Making the Most of the Last Touch

How Your Packaging Can Improve the E-Commerce Fulfillment Customer Experience

The internet retailing world has been particularly interested, as of late, in developing ways to enhance the customer experience – post sale. Up until recently, the most utilized methods of enhancing the customer experience haven’t been particularly sexy – from strategic location of distribution and same day delivery to streamlined returns processes and custom carton printing. The focus has largely been to increase accuracy of shipments, decrease the order transit times, and find more ways to personalize the purchase. But as more and more retailers have upgraded systems and adopted similar methodologies, the leveled playing field makes it somewhat difficult to stand out from the crowd and truly differentiate from the competition. Furthermore, online merchants are finding it challenging to produce creative ways to interact with consumers during the shipping process.
As a result, some innovative companies are turning their attention to resourceful ways to make a lasting impact on the final few moments in the supply chain interaction – the critical few seconds when the end consumer actually receives and opens the package. The long running standards in package differentiation have been to invest in specially branded packaging, add inserts, provide free samples or extras, include a personalized note, and include marketing materials and promotions. The conundrum, however, is that most of these are not only widely used but they also require additional printing, additional touches, and additional complexity – which can adversely impact costs in an already profit-squeezed area of the business.

From Challenge to Innovation

One company has taken a challenge and turned it into an opportunity. Ted Shanley, founder and President of Seattle-area-based eCom Label Solutions says the idea for creating shipping labels that fold out and present the buyer with brand- and sales-building promotions occurred to him at a business meeting. While helping a client brainstorm a way to create a branding opportunity outside of the typical custom printing on a corrugated box, eCom Label Solutions came up with a fully customizable shipping label that can be used for returns, reverse logistics, packing slips, invoices, upsell, cross sell, advertising, coupon codes, social media, and more. “Our label will print out on laser printers that can run 8-12 x 14 inch documents through it that can handle label material. We have a list of compatible printers that we can make recommendations from. We help the merchant design and do the layout so there can be color printing on the front and back of label. They run a single pass through the printer printing the address in black-and-white on the label. The color part – invoices or ads or reminders to use social media – is pre-printed by us,” says Mr. Shanley.

Combining Function and Creativity to Enhance the Customer Experience

The most interesting part of this new shipping label solution isn’t just that it adds so much function to the basic shipping label, but that in addition to function it adds a new level of engagement to the final customer touch with limitless opportunities for engagement. From a logistics perspective, combining returns logistics information, packing slip information and invoice information is extremely beneficial, streamlining the pick and pack process into a simple print and stick solution instead of a print and insert methodology. Especially for third party logistics companies that manage multiple clients under the same warehouse, the function of the label is tremendous. But even more interesting are the possibilities for retailers to take extremely targeted messages to end customers in order to drive further engagement. For example, with the simple addition of a QR code, a consumer can quickly scan and provide immediate feedback, be entered in a contest, provide instant messaging through social media, or countless other ideas. According to Joel Sobanski of FedEx, “Anything we can do to differentiate and provide value and solutions allows us to be entrenched with our customers.”

A Way for Third Party Logistics Companies to Provide Additional Value

Online merchants aren’t the only companies that can capitalize on the added value that the eCom Label Solutions label provides. Third party fulfillment companies are under the same types of pressures to create additional value for fulfillment customers, and by bringing a custom label printing solution to the table, they are armed with additional ammunition in an otherwise somewhat stale industry. Says Hiroshi Mikitani, CEO of Rakuten, “Consumption today is not rooted in things, it is rooted in experience. Those merchants [and vendors] who understand this mindset will be the ones racking up sales.” The warehousing and fulfillment companies who extend these types of solutions to customers will no doubt be on the front end of innovation within the industry, helping them to participate in the growth of their clients.

It’s Time to Think Outside of the Box

Whether through an innovative shipping label solution or other means, it’s definitely time for merchant and vendors alike to think outside of the traditional box to further engage consumers. With so much at stake in the increasingly popular and growing ecommerce shipping segment, every touch and every moment within the fulfillment experience is becoming vital to the success of merchants. Those companies who are able to capitalize on that last and often ignored customer touch point will most likely be able to gain traction over the competition. As Kim Pinto of FedEx points out, “I have been trying to find ways to get this customers attention and this may just be the thing that is going to give me an upper hand.”

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