As the holiday season approaches, online retailers need to step up their efforts to win and keep the online retail market share that Amazon (mostly) and other large e-retailers are quickly gobbling up.

According to Growth Champions, Amazon accounts for one third of US e-commerce, and “is growing twice as fast as online commerce in general.”

CMSWire.com recently spoke with CommerceHub founder and CEO Frank Poore about ways that retailers can succeed in an e-commerce world filled with heightened customer expectations and shrinking market share.

How to Keep Customers

Here are four of his top recommendations:

1. Have What the Customer Wants


One of the keys to driving traffic to your site, and to providing the kind of customer experience that keeps people coming back, is to have what the customer wants when they want it, said Poore. 

“If you want to be able to delight and retain customers today, you need to have the products that they’re looking for,” he advised.

But what if a company doesn’t have the warehouse space or other resources to expand their product assortment?

One option is to partner with a company like CommerceHub that can connect you with a network of suppliers and help you manage the entire sourcing process, including: 

  • integrating third party inventory
  • communicating purchase orders
  • transmitting shipment confirmations back to retailers, and
  • monitoring sellers to ensure that products are being delivered to customers

 “We turn manufacturers and distributors into virtual warehouses,” said Poore.  “Retailers know what’s in stock, and can radically expand their product offering without outlaying inventory.”

2. Ship It Free 

“Customers are looking for fast, free delivery,” said Poore. “We’ve seen that the single biggest driver of conversion on orders is getting free shipping.”

In fact, recent research by Retention Science shows that free shipping converts 2 times faster than a percentage off the product’s selling price. This means that consumers are willing to pay more for a product as long as free shipping is involved.

As part of the shipping process, Poore also advises companies to set shipping expectations. Why? 

“We’ve seen some 12 percent to 15 percent lift in sales when a company can tell the customer exactly when the product is going to be delivered,” said Poore. “If you can say, ‘Order today by noon, have it on Thursday,’ there’s a lift.”

If free shipping is not an option, retailers can take advantage of their physical stores (if they exist), offering ship to store or click and collect services that allow buyers to purchase online and pick up in the store located closest to them.

For online retailers that don’t have brick and mortar stores, other options include:

  • free shipping with minimum purchase
  • free shipping on certain items
  • free shipping with loyalty club membership (a la Amazon Prime)
  • free returns or
  • flat rate shipping 

According to a recent Forrester report, 92 percent of the top 50 online companies offer some kind of free shipping. Don’t get left behind.

3. Ship It Fast

Although the same Forrester report shows that consumers don’t consider fast shipping as important as free shipping (naming fast as the No. 14 reason to return to an e-retailer, and free as No. 2), customers still expect prompt delivery of their items, and companies that ship quickly will undoubtedly provide a better customer experience.

With the expansion of Amazon’s Same-Day Delivery service, as well as availability of same-day services from Google Shopping Express, eBay and Walmart, consumers have come to expect options for quick turnarounds.

“Allowing six to eight weeks delivery for your K-Tel record is no longer acceptable,” said Poore.

Working with a network of suppliers will not only help retailers expand product offerings, but improve delivery times and reduce shipping costs, as well.

However, retailers shouldn’t overlook leveraging their own brick and mortar stores as fulfillment centers. With the help of CommerceHub, retailers can quickly route orders to the most appropriate local store to ensure faster delivery and lower shipping costs.

4. Protect Your Brand 

Whether an item is drop shipped from a retailer’s warehouse, or fulfilled by a third party supplier, Poore stresses that retailers must stay true to their brand.

“You need to deliver on the brand experience,” he said. “The customer has no knowledge that there was any other party involved.”

Poore gives an example of buying from Sears, a CommerceHub customer. 

Sears not only offers its own products for sale on Sears.com, but a wide range of products by third party sellers, as well, through their online marketplace. 

A customer might buy something from the Sears marketplace that is sold by ABC Electronics; however, most people won’t notice that their product is fulfilled by another company. 

“They expect the Sears experience,” said Poore. “They expect that their item will be fulfilled. Whether they buy from Sears.com or the Sears marketplace, it should be delivered on time.”

So, how can retailers protect their brand, even when third parties are involved? Here are some tips from Poore’s Getting Customer Experience Right in the Marketplace Environment:  

  • Ensure that your systems facilitate a seamless customer experience, including allowing customer service agents to access data like shipping information and tracking numbers, regardless of who fulfilled the item
  • Adopt a system that alerts customer service agents to shipping delays and other exceptions so that agents can identify issues before they affect customers.
  • Shipping labels should reflect your brand, regardless of where products originate
  • Customize third party SKU content to support your brand and ensure continuity throughout the customer experience

“Customers expect … demand … consistent service,” concludes Poore in his article. 

If you don’t deliver it, someone else will.

Title image by Tyler  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.