With the announcement that politicians intend to double the share of e-commerce in retail sales by 2015, more and more companies are focusing on perfecting their approach to distance selling.
As the current share is just 3.4%, there is plenty of room for growth, a fact that is reiterated by recent increased focus on consumer rights within the field.
These days, the majority of people enjoy the benefits of distance selling in one way or another. Whether they are ordering a book from Amazon or a new outfit by mail order, more and more customers are being dealt with at a distance.
But in order to succeed and not fall foul of the potential difficulties, a company must be aware of everything relating to the process of distance selling. Rules and regulations apply in this market that can determine the success of any seller, and the happiness of their customers.
There are many things to consider so let’s take a look at some of the vital elements.
When opening up your business to a distance audience, you need to find a logistics company that you can trust. This company is going to be the middle man between you and your customer, so you need to know that they’re not going to let you down. You also need to be fully versed in their protocols.
There are many factors to consider depending on your size, budget and market but there’s one fundamental element that is crucial for all: you’ll quickly find that a company that can guarantee all of the costs involved (so that there are no nasty surprises) is an absolute must.
Shopping around to find the best possible deal (and that goes beyond just price) can determine the levels of your success. Ask colleagues, do some research online and make sure you are making the smartest choices for your business.
This is an area in which many newcomers can trip up. When you’re not handing goods directly to a customer yourself, certain shipping and handling fees can apply. These fees might include:
and many more.
Other aspects such as exchange rates and fuel prices can fluctuate, making the total cost of shipping an item quite unpredictable. Preparing and budgeting for these fees can be make or break for companies involved in distance selling.
Then there’s the element of customer satisfaction. A customer who has to travel and/or pay additional fees to pick up their goods is going to be pretty disappointed. And highly unlikely to order from the same distance seller again.
If your logistics company can be completely transparent about all costs incurred in shipping, you can factor this into your pricing and make sure that your customers receive their goods with no complications. Everybody’s happy.
There are countless delivery options available to distance sellers depending on what it is you’re selling. From teapots to TVs, you need to be sure that what you’re paying for delivery is a fair price, and that your goods will be treated with care.
When you’re choosing a logistics company, ask about their delivery options and how they choose the best delivery avenue for everyone. They should be able to offer something that keeps you and your customers happy.
You might decide to offer free delivery and factor the costs into the price of your goods. Or you could choose a tiered delivery system of premium and economy. If you do decide to charge for delivery, offering a cheaper option will be popular with many of your customers.
You can also offer different delivery options according to the size and weight of the goods you are shipping. You may be able to organise more economical means of shipping for larger items.
Keeping your customers informed of timeframes is perhaps the most important element of delivery. So if you claim delivery in 5-10 working days, make sure you have a reliable logistics company so that you can stick to your promise.
Consumer rights are constantly evolving: an EU draft directive in 2011 was met with concern due to its rigid proposed regulations, which were widely considered counterproductive. For this reason, it’s important to keep abreast of changes in the regulations as they have been amended of late.
A fair and comprehensive returns policy is a surefire way to keep your customers happy. There are downsides to buying certain items online (such as not being able to try on clothes) so customers see returns as a good insurance policy.
Sometimes the incorrect item might be shipped, or perhaps the customer just has a change of heart. Whatever the reason, a reasonable returns service is often the clincher when customers are buying an item. If they know they can return the item(s) with no quibbles, they’re far more likely to click ‘buy’.
Regulations on returns may vary but the seller can always dictate certain terms for cancellations. For example, you can stipulate that cancellations must be made within 48 hours of receipt. You need to make sure that these rules are clearly outlined in your terms and conditions and made obvious to the customer when they buy.
A good logistics company will offer returns management as a standard part of their service.
They may also offer different levels according to the size and value of the items you are shipping. This is a crucial part of deciding which company to use.
Returns management is an area that can create problems if not dealt with properly, so it’s vital to create iron clad terms and conditions and work with a logistics company that can support these. Protect yourself but also ensure that your terms are fair to the customer.
And make sure these terms are laid out clearly at - or soon after - the point of purchase.
Distance selling has plenty of benefits. The option to have goods delivered is practical, efficient and often cheaper for the end customer.
Offering a reliable service and never letting your customers down is vital for business longevity. So it’s worth investing time, money and effort into making sure your service is the best it can be.