By Beth Chapman, Sales Director, P2P eSolutions

Most shrewd small/medium online retailers realise that they need to engage an expert to help with their delivery process. This approach gives them access to specialist knowledge enabling them to make their deliveries better value and more reliable. But a delivery partner should offer much more than making sure parcels get from A to B.

Here are 10 services that retailers of all sizes should expect from their delivery service provider.

Management of peaks in service
Retailers are gearing up for what could potentially be their annual peak for orders and deliveries. If customers can be impressed with the standard of a delivery service during the busy rush then the chances of repeat custom are much improved. A good delivery partner will have plans in place to scale up the delivery operation to meet with demand, so that customer service isn’t compromised.

Handling returns
Returns can make or break a customer relationship, and yet they’re all too often neglected. Research by Harris Interactive shows that 85% of customers say they will stop buying from a retailer if the returns process is a hassle and, conversely, 95% will return to the same catalogue or internet retailer if the process is convenient. A delivery expert will be able to help retailers implement a returns solution which is scalable and fully integrated into existing systems.

New markets – advice on which to target and how
The internet and the growth of ecommerce are giving online retailers a unique opportunity to expand their customer base across the world. But establishing which markets suit which products and how to go about establishing a footprint in a new territory is a complex challenge. Existing knowledge on how to go about international expansion can make international growth smoother and more successful.

Help with tax and customs
The European Union allows for the free movement of goods so most shipments can be dispatched to other member states of the EU without special customs documentation. However, there are exceptions such as exports to special EU territories (the Channel Islands, for example).
And when it comes exporting to goods outside of the EU – to third countries, as they are known – businesses need to ensure that they have the appropriate licenses and that they make export declarations through the National Export System (NES). VAT, import taxes and duties in the destination country need to be paid and of course these vary from country to country . Seeking expert advice from a delivery partner can help to ensure that retailers aren’t penalised for flouting the rules.

Identifying new buying trends
It was recently announced that Twitter is testing a new way to discover and buy products online. Tweets from selected partners will now feature a ‘buy’ button that will allow users to buy directly from the tweet. This is the latest in a long line of changes in the way consumers can shop which include purchasing via mobile and apps. By partnering with a third party expert, retailers are better placed to not only keep up to date with the latest innovations but also to judge which ones might fit their business and how the delivery and fulfilment processes will be affected.

Keeping on top of new delivery trends
As well as having more ways to shop, consumers also have more ways to receive their goods than ever before. Network Rail recently announced the roll-out of store pick-up points within stations will go nationwide, with 300 new facilities across the UK over the next three years, creating more than 300 jobs. Previously, offering a sole, standard delivery service may have been sufficient but now other options such as trackable and express deliveries are essential to appeal to a wider audience.

Ensuring that fulfilment and delivery work together
When customers are offered more buying options it becomes even more important for the fulfilment and delivery processes to work together. For instance, if products can be purchased via social media this needs to be integrated with stock level management and the returns process. A holistic view of the entire end-to-end process is vital for continued smooth deliveries as the system becomes more complex.

Saving money and time on the delivery process
Reconciling the cost of global delivery with offering customers attractive delivery charges is a delicate balancing act. A distribution expert will know all the tricks to make savings where possible. For example, electronic pre-clearance can enable goods to be processed quicker at the point of entry to certain countries. By cutting delivery times even by a matter of hours, retailers can reduce customer delivery charges and differentiate themselves from the competition.

Keeping customers happy
Social media offers consumers a new platform to express their frustration over a company’s sub-standard online ordering and delivery services. Research shows that almost a quarter (23.5%) of respondents said that they had already used social media to complain about poor order and delivery services. By using social media to comment about poor service consumers are immediately broadcasting this message to potentially thousands of prospective customers. Experienced partners can help retailers to keep their delivery processes running smoothly; minimising the possibility of complaints.

Making sure the delivery service grows with the business
As a retail operation grows to encompass new territories and new purchase channels, its delivery solution needs to grow too. Knowledge and experience to ensure that the back-office processes can expand with the business will enable the operation to keep running quickly and efficiently even when demand is high, ultimately stimulating future growth.