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Leveraging your international shipping strategy with data

by uma



Brian Slijp, Head of Strategic Alliances at Sendcloud

Despite the efforts of Brexit, a pandemic, and inflation, cross-border shopping is in hot demand as almost a third (31%) of UK online shoppers ordered across borders last year.

For many online retailers, the opportunities of international sales are tempting, but in order to win over the hearts of customers, your shipping game has to be on point. What delivery expectations do cross-border shoppers have and how do you live up to these expectations? Data, it turns out, is a gold mine when it comes to international shipping. 

The popularity of cross-border shopping has grown considerably in recent years and with almost one in two shoppers indicating to shop internationally, there is a huge potential in shipping cross-border. Attracting international customers is one thing, but delivering an order according to local delivery standards is another. 

For example, while Royal Mail (72%) is by far the most preferred delivery handler in the UK, in the Netherlands the majority of consumers (87%) like to receive their parcel from the hands of a PostNL delivery man, while in  Germany most consumers like to receive their parcel via Deutsche Post (62%). These figures immediately demonstrate why there is no one-size-fits-all solution for shipping abroad. Delivery expectations vary highly from country to country and hence there is not one carrier that masters all types of shipping. Consequently, the first step of any good international shipping strategy is getting to know your customers. 

“Consumers are more patient than often expected. Managing expectations and communicating about this is key.”

In general, we see that consumers are becoming increasingly demanding when it comes to the delivery experience and want to decide for themselves where, when and how to receive an order. The good news however is that consumers are not as impatient as you might think. While it is often thought faster is automatically better, by no means all orders are urgent and need to be delivered the next day. Research shows that UK consumers are prepared to wait an average of 4.6 days for their order – just 5% expect it to be with them within one working day.

The assumption that next-day delivery is a requirement for international success is therefore unjustified. Consumers are more patient than often expected, but managing expectations and communicating about this is key. As long as you communicate the expected delivery time and service clearly from the start and keep consumers in the loop every step along the way, most customers are quite easygoing. However, a gap between expectations and the actual delivery experience ultimately leads to unhappy customers and should be avoided at any time. 

“Without data, a parcel doesn’t even cross the border anymore”

While next-day delivery is not a requirement, it is crucial that expectations and the actual delivery experience match. Luckily, there are different options when shipping abroad. You can work with local carriers, the major international parties or a combination of these. Cost, speed and diligence play an important role here. One option may be faster than the other, but will ultimately not be delivered by the desired carrier, etc. As an online retailer, you can ultimately choose between standard delivery, express delivery and direct injections. All of these have their own timeframes and additional benefits: 

  • Standard delivery is very cost-efficient as shipment takes place by road. For example, parcels from retailers in the Netherlands to Europe take between 1-6 days depending on the country of destination. You simply use a local carrier such as Bpost, PostNL or Deutsche Post, which hands over the parcel country-by-country. 
  • Express delivery focuses on speed and is often most time-efficient as shipping is done by air. Due to transportation by air, parcels can already be delivered to the customer the very next day. Examples of express services are UPS, DHL Express and FedEx. 
  • With direct injections you ‘insert’ parcels locally. Basically, you drive a truck filled with orders to the country of destination and drop them off at the sorting centre of your preferred carrier. A good example of this is the Nike European Logistics Campus, where Nike already sorts goods by country of destination and carrier before dropping them off at carriers directly. The advantage of this strategy is that you can use local carriers and have control over the shipping lead time, but a disadvantage is that you need a certain volume. 

In order to choose the most appropriate shipping strategy per country, it is useful to make use of relevant data points. Each shipping method has its own price tag, speed and benefits and a thorough analysis of shipping data can help to make the right decision. Many companies have data nowadays, but the question is whether you have the right information. To review your shipping strategy, it can be worth looking at your own shipping analytics, but also at data from competitors, per country or even on a carrier level. 

This also happens on a large scale in the e-commerce logistics industry. In this case, insight into shipping lead times can be helpful to decide whether the delivery experience matches expectations. The shipping lead time is an important indicator to estimate how long it takes for a parcel to actually travel to the country of destination. For example, a parcel shipped from the UK to the Netherlands, Belgium, or France can be delivered in just 3-4 days. If the shipping lead time is shorter than the maximum delivery time consumers are willing to wait, you are all good, if not, the data can help to optimise your shipping strategy on an international and local level. 

International shipping offers a lot of opportunities if you do it right. Make sure you use your own data or reliable third-party data to make the right choices and increase conversion per country. A satisfied consumer and growth are the final destination after all. 

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