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3 expectations your customers won't tell you

A woman shops in a retail store while talking on the phone.

Whether they shop online or in real life, today's consumers know what they want and when they want it. That often means one thing: fast. The demands of modern shoppers can put pressure on supply chains.

The good news, however, is that meeting the needs of today's shoppers helps cement your relationship with them, and makes them more likely to return to you in the expectation of more great service. That's why businesses of all types, from retailers to manufacturers, and from suppliers to distributors, need to understand three key consumer expectations that should be shaping their supply chains.

1. Customers want more shipping and receiving options

Online sales have grown exponentially, but consumers are still buying in brick-and-mortar locations. According to the 2016 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, 38 percent of shoppers want the option to order online and pick up purchases in store. Consumers also want the option to either ship or return products to the store, whichever's most convenient for them. In order to accommodate all the purchasing, delivery, and returns options, the supply chain has to adjust.

Retailers are pushing other businesses in the supply chain to be more cutting edge, explains Louis DeJianne, UPS director of retail marketing. "These companies used to simply manufacture or store products and then put them onto pallets and into a trailer, which would go directly to the distribution center or retailer," DeJianne explains. "Now they're tasked with sending packages directly to the consumer on behalf of retailers and are often expected to triage if a customer received the wrong product, handle returns, and sometimes even handle refunds on behalf of retailers, too."

2. Customers have no patience for stockouts

In this fast-paced world where consumers can order something online and, in some cases, get same-day delivery, they continually come to expect more. They want to be able to try on products they saw online or heard about through social media, purchase them online, and have them shipped immediately. Being out of stock is a good way to lose a customer, both in the moment -- and for all time.

As part of your inventory management, determine your best sellers and make them easy to find and identify. Use historical data to make accurate projections of sales for similar inventory items. Have automatic controls in place to reorder stock, supplies, and goods when they hit certain levels.

To keep inventory in stock, some sellers are turning to rapid replenishment -- the strategy of replenishing stores more frequently to maintain the ideal inventory level to meet demand. Sellers turn to other parts of the supply chain to make this strategy possible. They're using new technology to see inventory in stores, warehouses, and in transit. "We're seeing a big trend of using radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to improve accuracy and keep count of all inventory wherever it's being stored or showcased," DeJianne says.

3. Customers want personalized offers

When a customer's in the mood to buy -- or even to pick up an online order from a store -- they are often ready to buy more. Particularly if it's relevant to the main purchase.

"When a customer comes to pick up a product, your business should have the most appropriate upsell products laid out for that particular consumer, increasing the probability that they will buy more when they're in the store," DeJianne says.

Additionally, consumers expect personalized email promotions and offers based on their purchasing history. In the Accenture Personalization Survey, nearly 60 percent of consumers want promotions that are tailored to their shopping history , and 48 percent said they welcome online reminders to refill products.

Also, consumers don't want to fill in shipping and credit card data when they revisit a website. They want the website to know who they are, store personal information, and serve up products they're actually interested in.

How to meet customer expectations head on

One way to build a customer-centric supply chain is to turn to a logistics partner, such as UPS, to stay on top of emerging customer trends -- and ahead of your customers' expectations. "Our logistics expertise can drive an efficient and cost-effective shipping experience," DeJianne says. UPS can help provide visibility into your supply chain and assist in identifying the most cost-effective routes. "That means we can help companies of all kinds by taking care of what their customers need and expect, and allowing these businesses to get back to doing what they do best," adds DeJianne.

Today's demanding customers expect the best -- are you up for the challenge?

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