Is real-time order tracking becoming table stakes for e-tailers?

Discussion
Photo: UPS
Jul 09, 2018
Jasmine Glasheen

The delivery process has become a battlefield where ecommerce retailers hash it out for consumer dollars. In this realm of retail one-upmanship, brands compete by refining their shipping methods and striving to deliver products faster than their competition.

When customer orders are shipped too hastily, however, products might end up misplaced, damaged, or even lost. And most consumers have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to shipping mix-ups.

According to a recent poll by Dropoff, shipping mistakes are on the rise — 78 percent of consumers report that they’ve experienced late package arrivals (up from 70 percent in 2017) and 56 percent of consumers have received damaged packages (up from 42 percent in 2017).

Perhaps this is why consumers want a better idea of what’s happening with their orders behind the scenes and why they are more likely to re-engage with retailers who allow them to track the status of their orders. Dropoff reports that a whopping 85 percent of consumers will buy from a retailer again if they can track their purchases throughout the delivery process.

Retailers and shipping providers are beginning to offer customers the ability to track their package deliveries in real time. UPS rolled out real-time delivery tracking in 2016, enabling customers to track their orders on their connected devices, all the way down to the package’s exact location on a delivery truck or airplane. This UPS service, however, is only available for more expensive deliveries such as UPS Air and UPS Worldwide Express.

Amazon.com is the most well-known provider of this service, offering real-time order tracking for all U.S. customers on packages handled through Amazon Logistics. Meanwhile, packages shipped by FedEx, UPS and USPS aren’t eligible for the service. Even smaller businesses, such as furniture sales platform Wayfair, also offer real-time delivery tracking on all furniture purchases.

Amazon and Wayfair, however, are still exceptions to the rule. Most retailers have yet to offer their customers the option to track their package deliveries in real time.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do retailers need to offer real-time order tracking in order to compete with Amazon? What best practices can you offer for e-tailers looking to keep customers satisfied with shipment status?

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Braintrust
"When a consumer experiences real-time tracking from just one online experience, why should they not expect it from all?"
"There are a lot of fast-shipping promises flying around out there, that’s what’s causing zero tolerance from consumers..."
"I believe it’s more important that the package arrives with the proper contents and in good condition than exact GPS coordinates..."

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17 Comments on "Is real-time order tracking becoming table stakes for e-tailers?"


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Max Goldberg
Guest

Consumers want to know where their packages are and when they will arrive, so look for more retailers to offer real-time tracking. At a minimum, retailers should inform consumers when orders are received, when they are shipped and expected dates and time of arrival.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

When a consumer experiences real-time tracking from just one online experience, why should they not expect it from all? This is customer service at it best. Yes, it’s table stakes.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)
Guest

Consumers want the ability to intervene as soon as it is clear that their expected shipping has gone astray. There is still an elastic waiting period in that “out for delivery” stage that can be tolerated, but surprises really erode commerce confidence. When I was recently surprised at a UPS shipment being designated as requiring signature because of the value of the contents, additional arrangements were required to assure someone was available to receive the delivery on the second attempt. What a pain. We tend not to repeat painful situations.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

This is almost a non-discussion. Not everyone is going to care where their package is, but for those that do, the most in-depth timely data matters. I haven’t experienced any provider that shares more detail than a few interim hub locations and an “out for delivery” message. I don’t believe the big ones do. All that does is give a relative idea of a package’s movement to validate shipping has occurred. The carriers know via GPS where their vehicles are so if they choose, they can provide more interesting services like real-time map positions and ETAs, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

Without knowing the polling specifics, I’m going to say that Dropoff’s “85 percent of consumers will buy from a retailer again if they can track their purchases throughout the delivery process” is marketing spin that suits their business case and can’t be considered in the same light as an independent poll not commissioned by a company with a vested interest.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Retailers need to provide this nuanced service to compete (today with Amazon, tomorrow with their peers). The good news is that technically it is achievable. It will require the adoption of one more standard of data exchange, and that is to have the carriers provide that tracking data to the retailers who would, in turn, provide it to their customers. A less elegant way would be for retailers to direct their customers to the carriers’ tracking website, where customers could check progress at their leisure. Either way, this will happen sooner rather than later.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

Transparency in the shopping process is important. Understanding how and when a package arrives is rapidly becoming table stakes and an offering that is important. Offering “informed delivery” will be something retailers want to do now. While this is not important 100 percent of the time, when shoppers want to know it is 100 percent important!

Lauren Goldberg
BrainTrust

Real-time tracking is a benefit that customers will soon expect from all major e-tailers. However, I believe it’s more important that the package arrives with the proper contents and in good condition than exact GPS coordinates. Over half of respondents said they received damaged packages. Sending a customer what they purchased in the condition they purchased it should be table stakes.

Jasmine Glasheen
BrainTrust

Agreed, Lauren. I think consumers are resorting to micro-managing their orders because most shipping carriers are so unreliable. Tracking orders gives customers a semblance of control over their purchases.

Andrew Blatherwick
BrainTrust
The supply chain has long been a competitive landscape and with ever-increasing online sales it has taken on a new dimension. Customers do want good quality reliable service first. Even though we are a “now” society they would prefer quality rather than speed. Yes, everyone likes the convenience of same-day or next-day delivery but not if the cost of that is lost or damaged deliveries. The cost of providing a very fast service is high, to keep prices low or even offer free delivery companies will squeeze the delivery company on cost and that will inevitably lead to quality issues. This is still an immature market and companies are all trying to find the best way to deliver on their promise and offer the best options for customers. I have argued in the past that much of the problem lies with marketing people dreaming up ever faster, cheaper or more intricate delivery promises for the consumer, much of which is not really wanted until it is offered. Tracking of deliveries will fall into the same… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

It is no surprise that inventory visibility is important to both businesses AND consumers. Everyone wants to know where their stuff is. One way for retailers that don’t currently offer real-time tracking to compete with those that do is to ship their goods via the same channels that their competition does. I’ve spoken with retailers that feel selling and shipping via Amazon channels would be like befriending the Devil. However, there can be a balance in this strategy to not only achieve inventory visibility for consumers, but also cast a wider net to your audience who is already shopping in that channel.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Shipping is all over the place. Amazon delivered at my house at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night, while other reputable companies take as long as 10 days on a shipment that was promised to be received in three.

I had a strange thing happen with a package last week. It was supposed to come to my home but showed up at my office two weeks later. My home address on the package was correct, but for some unknown reason FedEx opted to change the place of delivery. It took some research on their part to find my work address, and no one from the company or FedEx ever called to ask.

There are a lot of fast-shipping promises flying around out there, that’s what’s causing zero tolerance from consumers who are being trained to expect almost instant gratification.

Harley Feldman
BrainTrust

As with everything available with smartphones today, real-time order tracking is becoming table stakes for retailers. While Amazon has set the pace, consumers getting used to the Amazon service will expect it from all. Real-time tracking not only gives the consumer comfort on when the package will be delivered but insight as to any problems along the way. My wife just ordered some products from Australia. She was notified when the products shipped, when they arrived at U.S. customs, when they passed customs and when they will arrive — a very comforting set of real-time tracking data points. Best practices would be to notify the consumer by email or text at each transition step of the shipping process.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust
Ken Morris
Retail industry thought leader
1 year 2 months ago
Real-time order tracking will soon be a customer expectation as once consumers experience it, they will always want it. Many consumers are obsessed with knowing the shipping status of merchandise ordered online and often check the status online several times until the order arrives. This is even more prevalent for high-value items or merchandise that customers desperately need on a specific day or time. From the moment of checkout until the order is at their doorstep, or available for in-store pickup, customers are anxiously waiting for updates about their order. Given that customers expect frequent delivery updates, providing notifications at the five major stages in the delivery process will keep your customer engaged and informed: 1.) order confirmation, 2.) item dispatched, 3.) in transit, 4.) out for delivery and 5.) Successfully delivered or waiting for customer pickup. Making real-time order tracking available to consumers to check at their convenience will improve customer satisfaction, especially if the product is actually delivered on time. This is just another example of how real-time retail will change everything. Understanding… Read more »
James Tenser
BrainTrust

Should digital retailers provide order tracking? The answer is an emphatic “yes”! As Tenser’s Law of Equivalent Experience states, “A service standard experienced anywhere is expected everywhere.”

This may not seem fair, but it’s an unavoidable reality. Fortunately the major third-party shipping services track every package (except first class mail), so the underlying mechanism is already in place.

It’s up to each retailer to decide whether it should transmit a text message at each step in the fulfillment/delivery process, or just email a tracking number and link. For me, a real-time map seems like overkill, but for shoppers who are already glued to their screens, maybe it’s a form of reassurance.

One final thought: For deliveries indoors (like furniture or major appliances) or some that require a signature, live tracking might be extra useful.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

Smaller retailers are dependent on common carriers for most of their deliveries — as is Amazon, the story implies — so they are bound by what those carriers offer. Fortunately, most of those carriers offer this function (and unfortunately, if something goes wrong on the road, there’s really nothing they can do about it.)
So whatever competitive advantage can be gained from shipping and handling is most likely to come from the handling part of it, before it’s ever put on a truck … the often overlooked “first (part of a) mile” problem.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
1 year 2 months ago

Without question, the answer is yes. If you’re not Amazon, you have the former to thank. The value of real-time order tracking hits on two of rDialogue’s five drivers of “Loyalty 3.0”, Time and Information. Time matters and so does transparency. And not just in retail but increasingly, as AMZN has 100 million Prime members, in other industries. We just released an Executive Summary (available here) of our latest research on this very topic and it shows a clear shift in not only customer expectations but also how other categories and brands are increasingly getting smarter about what’s made AMZN so successful.

Bottom line: providing real-time order tracking is a clear and compelling way of demonstrating loyalty to the customer that just made that purchase and is, presumably, anxious to receive the shipment.

Min-Jee Hwang
Guest

Real-time tracking is definitely a step in the right direction for retailers who are looking to compete with Amazon. With the rise of consumer demands to track the exact location of their package, a retailer who adds this aspect to their business would outperform competitors. Customers want their products fast. But they also want quality and care in the delivery. Installing real-time tracking is reassuring to the customer. Ensuring that products are delivered in a timely manner and that they’re not damaged are fundamental elements of keeping a loyal customer happy. However time and quality go hand in hand. A quickly delivered but damaged product results in an upset shopper who may not return. The same goes for a product that is delivered way past its deadline.

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Braintrust
"When a consumer experiences real-time tracking from just one online experience, why should they not expect it from all?"
"There are a lot of fast-shipping promises flying around out there, that’s what’s causing zero tolerance from consumers..."
"I believe it’s more important that the package arrives with the proper contents and in good condition than exact GPS coordinates..."

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