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How to offer a boutique shopping experience when upscaling product distribution

The inside of a boutique shoe store with shoes on display.

When it comes to customer experience, bigger isn’t always better. According to the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper™ Survey, 60 percent of females and 53 percent of males choose to shop with small retailers because of their unique product offerings. But what happens when boutique retailers begin to grow and need to start distributing products at scale? Can they maintain the same unique shopping experience that drew customers in the first place, or is there an inevitable homogenization when it comes to scaled distribution and production?

The challenges of producing and distributing products in bulk

As your business evolves, you may encounter challenges around creating a distribution network. In the early days of a start-up, sending out a couple of packages a week isn’t a major concern. It’s just another thing to check off a daily list of tasks. But after product distribution becomes a larger part of your business, challenges can start cropping up, mainly around transportation.

According to Louis DeJianne, director of retail strategy at UPS, “When growing from a small start-up to a larger business, logistics becomes more important and there’s a need for businesses to look at the best and most efficient way of transporting goods.” There are also potential road bumps around transitioning from a single shipping location to multiple locations, or even to a distribution center.

Because of these challenges, boutique retailers can find it difficult to scale up product distribution networks without a trade-off in shopper experience. But there are plenty of strategies that you can employ to maintain an innovative shopping experience for your customers.

8 strategies to keep customers happy as your business grows

1. Offer product recommendations

Personalized product recommendations based on prior purchases have become the norm, and they provide your customers with the sense that you really know them. DeJianne puts it like this: “There’s a strong movement to personalize the shopping experience so that the shopper is presented with an experience unique to themselves. It’s not a one-size-fits-all experience anymore.” Tools like look-alike modeling can make your personalized product recommendations more effective, and can compensate for any loss of character associated with the shift to mass product distribution.

2. Optimize your personalized packaging solutions

Packaging and custom boxes are the final piece of the distribution puzzle. It’s the last chance to leave an impression on your customers, making personalized packaging a great way to maintain the sort of boutique shopping experience that your customers are accustomed to. Packaging your products with a mind towards unboxing videos—a growing trend where customers unwrap, or unbox, your products—can be an excellent way of driving excitement. “When the package gets delivered to the end consumer, that’s your last opportunity to create a unique experience,” says DeJianne.

You can work with a company like Sealed Air, a UPS Ready® Provider, to create custom packaging boxes that can help provide a unique unboxing experience. Research conducted by Sealed Air and Kantar Retail found that 79 percent of e-commerce consumers would be more likely to reorder from a retailer after a positive unboxing experience, highlighting just how effective this strategy can be to leverage sales. And that’s not all. A study conducted alongside the University of North Carolina found that compared to unmarked packaging, streamlined, branded e-commerce packaging produced as much as 150 percent more brain activity in consumers. Put simply, it’s a more pleasurable experience that’s more likely to leave your customers with a positive experience of your brand.

3. Start a customer loyalty program

Loyalty programs are another viable option for growing businesses. According to DeJianne, “We see more customers moving towards loyalty and/or referral programs. It’s all about laying the foundations of growth. The more customers you retain, the steeper your growth rate becomes.” By pursuing loyalty programs and then leveraging them into referral programs, boutique retailers can offer a unique experience that also enables them to maintain a steady rate of growth. Companies like Zinrelo can assist you with creating loyalty and referral programs for your customers.

4. Experiment with free returns

According to the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, 68 percent of customers review the returns policy before making a decision on whether to purchase a product. With that in mind, a clearly-articulated returns policy—along with free returns—is a great way to make customers feel more comfortable with your site and encourage them to shop with you on online marketplaces. “UPS Returns® Manager can help to streamline the returns process for the retailer, as well as providing the end consumer with multiple options for returning a package,” adds DeJianne.

5. Introduce free shipping

Free shipping is another important element, and according to DeJianne, it’s becoming “more and more of an expectation for consumers.” According to the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, as many as 41 percent of shoppers search online for a promo code for free shipping, while nine out of 10 people surveyed for the Walker Sands Future of Retail study stated that free shipping was the most important incentive in convincing them to shop. By offering free shipping, perhaps as part of a customer loyalty program, you can maintain the innovative shopping experience prized by consumers everywhere.

6. Ramp up your omnichannel strategy

Providing customers with a positive omnichannel experience through an online marketplace is another key piece of the puzzle. Logistics providers like UPS can act as consultants for boutique retailers to build out their multichannel approach. From creating an attractive storefront for the online marketplace to providing full inventory visibility, it’s one of the most significant ways that boutique retailers can ensure an optimal customer experience.

7. Improve the post-purchase experience

Post-purchase is crucial, helping to ensure that customers enjoy a positive experience of the brand throughout the entire retail journey. As DeJianne notes, “The relationship doesn’t end when the ‘buy’ button gets pushed. The retailer needs to continue the conversation with the consumer at least until the product is delivered, and often after.”

Flexibility around how and where packages are delivered, in addition to providing your customers with information throughout the entire process, are the two key pieces that boutique retailers need to consider when they sell products online. “In the expectation of providing convenience and flexibility for delivery to end consumers, UPS has created the UPS Access Point™ network,” adds DeJianne.

8. Make use of apps and social media

Depending on the size of your business, apps and social media may be an effective way of improving the shopper experience. With as many as 84 percent of people aged 18-24 having had their shopping behavior influenced by social media, a robust social media strategy is becoming increasingly important for retailers of all sizes. It can be a great opportunity for customers to engage with your brand, while it’s also a fantastic way to encourage them to share their experience across their own networks. As your boutique storefront grows, an app may become a viable option. “Apps create a very dynamic way of connecting with consumers,” says DeJianne.

From loyalty programs to custom packaging to apps, there are many strategies you can use to boost your customer experience when selling products online. And while growing in scale has its challenges, it also presents unique opportunities to build deep, long-lasting relationships with your customers. 

Learn more about boutique-level services from UPS designed to suit your retail business.

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