Over a third of these respondents would choose evening delivery. We also found strong interest in alternative delivery addresses, such as neighbors, parcel lockers, or local parcel shops. That matches the success we’ve had with these options. In the German market, for example, most people prefer to have parcels delivered to a trusted neighbor when they themselves are not at home. And our network of DHL Packstations is so dense that 90% of the population in Germany can reach one of our parcel lockers in 10 minutes or less, where they can send and pick up packages.

Topping the online consumer wish list and playing a big role in customer satisfaction is transparency. The vast majority – some 88% – want to be notified when their items ship and how to track them. The same number want to know a probable delivery date and nearly 70% the probable delivery time. The provider is important, too. Some 84% are interested in who will deliver their purchase. And 78% said they are very or extremely satisfied by those retailers who email shipping confirmations.

Preferred time

Picking a preferred delivery time is one aspect that more and more consumers say is important to them. We’ve found that customer satisfaction increases in areas where they are able to choose a delivery time that fits their schedule. Over a third would now choose evening delivery if they could, a trend we’ve been anticipating. It makes complete sense when you think about it. More and more people may be shopping online, but they’re not staying at home to receive their packages. But keep in mind that flexible working hours and home office options are on the rise in many economies, so delivery times during the day and alternative delivery addresses like parcel lockers or parcel shops will make those consumers very happy.

Writing your customer’s wish list

E-commerce is exploding around the globe. Despite the highly competitive environment of most markets, there is plenty of opportunity for those e-tailers who keep up with market trends and anticipate consumer behaviour and needs. Providing more choice in the delivery process is one way to do that.

The lessons are clear. Tell your customers which delivery company you use, give them lots of delivery options – including the ability to change the date, time, and place of delivery – and keep them informed about the delivery process. You’ll not only have satisfied customers, but also a whole lot of returning customers. And that’s certainly on every retailer’s wish list.

Download study: Customer needs in e-commerce

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