If you’re an online retailer, there’s a good chance you’ve been pretty busy lately. As more consumers turn to online shopping for their everyday needs, e-commerce retail has become one of the world’s fastest growing industries.
Statistically speaking, it experienced 6.7% growth over the last year, even while most offline industries have been feeling the negative business impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
How does the e-retail industry continue to thrive? And how will the current market conditions and delivery trends continue to unfold over the years ahead?
That’s exactly what we wanted to find out through our statistical market research in which we surveyed over 8,000 consumers across Europe!
E-commerce is becoming the norm for millions of shoppers
It’s no secret that brick-and-mortar stores are struggling to keep up with their online competitors these days.
Those offline retailers who embrace an omnichannel model have the best chances for success – especially now that so many consumers have embraced online shopping in response to COVID-19 shutdown measures.
Despite the major market fluctuations going on at the moment, customer experience still matters more than ever.
That’s why our sweeping market research focuses on what online shoppers expect from e-commerce delivery in 2020 and the years ahead.
What are the key e-commerce delivery trends for 2020 and beyond?
We know you’re busy. That’s why we’re breaking down the top findings of our extensive market research into this quick, easy overview.
If you want to dive deeper into the statistics (which we highly recommend), please also make sure to download the full report.
In this article, we’ll take you through the most important insights that our research uncovered in the following areas:
- The checkout experience and cart abandonment
- Shipping costs
- Green shipping
- Cross-border e-commerce
- Tracking notifications
- Return policies
- Customer expectations in the age of COVID-19
Based on the statistics, we’ll give you our outlook on the future of e-commerce, along with plenty of ideas for optimising the user experience on your online store.
Insight #1: rethinking the checkout experience
Are you suffering from fear of abandonment? Fear of cart abandonment, that is? If so, you’re not alone. Cart abandonment is at an all-time high.
But what are the factors that lead to cart abandonment in the first place? Our research reveals some of the main culprits:
- Shipping costs: unexpected shipping costs are a reason for cart abandonment among 65% of online shoppers.
- Lack of free shipping for high-value orders: more than one third of consumers say they will abandon a cart if they find out during checkout that there is no free shipping on an order valued above £135 (€150).
Design your checkout process from a customer’s perspective. Checkout is the gateway to a sale, so it has to be every bit as customer friendly as your site’s product pages.
Be sure to cover as many bases as possible here:
- Offer customers a flexible range of payment and delivery options.
- Avoid unpleasant surprises during checkout, especially hidden shipping costs.
- Communicate shipping and delivery information clearly from the outset.
A transparent, inviting checkout experience builds trust and makes your shoppers less inclined to leave behind a cart full of items floating in e-retail limbo.
Insight #2: free shipping is not necessarily the gold standard
For years, e-commerce retailers have been wrestling with a tough question when it comes to shipping costs: “for free, or not for free?”
And while many analysts have advocated free shipping as a winning strategy for boosting conversion and retention, we’ve discovered that the real answer might be a little more complex.
Does every customer really expect and prefer free shipping with every order they place?
Don’t get us wrong: free shipping is obviously very popular. It is a genuinely customer-centric solution. There’s nothing like a “freebie” to show your customers how much you care.
However, not all customers are alike. There are plenty, in fact, who are willing to pay more for shipping as long as you can guarantee speedy, hassle-free delivery, often using their preferred carrier.
That peace of mind is worth the extra cost to them. Here are some takeaways from our research:
- Shipping costs are still the most important reason to abandon shopping carts. But, the majority of European online shoppers say that they will add additional items to the shopping cart so that they can meet the threshold for free shipping.
- One third of European shoppers are willing to pay additional shipping costs if they can choose a specific day or time for delivery.
- On average, customers expect standard delivery within Europe to take 3 days, which means your standard shipping option does not need to be super fast.
Clearly there are benefits to offering free shipping if you can afford to do it. But the research suggests it is not the only way to keep your customers happy when it comes to delivery.
Based on our findings, the best approach to shipping is a dynamic one:
- Consider offering free shipping to customers who reach a certain value threshold. This is a great incentive to get them to add more items to the cart, and they’ll appreciate the gesture..
- Offer faster shipping options at a premium cost during checkout for those who do wish to pay for them. This way, you cater to everyone’s needs.
- Always be transparent upfront about your shipping costs, including the specific threshold for free shipping.
Insight #3: green shipping is coming… but not right away
The environment is a growing concern for many retailers and consumers today. But surprisingly, our research found that only 12% of consumers are actually willing to pay for so-called “green” delivery, which is designed to offset carbon emissions released during the delivery process.
Even though green delivery options are rising, it will still take some time before this becomes a standard choice for large numbers of consumers.
Packaging is more of an environmental concern than shipping for most consumers. This makes sense.
The consumer will be left to dispose of the packaging themselves, so they can clearly see how much paper and plastic waste a typical online order generates in their household.
- Even if most consumers are still uninterested in carbon-neutral shipping, you can raise consumer awareness about the topic—and boost your company’s sustainability profile—by at least offering this option.
- Also, since most consumers are more concerned with packaging waste than shipping emissions, consider switching to recycled and fully recyclable shipping materials. Be sure to inform your customers that you are shipping their orders using environmentally friendly packaging, so they will feel even better about placing an order with your company.
Insight #4: sell global, think local
Ready to bring your products to a global market? If you’re not already doing business internationally, there’s probably a lot less stopping you than you might think.
And you’ve really got nothing to lose by vastly expanding your customer base.
In fact, experts are predicting that nearly one quarter of all e-commerce orders will be cross-border commerce by the year 2022.
Our research found that more than half of European online shoppers placed an international order over the past 12 months.
Yet these shoppers still expect a smooth, hassle-free customer experience.
According to our findings, the main pain points that keep shoppers from ordering internationally are:
- Excessive shipping costs
- Possible customs-related costs
- Difficulty returning products
- Lengthy delivery times
Considering the strong potential for growth that cross-border retail offers, it’s worthwhile for e-commerce retailers to take these concerns into account.
- Develop a customer-centric shipping and returns strategy, but try to be as efficient as possible to cut costs.
- Clear any customs-related issues in advance by researching and following the rules for international shipping.
- Be sure to offer a convenient return-shipping procedure for international orders.
It’s also important to openly communicate these points to your customers, so they feel comfortable about placing a cross-border order on your site.
Insight #5: tracking is a powerful touchpoint
We all enjoy having something pleasant to look forward to. That’s what makes shipping tracking notifications such a magnet for online shoppers.
Customers simply love to keep an eye on their order’s shipping status and, ideally, to know exactly when they can expect it to arrive.
According to our research, more than eight out of ten shoppers say they regularly open and read their shipping status notifications.
Imagine if eight out of ten of your customers would open your email newsletter or advertising mailers!
This is why many retailers are starting to view tracking as a very valuable moment of the customer journey.
You’re almost guaranteed to get your customer’s attention by sending a tracking notification.
They will appreciate it as a sign of your good service, and you might also take advantage of the contact to inform them of some other fine products available through your shop.
- Include sales messaging or special offers along with your tracking notifications. Your customers will be happy to receive and read a tracking message, so they may also be more receptive to additional offers.
- As with so many things in life, though, it’s important to strike the right balance. Don’t let the sales message overshadow the useful, customer-focused tracking information. Tracking in general should be part of a positive customer experience, so be sure to keep it that way!
Insight #6: your return policy really is a conversion tool
For online retailers, return shipping is a fact of life. But there’s no reason why this “necessary evil” can’t be turned into a powerful asset for growing your business.
You may be thinking, “How can return shipping actually benefit me as a retailer?”
The answer is simple: by offering a smooth, customer-focused return shipping policy, you give today’s online shoppers exactly what they expect. Here are some take-aways from our research:
- Customers expect to receive their refund for the return of their order within 5 days. Longer is highly unappreciated.
- Many shoppers even specifically check the returns policy before placing an order, with 43% saying they will not order a product unless the returns period is at least 30 days.
What this means is that your returns policy is actually a factor in your customers’ decision-making process.
That’s why crafting a favourable returns procedure helps strengthen ties with your paying customers.
There are so many great ways to make returns a positive customer experience. Think about these:
- Consider offering free return shipping.
- Offer an extended return period of at least 30 days.
- Enable customers to organise return shipping entirely through your site instead of leaving it fully up to them or referring them to third-party shipping companies.
- Offer convenient return shipping labels in the box.
The idea is to treat your returns policy like the customer-relations tool that it actually is. Offer a smooth, customer-centric return process and your customers will thank you for it.
Insight #7: the coronavirus pandemic is changing customer expectations
The coronavirus pandemic has had far-reaching impacts on e-commerce shipping in general. Our research reveals how it is affecting customers’ expectations.
Are customers willing to wait longer to receive their deliveries now that there’s a global crisis going on?
Generally speaking, the answer is yes, though the research shows that the amount of extra waiting time consumers tolerate varies significantly by country:
- On average, consumers around Europe are willing to wait anywhere from 1.4 to 2.2 days longer than usual for their shipments during the crisis period.
- Around one in three consumers say they consider 4 to 5 days an acceptable wait time for deliveries right now, with about one quarter saying they are willing to wait as long as 6 or 7 days.
- A quarter is willing to wait even longer than 9 days for a standard delivery.
In other words, the pandemic is making consumers more patient. Consumers’ current level of patience is a “bright side” of the crisis for e-commerce retailers.
Our statistics show that 69% of consumers have experienced delayed shipments since the crisis began, with average delays around Europe totalling about 2.1 days longer than normally.
These delays are unsurprising, perhaps, considering the real challenges that retailers and carriers now face, including (at times) up to 90% more packages to ship than usual.
Even though customers may be more tolerant of slower deliveries at the moment, don’t rely on this.
Never use the pandemic as an excuse for mistakes that could have been avoided. The last thing you want is for the customer to feel you are being insincere.
Of course, there have been shipping delays, labour shortages and supply-chain issues caused by the crisis.
These are all valid reasons for slowing down the order fulfilment process. But be sure to handle these topics with great care.
- Communicate openly with your clients about any COVID-related issues. Assure them that their safety and that of your employees and partners is your top priority.
- Consider offering them a little extra to show how much you care. This crisis is about showing humanity. And we’ve all seen how a little extra attentiveness can make all the difference.
What’s next for e-commerce?
Our statistics offer many insights into the current and future state of e-commerce.
What stands out above all is the competitive advantage of offering positive, customer-centric user experiences.
Today’s online shoppers expect flexibility, convenience and speed.
For e-commerce retailers, that means offering a wide range of shipping and delivery options, so that you cater to as many customers’ wishes as possible.
Want to find out more insights from our extensive market research? Download our full report for an in-depth look at all the trends, statistics and predictions to help you grow your e-commerce business.