Social media is giving consumers a new outlet to vent their frustrations about companies whose online ordering and delivery services disappoint. In this article, Paul Galpin, Managing Director, P2P Mailing, examines how bad news can travel fast if delivery failings occur, and outlines how forward-thinking companies are turning to expert partners to protect brand reputation.
The growth of online retail has been matched by the growth of consumer expectation. Customers now presume that they will be able to order the product that they want at any time of the day, and for it to arrive promptly when they expect it. Companies are now preparing for the Christmas rush, when ordering levels rise and delivery is particularly important. Many will be hoping that they can improve on last year’s efforts; during December 2012, it was estimated that at least 225,000 parcels each day failed to arrive when promised.1
Those retailers that can’t produce high standards of delivery will be punished. Research shows that experiencing delays or delivery problems just twice or more would convince 87% of online shoppers to switch to another supplier.2 In addition, nearly two thirds of consumers cite poor delivery standards as the worst thing that can go wrong with online shopping.3
So, the message to retailers is clear: effective fulfilment and delivery processes are a must for retaining customers. If problems are experienced, consumers will simply make their purchases elsewhere.
But is that the only consequence of poor delivery standards?
As well as the growth of ecommerce, another product of the internet has been the evolution of social media. Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest, social media is now part of our everyday lives. Findings from UPS show that 84% of online shoppers use at least one social media website.4 And whilst social media has given consumers a ready-platform to share views and news, it has also provided a means for disgruntled shoppers to show their dissatisfaction with online retailers.
Our research shows that almost a quarter (23.5%) of respondents said that they had already used social media to complain about poor order and delivery services. In today’s time-pressured society, writing a letter or phoning a call centre to criticise a service takes time and requires a special effort. But access to social media is quick and easy via smartphones, tablets and laptops. These devices travel everywhere with consumers, and irritation with a company’s service standards can be instantly expressed.
And it appears that the inclination to use social media as a way to complain is becoming more popular. A survey for global insurer XL Group found that the majority of consumers surveyed expressed an increased willingness to use social media to complain. Indeed, more than one-third of survey respondents were more likely to use social media to complain to a company than a year ago.5
For retailers, the implications of these trends are serious.
By using social media to comment about poor service, consumers are immediately broadcasting this message to followers/friends. This means that potentially thousands of prospective customers have been given a negative view of the company from the outset, with the risk that they buy elsewhere.
Fulfilment and delivery excellence is recognised as essential to customer satisfaction, therefore it is critical that a secure and efficient infrastructure is in place to ensure goods get to consumers at the specified time. Failure to deliver promptly could mean that retailers lose the customers that they have disappointed, but they could also alienate a raft of potential customers that they haven’t even yet engaged with.
In a time of increased competition, online retailers can ill-afford to lose customers, whether they are existing or prospective. Forrester Research predicts that the UK online retail market will grow by 10% per year from £40bn in 2012 to £64bn in 2016. As the percentage of online sales has grown, so has the level of competition6 meaning that an alternative supplier is only a click away.
Prevention is better than cure
However, when it comes to complaining to companies directly it’s easy to see why social media is a popular channel. In an experiment conducted by the BBC’s The One Show, five different companies were contacted using email and twitter and asked to respond about a problem. All five replied faster, and in a more personalised manner, to the tweets. The fastest response to a Twitter query was 3 minutes, whereas after 24 hours only one company had replied to email.7
Indeed, research has found that 68% of customers who posted a negative comment or review via social media were contacted by the retailer. Of these 34% went on to delete their original post, 33% were mollified and posted a positive review and 18% became a loyal customer and bought more.8
However, by the time the message has been posted, the damage has already been done: friends and followers have seen the complaint against the retailer in question and they may not see subsequent messages that indicate that the situation has been resolved.
It makes far more sense for companies to take all steps possible to prevent negative feedback on social media in the first place. Not only to avoid losing customers but also to reduce staff time spent dealing with complaints.
For retailers looking to ensure that their fulfilment and delivery systems are ready for the Christmas rush there are lots of considerations to make. However, broadly, a successful solution requires five key elements:
The fulfilment system covers a lot of different stages from the point that the order is created to the point that the item is dispatched. The system needs to update as each of these stages is completed so that, for example, stock levels are recorded and correct costs are applied. The system also needs to be integrated into the despatch and shipping stages, so that the correct labels are generated.
To ensure that the fulfilment process runs smoothly the whole system needs to be trackable so that the time of each stage is recorded and each item can be traced at any stage. In this way, any processing delays can be easily identified and dealt with.
Ease of use:
The system needs to be easy to use so that reports can be easily generated and accessed and warehouse operatives can quickly obtain the information that they require.
The system is also likely to need to incorporate systems of different carriers. It is also beneficial if the system can consolidate orders to reduce shipping costs. Many retailers now leave a window after the order is placed and before the fulfilment process starts, so that if the customer goes back to purchase another item, these can be incorporated into one package. This is not only convenient for the customer but it also reduces shipping costs and is particularly important for the festive period when customers are more likely to make multiple purchases.
The system also needs to be able to handle the return of items; this includes the entire end-to-end process, from receiving the customer’s request to successfully transporting the goods to integrating them back into stock levels. A good returns system is something that many companies can forget to implement. If customers find it difficult to return goods, it’s likely that they may look to a competitor next time.
Ensuring that all of these elements are covered offers companies a good starting point to achieve accurate and timely deliveries, thereby minimising the number of customer complaints whether they are expressed on social media or via any other channel.
For forward-thinking companies, outsourcing the delivery and fulfilment processes is proving to be more practical than taking on the task in-house. This option allows companies to harness the expertise that a specialist partner can bring. The best partners have well-established relationships with carriers across the globe and are able to flexibly match the right delivery service to a particular job.
Indeed, an expert partner should have the know-how to point companies to delivery solutions that are specifically geared towards enhancing the consumer experience, thus mitigating the likelihood for negative comments in the first place. Such solutions offer maximum choice and convenience to the consumer in terms of delivery options, and can provide total end-to-end visibility of the delivery process including proof of delivery at the point of handover. Today’s consumers demand excellent customer service. Social media makes it very easy for disgruntled customers to spread their dissatisfaction, potentially damaging company reputation. Expert partners can help to ensure that distribution solutions not only meet customer expectations but serve to enhance the shopping experience. And just as social media can quickly spread the bad news, so the opposite is true. Consistently delight customers, and the good news can travel fast.
1 The Independent, ‘IoS investigation: The great online delivery scandal’,
6 January 2013
2 Are You Delivering, May 2012
4 2013 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper, February 2013
5 Silicon Republic, ‘Customers increasingly likely to use social media to complain – survey’ 10 October 2013
6 Computer Weekly, ‘Why the internet is forcing retailers to rethink their supply chains’, July 2013
7 BBC Consumer, ‘Twitter complaints: Companies respond more quickly’,
18 September 2013
8 Right Now, ‘The Retail Consumer Report’, 2011
Paul Galpin is Managing Director of mailing and distribution solutions provider P2P Mailing. He has been involved within the mailing industry for over 16 years and has held a number of key roles in Sales and Customer Services throughout this time.