There is no doubt that the pandemic brought about a whole new set of challenges for retailers, forcing them to innovate and shift their business models in a way they never would have imagined.

From facing ongoing supply chain disruptions, impeded cash flow and widespread labour shortages, few have done it tough like the Australian retail industry.

As we slowly emerge from the end of the gloomy lockdown tunnel, retailers are confronted with an entirely new way of working. As a result, not only are they shifting the way they do business, but also the way they communicate with their customers.

As we move towards the ‘new normal’, here are the three ways retailers can revamp their operations to ensure the seamless continuity of excellent customer service.

Adopt a multi-courier strategy

When it comes to choosing your couriers, it’s important not to put all of your eggs in one basket. If the recent postal strikes and delays have taught us anything, it’s that if disaster strikes and you’ve spread those eggs out, your business is more likely to weather the storm. Starshipit found that retailers large and small are increasingly becoming aware of this, with 55% of merchants now opting for a multi-courier strategy.

Partnering with multiple couriers means that, in times of disruption, you can redirect all orders to another provider so affected customers will not be impacted by ongoing delays. Even though these disruptions are often outside of your control, customers are likely to associate their poor delivery experience with your business, which can have a damaging impact on your company’s reputation and on repeat purchase behaviour.

Prioritise regular customer communication

Avoiding delivery disruptions with a multi-courier strategy is the ultimate goal, however sometimes

disruption and delays are unavoidable. In these situations, providing customers with regular updates on the status of their order is your next best option.

Recent Starshipit data highlights a noticeable uptick in the amount of communication merchants have been sending their customers, with SMS notifications growing by 290% since the start of the pandemic, and by nearly three times over the last three months due to recent lockdowns and increased volumes of online purchases. Email notifications also grew but at the slightly lower rate of 245% within the same time frame.

This is most likely because email notifications can land in junk or get lost amongst other emails, whereas SMS notifications are far more direct and more likely to be seen. Whatever method you choose, ensuring regular communication and transparency with your customers not only preempts questions in real-time and eliminates the need for multiple customer service queries, but it is also guaranteed to boost the overall customer experience, leading to repeat purchases.

Offer customers as much flexibility and convenience as possible

Alongside improved communication, flexibility has moved from ‘nice to have’ before the pandemic to achieving utility as e-commerce orders peaked. As e-commerce has become the standard medium for shopping, the previous three-to-five-day standard business delivery is now too long a wait for many. That’s why flexible shipping options such as same-day delivery or express postage over standard are increasing in popularity at the checkout.

With online orders now at an all-time high, a flexible returns policy offering cheap, free or extended returns is also more important than ever. Research shows that 92% of customers will shop with a retailer again if they know that their returns policy is hassle-free, and with 40% of shoppers regularly over-ordering online with the expectation they will return part of it, it’s crucial to make this process as quick and streamlined as possible.

Although the pandemic threw a spanner in the works for retailers across the country, it also provided the industry with the necessary key learnings to fill the gaps it didn’t know it had. This need for innovation has encouraged retailers large and small to harness automation and complement their businesses offering with third party partnerships.

As we emerge from lockdowns, retailers will need to consider how their operations will impact the quality of customer experience they are able to provide. By working with multiple couriers, prioritising regular customer communication and offering increased flexibility, retailers can ensure they keep a competitive edge post-lockdown and beyond.

Abi Bennett is chief operating officer at Starshipit.