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3 ways to build customer loyalty through shipping

Busy mom shops on her cellphone from the park

Customers can be fickle. With so many options available at their fingertips, offering service that ranks as "above and beyond" might be the best thing you can do to outpace the competition. What do customers want? They love free shipping. They want to know where their packages are - from your warehouse to their front door. And, they expect your products to be in stock.

Let's take a look at each of these customer demands a little closer.

1. Dazzle your customers with free shipping. Consider the case of 4moms, an innovative baby gear manufacturer based in Pittsburgh. More than a year ago, the organization began providing customers with free shipping on their purchases. Almost immediately they saw an uptick in positive feedback, as well as an increase in online orders, says Teresa Hammond, vice president with 4moms.

Her organization realized what many other online retailers are discovered: Free shipping is popular. In fact, the UPS Pulse of the Online ShopperTM study confirmed that customers select free shipping more than 60 percent of the time when making online buys. Equally significant: nearly 45 percent of shoppers fail to complete their online purchase if they discover they won't qualify for complimentary shipping.

Hammond says 4moms began treating free shipping as a marketing cost. Once free shipping was implemented, it helped her company achieve two goals - it created happier customers and enabled 4moms to compete better.

UPS also determined that businesses offering free ground deliveries, while still charging for express delivery options, were better able to manage shipping costs. That's because, in most cases, consumers still opted for the more affordable ground delivery, even if it meant waiting a day or two longer because the delivery was free.

2. Keep your customers in the know. While customers are looking for free shipping, there are other perks they want also. For instance, consumers appreciate having the ability to log on and see in real time where their packages are - and they need to anticipate delays.

In the case of 4moms, Hammond says her organization keeps customers in the know by sending out email updates regarding delivery status.

3. Keep your delivery system predictable - and accurate. Customers appreciate a high degree of attentiveness, according to the UPS research - and not just when making a single purchase. For instance, UPS determined more than 50 percent of buyers like being notified if prices drop or out-of-stock items become available again. For businesses to effectively deliver these types of updates in real-time, it is vital they have an up-to-the-minute view of their merchandise to ensure that a product advertised is truly in stock.

This means organizations should not only have an effective shipping methodology in place, but they also need to have a fast and accurate way to track inventory.

Today's shoppers are more sophisticated than ever. Be sure you are offering top-of-the-line selection and service - both when they shop and when deliveries go out the door. Also, be sure to keep customers in the loop. Sticking to these basics should result in higher brand loyalty.

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