Shipping Speeds - An open letter to Shopify

coolcity
Excursionist
18 0 12

For those who haven't heard of this yet, Shopify have just (or are about to) introduce this new feature:

"When you add Shipping Speeds to your shipping rates in Shopify, your customers will see a range of days at checkout that reflect the estimated transit time of their purchase. This is automatically estimated - you won’t need to rely on inaccurate information or manually estimate delivery times when you create manual rate names"

You must be joking.

Ebay have done this for years but there's a huge problem with it. The reality is that many people are too stupid to understand that shipping times are just an ESTIMATE and they start hassling you for a refund or more information if the item hasn’t arrived by the time/date stated. This is even worse when it's a low value item and the buyer hasn't selected a tracked option, so have no tracking number. 

It causes a huge amount of extra work answering messages, on top of the fact that there is a small but significant disruptive minority that will open a claim immediately and leave poor feedback if the delivery is, in their conception, “late”. I've seriously lost count of how many people have sent messages like this over the years:

"Where's my item? It should have been here yesterday"

"My item was supposed to be delivered on the 12th but it hasn't arrived yet". 

"You said delivery would take 3 days but now it's been 5 days already and it still isn't here". 

It should go without saying that the pandemic has exacerbated this situation considrebly, and the aforementioned idiots seem to think, or don’t seem to understand, that it has had a huge effect on services over the past year or so, with countless items being delivered up to 2 weeks late or even longer in some circumstances. While these people are completely oblivious of the fact that there are problems and that will make a significant difference to delivery times.

But even pre-pandemic it was a constant problem. Late deliveries are extremely common, often caused by the customer giving poor or incomplete address details, but the problem for the retailer is that replying to this constant stream of messages is time consuming and therefore expensive. 

The biggest problem is the word "ESTIMATE" (or "estimated"). This is a simple word who's meaning you would think would be obvious, but not to people who are waiting for a delivery. These people think that once they see a particular date, that date is set in stone. Laser etched on to the parcel. That there's a team of courier staff all standing by to ensure that it's going to be there on the exact date stated come what may, regardless of bad weather including heavy snow, industrial action, pandemics, war zones and anything else you care to name including simple equipment breakdowns and staff illnesses. 

This is probably the same crowd that pay for Express delivery five minutes before the post office closes and expect it to be there in the morning.

I would therefore urge sellers to try NOT giving buyers a delivery estimate, particularly one that includes a actual potential date for delivery, at all costs. 

As for Shopify, please don’t turn into ebay and start adding more and more information for buyers, it just confuses them and for the seller it is counter productive. Ebay have the same problem, they keep adding new “features” rather than concentrating on fixing existing issues. That is a company that doesn't have a clue about customer service, as any Ebay seller will tell you, and have never sold a single item since the day they came into existence, yet keep trying to educate sellers on how best to sell and treat their own customers.

I've been involved in retail since long before the internet came along and I'll tell you now, people need to understand that a delivery estimate shown does NOT mean they will get their item on that day, because if you do give them that impression and it doesn't arrive, believe me they'll think your service is the worst on the planet. 

Rather than telling people when to expect their item we find it makes far more sense to try to educate them to the fact that they may well NOT get their items within the time stated. This is true at any time, not just during a pandemic, bad weather or other adverse situation.

With all due respect I recommend you fix some of the faults first. A recent change saw you add a “Paste” button for the tracking number, but in programming this you REMOVED the ability for sellers to simply type in the first letter or two of the carrier the find it more quickly.

First of all we need the ability to set a default carrier, and secondly we need you to bring back the ability to search for a carrier from the drop-down list by typing the first few letters so that we don’t have to scroll through the list and select it for every single order we dispatch.

As for telling buyers when to expect their delivery then having to keep trying to explain why it hasn't arrived on a given date, no thanks. I'll stick to my mantra of "Sorry, we are not a courier and cannot comment on how they operate but delivery times are only an estimate". 

Nothing wrong with the basic principle - we already show delivery estimates in our shipping rates - but it's better to keep information as limited as possible in my experience. It is, in my opinion, no mystery that we get far, far fewer problems over deliveries with Shopify buyers than we do on Ebay despite the fact that we use the exact same delivery services, and the website outsells the latter on which we have traded for over a decade. 

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Sharon-Reeds
Shopify Partner
125 6 24

What's missing is the suggestion to continue setting expectations throughout the fulfillment experience. It's a great addition to have delivery estimates and has been a much-requested feature. A large proportion of our userbase for Intuitive Shipping uses delivery estimates because it helps customers select the most appropriate shipping option to get their order when they want it. Checkout is only one of a few places where it is imperative to set the shipping and delivery expectations. It also needs to be on a Shipping & Delivery page (including that there are sometimes carrier delays), order confirmation email (noting fulfillment time + delivery estimates mentioning carrier delays), and the moment the parcel is shipped, there should be a tracking number included in an email. It sounds like you use a canned response for customers who inquire where their order is, and that's great. Everyone should have canned answers for common customer service inquiries.

If a merchant notices that including delivery estimates has created a customer service burden, they are more than welcome to turn the feature off. Shopify isn't forcing it. It sounds like delivery estimates don't work for your business and create customer service issues (or do they? You note at the end of your letter that you use delivery estimates). Every business is different, and what works for you may not work for someone else.

Something important to point out that is that if you don't include delivery estimates, you're leaving your customer completely in the dark. You're also unintentionally letting other stores set the delivery expectations for your store. 'Standard' for your store may be 7-14 business days for delivery, but is 5-7 for another store the buyer frequents. Since you failed to include the delivery estimate, you're forcing the customer to rely on a past experience that takes much less time to ship. 

 

Co-Founder / CEO @ Intuitive Shipping Inc.
Intuitive Shipping | Smart Boxing | Automate Shipping Profiles





coolcity
Excursionist
18 0 12

Thank you, that's a great response and clears up a couple of points. I'm not totally against providing delivery estimates at all, although I can see how it does look that way now from my original post. In fact I'm actually lucky enough to have a theme that already has a "Shipping Options Available" feature, in which you can enter your zip or postal code and see the available shipping options. To be fair, this seems to be more of an issue with ebay custoemrs than on the website, but that's entirely because ebay somehow give the impression that the delivery dates they give are set in stone. I do have templated responces, but I often use the mantra, "Delivery times are given as guidance only and are an ESTIMATE, provided by ebay and are not endorsed by either ourseolves or any UK carrier, neither do they take into account any potential delays". I think it is important that peole understand this, even website customers - but on the website I don't push the point, (the Shipping Estimator is at the foot of the description), whereas on ebay it's upfront and central. 

Here's an example of the problem. Looking at one of my items on ebay, I offer free economy delivery and the service is Royal Mail 2nd Class, which the carrier describes as "Delivery in 2-3 working days". 

However, the listing, courtest of ebay, says "Free delivery est. in 3 days". This presents two problems immiediately: 

1. People do not know what "est." means.

2. As I'm typing this it's 7:40 p.m. (19:40) on Thursday evening. Three days from now is Sunday. Royal Mail don't deliver on Sunday, never have done. But the likes of Amazon do - so people reading "Free delivery est. in 3 days" will assume they'll get their item by Sunday, especailly if they have used Amazon in the past. They don't understand why "you" (because they assume you, and not ebay, have provided that information), have said they will get their item by Sunday (which is exactly what "in 3 days" means from this point in time).

So you're providing misleading information, then you're letting them down as far as they are concerned. In their eyes, if you can't deliver by Sunday then you should not have that on your listing. I provide further information on my ebay descriptions but the problem is people don't read that. Those same people would be highly unlikely to read a Shipping and Delivery page on your website. 

My point is that you need to be very careful in managing customer's expectations and in my opinion this is a good example of where ebay fail badly. I was originally envisaging something similar. 

As such I'm not a huge fan of using it as a promotional tool. I do have at least one page with more shipping information on it, but the vast majority of people do not read those things, and using eBay as an example of another way of how not to do it, they have recently been showing extended estimates in the UK due to pandemic related delays, but making a complete hash of it by quoting much longer times than necessary in many cases, and in others quoting the same delivery times regardless of the service chosen by the buyer. So it can work the other way and put people off. I also think that adding a longer estimate than, say, a competitor might have the opposite effect and drive them back to the competitor, especially if the customer wants the item quickly and this is one of the main reasons that I don't think it's a great promotional tool. 

To take that a little further, amazon have now pushed expectations to a level where people want their item the next day (or even same day, and for free). Most retailers don't own their own fleet of vans so it's not practical, and of course as we all know amazon's service isn't as good as they like to make you think it is, but as I said people don't understand logistics and that's why I would rather not use it as a promotional tool and prefer to concentrate on the product. 

I'm not saying it's a bad thing for everybody but it's just something to be used with care, especially as it's difficult to determine why the customer didn't buy from you. You quote a great delivery time of 3 days and your rival quotes 2 days, where are they likely to shop?

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