The retail and e-commerce landscapes are crowded and competitive. Retailers are facing stiff competition both from legacy brick-and-mortar companies and online marketplaces, including the industry leader in their market, which is driving customer expectations for free, fast, and transparent deliveries.

To get ahead and stay ahead of the shop down the block or the e-commerce stores around the world, it is vital for retailers to create a sustainable competitive advantage by delivering a customer experience that exceeds expectations.

The COVID-19 pandemic boosted US online shopping from March 2020 through February 2021 to $844 billion, a jump of $183 billion, according to Adobe’s 2021 Digital Economy Index. Hence, it is more important than ever for anyone that sells and ships products to meet or exceed customers’ expectations for delivery.

Delivering Free and Low-Cost Shipping

While not as easy for smaller retailers to absorb the shipping cost that the industry giants can, it is still essential to offer it when feasible, be it on all orders or only orders of a specific dollar amount.

Surveys have shown that more than 70% of US consumers indicate that free delivery “greatly impacts” their purchasing decisions. Yet, next to product costs, not offering free delivery — or the price of paid delivery — is the second most common reason for shopping cart abandonment.

With the expectation of free deliveries driving up overall customer acquisition costs, e-commerce businesses and the 3PLs that support them are looking for ways to make omnichannel fulfillment more economical. This is a challenge for those used to operating B2B fulfillment models where LTL and TL line hauls to distribution centers offered a significant cost/pound advantage over D2C parcel shipping. They need a way to combine line haul cost efficiencies with the quality of last-mile delivery experiences.

However, it isn’t always possible — or profitable — to compete on price alone. Fortunately, you can compete by delivering an exceptional customer experience by providing the information and insights that rival the big guys without breaking the bank.

Here are a couple of ways that retailers can exceed customer shipping visibility expectations and deliver an experience that will not only have them buy the first time but keep coming back for more.

Provide Shipping Costs Early and Often

Whether you are offering free shipping or charging for it, customers want to know the cost early in the process. It’s been reported that 70% of visitors to e-commerce sites are not making it through the purchasing process. Additionally, estimates show that 84% abandoned a purchase, quote, or booking after already putting it into the online shopping cart before being derailed by information — or lack thereof — at that point in the purchasing process.

Part of those abandoned carts come from unexpected or unclear costs, including shipping, which is cited by close to 50% of shoppers who have abandoned a shopping cart.

It is vital that e-commerce and retail websites calculate and show delivery charges in real time and update them throughout the shopping experience. It is also essential that packing, making sure you have the correct address, and more are done and calculated correctly to avoid accessorial fees that could surprise the customer at checkout, or worse, post-delivery.

Tracking Takes Center Stage

While info about pricing before purchase is vital to get customers to complete checkout, the thirst for information doesn’t end at the purchase.

There was a time not very long ago when customers ordered an item from a retailer, e-commerce company, or an online marketplace and were surprised when they got home and it was waiting for them. They had a basic idea that it would be there in a couple of days or even a week, which was good enough. But as large e-commerce players delivered information from packaging to delivery as commonplace, today’s consumers not only want to know the expected delivery date, they want visibility and the ability to track the item from order to delivery.

Research indicates consumers are making tracking requests an average of eight times during the order-to-delivery cycle. So, having the right technology to track orders is essential for retailers and online stores to gain an advantage in today’s crowded landscape.

According to a report in DigitalCommerce 360, 93% of consumers want to stay informed throughout the delivery process, from the first mile through dropping it on the doorstep. Even more critical to your brand and delivering an exceptional customer delivery experience, more than 40% said they wouldn’t buy from the company again if you don’t provide that visibility.

Shipping Technology Comes of Age

While it has been common for years for shipping systems to notify customers with an email or text that an order is on its way, it may not be enough visibility for today’s consumers. Today, it may take more, such as proactive tracking and alerts. If customers, especially younger generations, are increasingly apt to track a shipments’ progress with greater frequency, why leave it up to them to pull tracking status? Instead, why not use optimization services to push orders’ tracking status and alert them of impending deliveries or delays to reset their delivery expectations?

Technology is also available to include pictures of contents captured at the shipping point to help customers envision what they are about to receive or a personalized note from those responsible for fulfillment. In addition, pictures of items left at the point of delivery can provide recipients with an acknowledgment of successful and secure delivery. Again, these personal touches only add to the quality of the delivery experience while reducing inbound customer service traffic, cutting costs, and improving your ROI.

Regardless of what you ship, where you ship, or to whom you are shipping, giving customers the ability to track orders quickly, easily, and seamlessly is not considered a “nice to have” service any longer. It is a “must-have.”

From sustainability to easy returns, there are plenty of other things that factor into delivering the best customer experience you can that turns shipping into a competitive advantage. However, creating visibility of shipping costs and the delivery process early in the shopping process can not only get customers to complete the purchasing process but keep them coming back in the future.

Mark Picarello is Managing Director of Pierbridge, part of the WiseTech Global group. To learn more about Pierbridge’s flagship product Transtream multi-carrier parcel management solution, visit

This article originally appeared in the September/October, 2021 issue of PARCEL.