Technology is evolving at unprecedented pace, transforming established processes and industries. As a former print journalist, I’ve seen first-hand the exciting potential of disruption. Media was one of many industries revolutionised by digital transformation, and my large, noisy, expensive printing press was replaced by a CMS (content management system) and a website. News became instantaneous; not daily, weekly or monthly.

Intoxicated by technology’s potential to disrupt, enhance and improve industries, I followed the disruption into “digital”. Various roles, countries, industries, challenges and successes later, I’m leading the product function at Shippit, Australia’s leading eCommerce logistics platform. In the same way we want instant access to news, we also want almost instant access to our purchases.

Few industries have changed more fundamentally – and can evolve further – than retail. As eCommerce booms and our favourite highstreet brands are accessible at the click of a button, it’s easy to think we’ve already reached the peak of technology and digital transformation. However, consumer expectations are sky-high post-pandemic, and their tolerance is low. Retailers that evolve with these expectations will win, while those that don’t won’t, will lose ground.

But how are consumer expectations changing? And what role can technology play behind-the-scenes?

Why are consumer expectations changing?

Driven by the digital revolution of everyday services, consumers demand seamless experience, and near-instant gratification. If they can order a meal at the touch of a button, then track it to their front door, why not the same for an online purchase of any kind? Delivery might be the single most important, but overlooked, element of the retail experience. They don’t just want speed, either, they want flexibility and transparency. If a delivery isn’t arriving ‘same hour’ or ‘next day’, they want to know exactly when it will or how they can collect it.

From the outside, the delivery process appears to be simple. In reality it’s incredibly complex and often wasteful. If one thing goes wrong on the fragmented journey from retailer to carrier to consumer, their experience will be poor, and the likelihood of retaining them suffers. In a saturated industry, where it’s difficult to differentiate on price and product, delivery – if convenient, transparent and technology-driven – really does become the next frontier and a genuine competitive advantage.

Shippit powered over 42 million deliveries in 2022, with 50% of all Australians receiving a delivery through the platform in the last 12 months. ECommerce is booming. That’s huge potential for retailers, but huge potential for things to go wrong, customers to be underwhelmed and businesses to fall behind. That’s where technology comes in.

What role does technology play?

When we talk about technology improving customer experience, we’re not talking about shiny front of house innovations like experiential retail or NFTs. We’re talking about technology that has tangible impacts on customer expectations. When you dive under the surface, there is immense potential to revolutionise processes, enhance delivery experiences and bring shoppers, retailers and carriers closer together than ever. The need is urgent, and exciting. 

Behind the scenes, delivery and fulfilment technology enables retailers to maximise their reach and make delivery more financially viable. For example, sending low-value, fragile items vast distances is an unsustainable approach. Smart fulfilment technology enables retailers to be more strategic in how they facilitate orders by optimising routes and automatically allocating every order to the fastest, cheapest or most sustainable carrier – depending on the customers’ preference.

Technology enables retailers to meet consumer demands, keep costs low and competitive. Not every retailer can offer next-day delivery like Amazon, so what can they offer that makes them worthy of comparison? How can we use our technology to allow the retailer to put those options in front of the consumer?

For example, if sustainability rather than speed is a customer’s priority, retailers can automatically allocate an order to a carrier with strong green delivery credentials. The average parcel travels 720km. We’re on a mission to remove waste from the system; to benefit our customers’ bottom line, to improve their customers’ experience and for the planet.

Whether it’s fast, free or carbon neutral, when customers have the power to choose how and when their orders are delivered, it boosts trust, transparency and, as a result, experience and retention too. Rather than relying on one carrier, through an agnostic approach we’re giving retailers access to a library of carriers; each with their own specialities. This increases flexibility and contingency.

Ultimately, while every business is different, they share three objectives:  to grow, to give customers value, and to do so as efficiently as possible – from both a cost- and risk-perspective. Whether they want to drive customer acquisition, ship to a new market, reduce their delivery costs or something else entirely, fulfilment technology allows retailers to do so in one of the most important, but overlooked, retail retention strategies: delivery.

While the delivery process for millions of Aussies is still slow, unreliable and inconvenient, the potential to bring retailers, carriers and consumers closer than ever is hugely exciting. Technology’s role, and what makes our role as disruptors so exciting, is providing the behind-the-scenes foundation on which retailers – from omnichannel to pureplay, big box chains to family-run stores – turn delivery into a driver of satisfaction, retention and success.

Inga Latham is chief product officer at Shippit.