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Accurate Delivery Date Estimates Are Hard.

Here's how not to do it: #2 in our 3-post series

It’s the year 2020, and while eCommerce giants like Amazon can promise delivery dates of a package within 24 hours, some sites are still giving us an estimation of delivery dates that leaves us scratching our heads. You know what I’m talking about -- the estimates that give you a range from "5-8 business days", or even no estimate at all. “Where do they even get this number?” You might be asking yourself.

“Why such a large range?” Of course here at FenixCommerce this sort of thing is our bread and butter, so for this--the second post in a 3-post series on the difficulty of estimating accurate delivery dates--we thought we'd take a look at how not to do it.

1. Nothing (much) to see here

Delivery Date

This one is our favorite to hate, basically because no information is being shared with the consumer other than what the shipping method service is called, which--if you're lucky--includes the carrier's transit time. Imagine seeing this while going through the purchase process for a product you need, say, in three days--which of these options would you trust?

Most consumers feel a disconnect when purchasing items online because, while they’re parting with their money right that instant, there’s nothing of value given to them for the transaction other than an email confirmation and often a vague notion of how the product is going to be shipped.

This website (like many) chose to leave the customer guessing when their product will arrive. This is a perfect example of a bad user experience, and could have been easily fixed if the site did a little research on USPS Priority shipping times. In fact, a quick Google search reveals that most USPS Priority packages arrive within 1-3 business days.

But of course that leads us to ask: If I select the cheaper USPS Priority option, might I get it as fast as if I select the UPS Overnight option? With this seller's approach to Shipping method communication, there's really no way to tell.

2. Obscure date ranges

delivery dates

Believe it or not, this is a real screenshot. 

When we see this, we think a few things:

1. Why on earth would it take 8-12 business days, especially when the competition can get some products to me in literally 2 hours?

2. As consumers, we automatically get a sense that this site lacks respect for their customer. Not only does the item take up to more than 2 weeks to arrive at my door (which is another issue in itself), but the messaging doesn't even give me real days, it gives me business days, which it leaves to me to translate.

3. Transit time only

delivery dates

The good news here--versus the last example--is at least these guys told us that they are specifically referring to transit time. And coupled with the footnote, they are making it clear that that's only part of the story.

Unfortunately the bad news is they never tell you the other part: When is this thing actually going to leave their fulfillment center?

And, they're also guilty of what we'll just go ahead and name the "Date Range Estimated Ambiguous business Days" or DREAD estimates. Heck, let's just shorten that to DREADstimates. By using both broad transit time ranges and business days, they are basically giving you zero usable information on when you might get your shirt.

4. Transit time plus overhead

delivery dates

As you can see, we’re working our way up here. This time, we have transit time PLUS a little disclaimer on when you can expect your items to leave the fulfillment center. Bravo! You gave your customers some more information, but what are we supposed to do with that?

delivery dates

Essentially, you’re asking your customers to fork over their hard earned cash AND become a human calculator, trying to figure out time zones, what time they placed their order, what constitutes a "business day", etc. While this site is theoretically enabling the buyer to do the math and come up with a date, they are asking us to do WAY too much when they are supposed to be the ones serving us.

5. Range of possible delivery dates

delivery dates

Last but not least and the least cringeworthy (but still sub-optimal), is the range of possible delivery dates. As you can see in our example, this approach displays a date range spanning 4-5 days.

While this is a bit more helpful than our previous examples, the economy and standard options both give us a range of 5 days (4 days too many) for when our item should arrive. This may be preferable to our previous examples, but let's look at some potential scenarios that we can expect when given a range like this:

  • Because of the buyer's proximity to the fulfillment location, the item will actually arrive in 1-2 days when shipped via Economy: YAY! The shipping was faster than expected. But OH NO! You lost a conversion because the customer actually wanted it in 1-2 days (as Amazon has trained them to), but you gave them a range of 5, and they were unwilling to pay for the Expedited option.
  • The buyer needed to know exactly when the item would arrive because they didn’t want the item to be stolen, or they wanted to plan to be home to sign for the item: Your customer is really rolling the dice in this case, and you are basically telling them that in order to get the narrowest window possible, they need to use the most expensive shipping option--but even then, they may have to make themselves available for two full days to ensure they are home when the item arrives. That's a requirement most customers are not going to adhere to, especially if they can get the item from another seller who is willing to tell them exactly when it's going to arrive.
  • The buyer needs the item by an absolutely certain day because it's needed for some special occasion (e.g. a birthday present): Again, you are driving the customer to a higher-cost, shorter-timeframe shipping option--even when it may not be necessary--in order to give them the piece of mind that they will receive the item by the date they need it.

These are just a few examples of why it’s important to give the most accurate possible delivery dates to your valuable customers. But how?

Doing it right

In our next blog--the third in this series--we'll explore some examples of sites that do delivery date estimates the right way--and the implications that carries.

In the mean time we'd love to get your thoughts on this topic in the comments below!

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