When the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ was first coined, ecommerce would have been a few hundred years off, and the idea of digitally tracking parcels across oceans presented a logistical nightmare.
Now, consumers can track their order’s every move – and they frequently do. Research finds that shoppers check for delivery updates up to four times per purchase. And while customers crave transparency, businesses can also benefit from more shipping data. Emily Reed, Royal Mail’s head of international products, lists five key wins.
1. Communication creates confidence
“Sending internationally involves a bit more of a leap of faith than buying or selling domestically,” says Reed. For both buyer and seller, it’s an investment – not just financially but in terms of trust. People tend to be more wary of ordering from businesses overseas, where costs may vary, and gridlocked customs checks can have knock-on effects on delivery dates.
Clear and consistent communication is the quickest way to assuage any doubts. She continues: “Domestically, you can solve any problems quite quickly. In a cross-border context, it’s harder to intervene. But tracking allows the sender and recipient to stay updated, which reinforces confidence at every stage,” she says.
Businesses shouldn’t wait to be asked for updates, either. “Email notifications can be sent to the recipient to let them know where their parcel is on its journey. By not relying on customers to go to the website, you enhance their experience and increase the potential for repeat business.”
2. Fresh data enables swift responses to disruption
Tracking is primarily viewed as a benefit to customers. No doubt it is. But there’s also a great deal of strategic value within tracking data.
The number of touchpoints, international systems, weather fronts and political environments at play in global markets create complexity, but they also provide valuable insights. The more data there is around disruptions, whether that’s tied to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war or a shock weather event, the better carriers and companies can respond by rerouting parcels and keeping customers informed with accurate delivery predictions.
Flooding, snow and extreme heat affect the ‘postie on the ground’, wherever they are, and fresh tracking data can be a powerful springboard for real-time problem-solving. “A heatwave might seem fun, but it isn’t always good for parcel delivery,” explains Reed. “That said, we update our customers, and we’re very clear about what we know, what’s being done about it and the options,” she adds.
3. Historic data allows proactive management around peak periods
While no one can predict the next hurricane or flood, Christmas comes around every year like clockwork. Historical tracking data gives companies insight into how best to manage their international shipping needs across high and low shopping seasons, Reed points out. “We know that some things take a bit longer at certain times of the year to some destinations,” she explains.
Throughout summer, companies might see the impacts of customs slowdowns as employees clock out for annual leave. Meanwhile, delays are to be expected around the peak selling periods in autumn and winter when major shopping events take place. Black Friday and Cyber Monday (originally US-only events that are becoming more widespread globally), Christmas and the 11.11 Singles Day in China all cause temporary but significant hikes in international sales volumes.
“We work with businesses to help them to better understand those forecasts, sharing updates on what we’re doing differently to help manage customer expectations,” Reed says. “It might be that we book an extra ULD (Unit Load Device, the containers used for mail on an aeroplane) on a flight to the US, or that we have two trucks going to France instead of instead of one. Because we can pre-empt the demand, we can take steps to ensure customers get the service they expect all year round.”
4. Bottlenecks are visible
A sizeable proportion of shipping hold-ups happen at customs points. Here, tracking can be a blessing and a curse. “It’s awful when an item does get stuck because you can see it and you can’t do anything about it,” Reed says.
A lot of that, the data suggests, can be chalked up to simple administrative errors. “We can see that customers who have completed their customs declaration completely and accurately – providing their electronic advanced data in a format that is digestible by posts around the world – get through customs more quickly than those with blanks and gaps,” she explains.
Paperwork can be daunting, particularly for SMEs that don’t have the same expertise in dealing with international requirements as multinationals. Regardless, Reed advises businesses not to be put off.
There’s a lot that senders can do to help their item pass through customs seamlessly – provide good quality complete data about the item, use the right HS (Harmonised system) codes to describe the items being sent. Usually, the most appropriate details are the most common sense. Reed says: “If it’s a tube of hand cream, call it a tube of hand cream. Or use the definitions that the relevant customs authority understands and use the relevant HS codes because all the systems worldwide understand them.” Without comprehensive parcel tracking, businesses would have a much harder time pinpointing bureaucratic backlogs.
5. Efficiency takes a front seat
Above all, tracking answers that perennial customer query: “Where’s my stuff?” Before the advent of international tracking services, the first port of call would be the company. Cue busy phone lines, harassed staff and, often, no real answer.
“Because of the transparency of an item’s location, customers can self-serve that information,” Reed explains. “Companies that offer tracking receive far fewer enquiries, and when they are asked about an order it’s much easier to find the relevant information while the customer is on the phone. That means fewer complaints and requests for compensation or refunds.”
The more efficiently businesses can handle queries post-purchase, or avoid them being asked in the first place, the more time and energy they can divert towards customer service initiatives elsewhere.
For more information on how Royal Mail can help you export with ease, visit royalmail.com/exportingmatters