Why delivery is crucial for ecommerce, and what to test

Even though I’m nearly 50 years old, I still have a childish enthusiasm for trainers.

Over the last year, during the lockdown, when I couldn’t even wear them anywhere, I bought a couple of pairs unavailable in South Africa (because there is extra joy in having something unique).

I bought these from two different platforms, and there was a distinct difference in the way they messaged and provided delivery that I found pretty insightful.

Buying from Farfetch was excellent:

  • They messaged me consistently over the process.
  • My delivery was via DHL, and it took 3/4 days to arrive even though packages were coming from the US and Italy to South Africa.
  • Returns were painless. I had something that I needed to return, and I could send them an email to process that. DHL came and picked it up, there were no questions, and there were return postage stickers in the box to make it easier.
  • They even made me feel like I was doing something for the environment (or at least offsetting any damage) by taking advantage of their climate conscious shipping

It was smooth, painless and easy. I really couldn’t fault the Farfetch experience, see examples of their communication below.

Buying from StockX was a completely different experience.

Stock X is closer to eBay (in that they have a network of sellers) but they’ll review and ensure it isn’t fake, and then they’ll send it to you. But they set no expectations about when they will deliver things (as you can see in the below email).

As a consumer, when you want something, you want it now.

I was waiting impatiently for my product to arrive at StockX to be validated. Unlike Farfetch there was no information, but they said it would take five to seven days. It took longer than that… (about 3 weeks to get to me) .There was no messaging in the interim. It was painful.

And then once it came, it wasn’t delivered via DHL but it was a normal budget delivery, with no easy returns associated with it.

There is a huge difference in these ecommerce delivery experiences.

A classic Jeff Bezos quote says; “It is difficult for us to imagine that in 10 years from now customers would want higher prices, less selection or slower delivery. I believe in the durability of these pillars gives us the confidence required to invest in strengthening them.

Amazon has ruined everything in terms of setting expectations around delivery:

  • that it will be free
  • that it will arrive quickly
  • And that returns will be painless

Those ideas have been internalised by customers, and they have high delivery expectations.

I have run numerous A/B tests across retailers in different countries and in various verticals around delivery.

Here are some principles that are useful for an understanding of eCommerce delivery and opportunities for testing.

1. The strip that you run across the top of your page.

The value strip is essential to message your delivery promise and explain your offer. It is a persistent message that visitors see on every page of the site, so it really reinforces your message. It give you the opportunity to explain your free delivery proposition.

Many customers are interested in how click and collect works (for omnichannel retailers) and your free delivery threshold (i.e. how much do I have to spend to get free delivery).

Having this communication in a prominent position that runs sitewide can be very helpful.

The above strip promises at least two weeks until I receive my order; that is a lifetime for the hungry consumer.

Contrast that with the Book Depository below consistently reminding me that I’ll receive free worldwide delivery wherever I go on their site.

Messaging on the value strip is an area of messaging where you can get great rewards by clearly explaining your promise.

I have run tests with different nuances on the messaging and the use of icons that have very different results. Iterative testing is useful as you have a small amount of real estate to communicate, but a lot of opportunity for reinforcement of your message, so small differences can have a big impact.

2. Click and collect

If you offer click and collect as well as delivery this is an interesting opportunity.

If you compare South Africa to e.g. the UK, there are big differences in the customer’s ecommerce maturity.

In South Africa, there’s more of an education component around what click and collect is, but it is something that people are interested in. Customers can secure the product they specifically want from a potentially broader range from an online shop and manage the delivery process when they want it. With click and collect, they can be guaranteed of getting the exact product they want, and if they don’t want it being able to exchange it is a practical option.

In South Africa, it can be difficult in non-lockdown/work from home times for people to accept deliveries. Addresses can be challenging to find, and people may not be at home to get packages.

You need to understand your consumers’ feelings about delivery methods, costs, and click and collect. Understanding why they might want a specific option will allow you to message them and reflect their feelings about it.

From a business perspective, click and collect is excellent because you don’t have to pay for a delivery, and this lack of cost can be passed on to the consumer or to your bottom line.

You should do a lot of testing about messaging, education, and which delivery options you make the most prominent.

3. Site delivery information

Site delivery information is a testing opportunity. I’ve had a lot of assistance from savvy copywriters in doing this.

Basic questions are:

  • Who are you writing it for? (i.e. their level of sophistication, what are their questions about delivery? what are their concerns?)
  • How do you simplify it? 
  • Can you make it easily scannable?
  • Can you put it into tables?
  • What is crucial to read first? 
  • How do you talk about returns? 

You need to test these things to optimise what you’re doing. It’s only people who are really committed to purchasing that read the sitewide delivery copy, and they’re reading it because they haven’t found the information they’re looking for elsewhere. If you can give these people the information they need to help them convert you can sway people who are on the fence.

4. Delivery information on the product page

There’s no need to go into too much detail about delivery on the product page. This needs to be only enough to allow people to quickly understand what is available rather than going into deep detail about everything. Too much information that isn’t prioritised to help with customer’s questions is worse, because they can’t quickly scan to find out what they need to know.

You’ll need to determine how prominent this information should this be, should the delivery tab be open by default for people to read and what the layout should be in order to provide information that visitors require?

These are all considerations and tests.

There are a number of pieces of delivery information that it can be good to summarise and surface on the page:

Making it immediately obvious that you have free delivery has been shown to increase conversion (at the risk of making this like a Christmas tree I have also showcased free click and collect in this position and achieved uplifts)
Giving a delivery date expectation is great because it tells me I can get it in my paws immediately.

5. Free delivery threshold

Research I’ve conducted on numerous websites points to customers always wanting a lower free delivery threshold. It stands to reason; nobody wants to pay for shipping.

Any changes you may make in decreasing the threshold come at a cost to you because visitors will have a smaller basket size, and you will earn less, but still have to pay for shipping.

It’s pretty hard to test the free delivery threshold on a website because you have to change your cart threshold details and how that gets managed by your payment system (in addition, it is a legally shady area as you’re not supposed to offer different prices to different people). I think you can get around it by testing messaging further up the funnel that your free delivery is less (e.g. on your product page or in your value strip) and then giving everyone the same delivery price when they checkout.

In my house, there are always discussions about what else you might need to buy from a certain website to help us achieve the free delivery threshold. Do you have something in a wishlist that you didn’t yet purchase because the price was too low? This is how consumers think; what else can I buy in order to get this free delivery threshold, because no one wants to pay for delivery.

The testing that I did on free delivery thresholds was interesting because we tested decreasing the threshold from £50 for free delivery to £40 and then down to £30. The assumption would be that you would sell a lot more, your average order value would decrease, and your shipping costs would go way up.

The results were strange:

  • The conversion rate went slightly up.
  • The average order value went slightly down with each dip in the threshold (but not hugely).
  • Shipping costs went up.
  • Profitability went down.

This case study wouldn’t apply to everyone, but it was good to validate it and there is more research and testing that should be done.

6. Returns

As part of the delivery process, the other thing you need to think about is returns.

As a customer you don’t want to think about returns when buying something, especially if you’re looking at something like clothing. It’s tough to know how something’s going to fit when looking at it online as everyone’s size and shape is different. The thought of having to go through the pain of ordering something, having it delivered and then having to return it is enough to put some people off actually ordering something.

In your on site messaging you need to strike the right balance between being too obvious and explaining how your returns policy will work. You also don’t want to make your returns messaging too upfront as this can promote doubt in a customer’s mind. As a result, it will be a painful process, so maybe it’s easier not to buy anything. (as a case study I actually increased revenue for a retailer by decreasing the size of their guarantee).

The ideal scenario for a customer is that returns will be picked up from them, they’ll be quickly refunded and there won’t be any drama involved. Your job is to communicate something that shows that.

7. Delivery messaging in the cart

Delivery messaging in the cart is crucial. The classic thing to do is have a strip that lets you know when you have achieved free shipping on your order. Messaging can be communicated and stretch back to the mini-cart and through to the payment page.

Everyone (not just cheapskates like me) love to know when they have achieved free delivery, and if you reinforce it throughout the buying journey, you can aid motivation to complete the purchase. 

There are a few pointers for testing around delivery; make it obvious, manage expectations, communicate your benefits, understand and manage people’s concerns and showcase the information clearly and succinctly throughout the customer journey.