Think about your household spending over the last two years. I’m willing to bet that the products, food and clothing you’ve bought would look vastly different to what they did pre-2020. Maybe you’re wearing more activewear and purchasing more fruit and veg. Or maybe you’ve embarked on a home renovation project and have been frequenting online homewares stores. Maybe you live in fear of running out of toilet paper and have committed to a toilet paper subscription.
All this to say, how and where we spend our money has drastically changed. And while individuals have felt these impacts in their everyday lives, it’s also become a complex and ongoing challenge for retailers. This is because retailers rely on historical data to forecast what the demand for their products will be. But when borders shut in March 2020 and we resumed our lives online, historical precedent went out the window and the term “supply chain delays” became part of the global vernacular.
So, what exactly are supply chain delays?
In essence, a supply chain refers to all the systems in place that see a product through from manufacturing, to shipping, to delivery. And if just one component is delayed or disrupted, it will have a knock-on effect on all the other cogs in the machine.
During the pandemic, a number of issues have contributed to supply chain disruptions. Some factors include:
- An inability to adjust to soaring demand for certain products
- Fewer containers in circulation for shipping companies resulting in less freight space on ships
- Factories closing due to impacts of COVID-19
- Labour shortages in transport and warehousing, with many staff isolating at any given time
- Travel limitations, border closures and limited flights — factors that were especially relevant in Australia
How can retailers respond?
Consumers have come to expect lightning-fast delivery for all e-commerce purchases. But with many products made in factories overseas, some businesses have found themselves competing with global retailers for the same factory space, raw material and spots on cargo ships.
This is where we’re seeing Australian retailers getting creative in how they manage these challenges. Here are some examples that have stood out to me:
- Coles: the supermarket giant is developing a new platform that will act as a one-stop-shop for Australian and international suppliers. Using Salesforce products, including Marketing Cloud, Salesforce Content Management System and Knowledge Base, the platform will act as the main point of contact for suppliers, effectively making it easier for them to collaborate with the supermarket. This move will help Coles better respond to the dynamic requirements of its supplier network.
- Barbeques Galore: This brand has moved to a marketplace model to move beyond the physical store and offer a range of goods.
- who is elijah: the fragrance brand implemented Salesforce to streamline their order management and product distribution. Through this implementation, the who is elijah team were able to see all their customers, orders, inventory, influencers and suppliers in one place. The move also gave them more transparency over orders, so they could accurately forecast and order the right amount of raw materials to keep up with demand.
That being said, it’s not only COVID-19 creating supply chain issues. Put into the wider context, major weather events, inflation and geopolitical crises are also major contributors to delays. This means it’s essential for all businesses to utilise real-time insights and automation to react faster and keep communications timely, since we can expect uncertainty and delays to continue well into the future.
Here are some tips for every stage of the buying journey.
Step-by-step instructions for communicating about your supply chain
Before the transaction
Before a customer has even made a purchase, you need to make sure they understand that there may be shipping delays and stock shortages. Some ways you can do this include:
- Update your website’s ticker and homepage to note current shipping delays
- Include shipping time estimates for every item
- Rework your FAQ and shipping pages to reflect any delays
- In the lead-up to seasonal shopping periods like Christmas or Valentine’s Day, proactively communicate ordering deadlines to assure consumers their items will arrive on time.
- If you are experiencing stock shortages, avoid presenting items that are out of stock. If this isn’t possible, try suggesting similar items that are in stock.
At the point of sale
- Include a reminder at the checkout (before any purchases go through) about potential delays.
- Offer a reward or discount for any inconvenience – for example, free shipping to their homes or not collecting payment until the package has been delivered.
- Depending on the product, you can suggest a subscription for the item so they don’t risk it being out of stock in the future.
After the sale
When communicating, it’s important to find the right balance. You need to keep your customer informed, but you don’t want to be spamming them with menial updates. This is where customer personalisation comes in so you can keep your communications relevant, timely and considered.
- As part of the order confirmation, include a disclaimer about shipping delays.
- Provide self-service tools so they can check the order status.
- If your customer is after a specific brand that is delayed, provide another option.
- If the package is delayed longer than expected, reward the customer with something related to the product, for example, a unique service experience or education offering.
- Make sure follow-up emails (for example, product feedback emails) are not sent while the customer is still waiting for their order.
After the item has been received
- Once their purchase has arrived, thank them for their patience. If the delay was significant, consider offering a discount code or gift voucher for future purchases.
- Be available on other channels if they have questions — social media moderators can help you meet customers where they’re at. And consider solutions that empower customers to solve problems on their own, like self-service portals or AI chatbots.
Make your customer communications work for you
Not all companies have access to huge customer support and data science teams. And in a fast-moving and sometimes volatile context, we’re seeing how important it is for retailers to be able to respond quickly and react appropriately to keep customers on-side and loyal.
This is where automation and personalisation comes in. Salesforce offers capabilities so retailers can move quickly while remaining relevant. This includes personalising communications, the ability to collaborate closely with suppliers and using solutions like Tableau to give real-time visibility into how an order is progressing through the supply chain. This cuts out any pesky back-and-forth so you and your team can focus on keeping your customers happy.
It is worth considering how values emerging from the pandemic are driving the retail value chain to work together to offer greener choices and the rethinking of supply chain asset use. Communicating progress, offering transparency and greener choices will further inspire customer loyalty aligned to values in the era ahead.
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