Why you should be investing in your delivery & returns process

It’s the weekend before Christmas the only thing you have for your Dad is an awful novelty mug. The window of opportunity for finding the perfect gift is diminishing. You have an idea: you can get that new 3D film. Sorted, or so you think. You frantically rush around the shops, no one has it. You try and search on your phone to locate it online, hallelujah you find one! Not trusting your connection you rush home to try and order it before the last delivery. You get home with an hour to spare by which time the twitch in your eye has turned into a full spasm. You fire up the computer there’s only 2 left in stock, you’re literally seconds away from victory. You go through the nail biting experience of entering your payment details, expecting to see your delivery options next but instead you receive this message:

“Congratulations purchase complete, you’ve qualified for our free delivery”.

What? What does this mean?

In a state of panic you search for their delivery policy which is buried deep in the site. It reads “Free delivery on every order. Items take approximately 4-6 days for delivery”.

Now you:
A) Still have no present for your dad and
B) are no longer in town to find a replacement.
Angry and frustrated this experience has left a bad taste in your mouth and you vow never to shop at this store again.

So where did this company go so wrong?

They offered free delivery. Surely that’s got to count for something? For many people free delivery is extremely important. In fact a recent survey by comScore showed that 55% of people abandoned checkout because shipping costs were too high and their number one improvement for online shopping would be free delivery.

Finding out what your customers need

What this company failed to see, was that it was not the cost of delivery that was most important to this customer but having control over when it was delivered. You, the customer would have been more than happy to pay to get it delivered in time for Christmas, but you weren’t given that option. Funnily enough in the same comScore survey mentioned earlier the second most requested improvement cited by consumers was the ability to have named or nominated dates for delivery.

Not understanding what your customers want and need can cost you dearly.

We hear numerous stories of woe connected to poor deliveries and returns, but equally when retailers offer great service in this area they shine as brands people love.

What has struck me about both the positive and the negative experiences we hear about, is that the difference between them is the information and choice that is given to the customer at different points throughout their shopping journey.

The story above outlines the heightened emotional state people are in when making time sensitive purchases. If as a retailer you can turn that anxiety into a successful experience you have an opportunity to differentiate yourselves from your competitors and boost brand loyalty.

Here are some things you should be thinking about in order to make sure you’re one of the companies that shine.

During purchase

Delivery information

Make sure people are able to locate delivery information easily from every page on your website - don’t make people hunt around for this information. When we worked on the Charles Tyrwhitt website we achieved this by placing delivery information next to the product information in a easy to spot location.

Charles Tyrwhitt product page
Delivery in context - Charles Tyrwhitt product page

Allow control over how and when people receive their delivery

For some people time is not an issue, so here free delivery will be beneficial. For others time is the most crucial thing, so they will be willing to pay to have control over when and where they receive their delivery. Equally for delivery of large ticket items allow people the option for timed delivery, so they don't have to wait in all day. Again a service people will be prepared to pay for in return for convenience.

John Lewis delivery options
John Lewis delivery options

Allow people choice in their delivery options

Allow people to set their delivery address - amazingly some companies won’t allow you to add a different delivery address from your billing address on your first purchase. New Look clearly show delivery options at checkout, providing the option to pick up from store for free.

New Look delivery in basket
New Look delivery in basket

Provide clear and easy to find information about your returns policy and options

If people are aware of this up front they can make the decision about whether they want to proceed or not. Of course providing a great returns service will negate the need for this but if you are unable to fulfill on this you should let people know before they buy.

Post purchase

Keep people in the loop

Provide good feedback so people feel in control. Build up the excitement with notifications. A great example of this is the Dominos pizza tracker in the US as soon as you place your order you can see that your pizza has started to be made and is on it’s way to you.

Dominos pizza tracker - creating excitement
Dominos pizza tracker - creating excitement

Photojojo's communications are always lovely. The shipping confirmation shown here is sprinkled with personal touches that keep the customer informed and excited about their purchase.

photojojo shipping confirmation
Delightful - photojojo shipping confirmation

Stick to your promises

If there’s been a delay try and offer a solution let them know you’re sorry. Go above and beyond.

Allow people to cancel their order easily if they need to.

Allowing people to cancel their order before it's been sent will save an unnecessary return and so save money to your business.


Often people buy online because of convenience and necessity; ‘they didn’t have my size in store’, ‘There isn’t a store in my town'. Don’t punish people for this, allow them to buy and try without extra cost to themselves. I recently had to buy 2 coats online as I wasn’t sure of my size so ordered both. Neither of them fit and the company (who will remain nameless) forced me to foot the returns bill of £25.00. Needless to say they’ve lost my custom for good.

Make it easy for people to return items

The simpler this process is, the more likely they will be to buy from you in the future.Send the customer everything they need to make a return. This information should be supplied along with their package and also made readily available online incase they need to access it somewhere else.

Allow lots of choice for how people return their goods.

For example free pick up, free post or collect+ are all services, which take the hassle away from the customer.

And finally go above and beyond.

I hold ASOS up as an exemplar of good practice for delivery and returns. However I still wonder why they make me write out the price I paid for each item on the delivery slip, surely they have this in their database? In other words there’s always room for improvement.

Amy is a Senior User Experience Consultant. Since joining cxpartners in 2010 she has delivered a wide range of successful customer experience projects from research through to design.