How to build customer loyalty with shipping

By Callie Hinman, Content marketer & writer at ShipStation

Published July 30, 2018
Last updated September 9, 2020

We’re all familiar with the oft-cited claim: it’s more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain an existing one. There are plenty of articles, infographics, and ebooks that offer online retailers various ways to improve customer retention. The problem is that many of these resources fail to discuss one part of the e-commerce experience that is a perfect opportunity to increase customer loyalty: shipping.

Some retailers see shipping and delivery as solely utilitarian. In reality, how you handle this process can be a big indicator of your commitment to your customers.

Here are three ways you can create a shipping experience that encourages customer loyalty:

Provide multiple shipping and delivery options

The planning abilities of your target consumers are most likely spread across a wide spectrum. Some of your customers have already finished their Christmas shopping by June. And others are more of the “didn’t realize tomorrow was Mother’s Day until Facebook reminded them” type.

For shoppers in that latter category, time is a luxury they don’t have. A store that can offer guaranteed overnight delivery to a customer facing a deadline is the one that customers will order from again. The next time she needs to buy something could be another last-minute mad dash. The customer will remember the retailer who got her out of a pinch—and didn’t charge her an arm and a leg to do it.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t charge more for expedited shipping. Rather, try to keep the cost from being so high that the shopper would rather face a disappointed mom and judgmental siblings than pay the extra amount.

On the flip side of the shipping and delivery coin, there are shoppers who don’t need their order ASAP. However, just because they aren’t in a rush doesn’t mean they should wait an unreasonably long time to receive their shipment.

If you have merchandise in stock, the longest a domestic customer should have to wait for her order is 3-5 business days. Much longer and you risk losing that customer to a competitor. Ideally, if you can swing next-day shipping it’ll be even easier to build customer loyalty. 40% of consumers in the Walker Sands 2018 Future of Retail Study said the availability of next-day shipping is a big motivator.

Even if you can only offer two to three delivery options and none of those options are overnight or two-day shipping, it’s still better than only giving shoppers a single choice. In Differentiating delivery: How to win the e-commerce battle, Accenture notes that two-thirds of consumers have chosen one retailer over another simply on the basis of delivery options.

Offer a generous return policy

Returns are an unavoidable part of retail. For e-commerce brands, returns can be particularly tricky. You may offer the most flexible, customer-friendly shipping and delivery options of all your competitors, but if you haven’t made it easy for a customer to return merchandise, she may not shop with you again.

In the same Accenture study, 79% of consumers claimed an easy and affordable returns policy is one of the most important features a retailer can offer. 81% said they would shop more with a store that offered an easy way to return purchases.

An exceptional return policy is:


    It contains no unnecessary legal jargon or overly complicated language.

    Easy to find.

    It exists not only on its own page but also as part of the checkout process and in the FAQs.

    Has the details customers care about.

    This includes how long a customer has to return an order after she’s received it, any special requirements (for example, items must be unopened and/or have all tags attached), and how the customer will be reimbursed (i.e. whether the customer will receive a full refund or store credit).

The average shopper isn’t fond of initiating a return, and no store is particularly enthused about handling them. So in addition to clarifying the customer’s role in the process, make sure you do your part to make returns as painless as possible.

While you can’t prevent customers from ever returning orders, there are a few things you can do to reduce the number of returns you receive. For example, include high-quality photos and detailed descriptions on every product page and make sure those photos and descriptions accurately represent the product. Consider including a returns label in each shipment. Then the customer can take care of the majority of the process without needing your assistance. And don’t make the returns window obnoxiously brief. Giving your customers plenty of time to return an item is another way to show you care about their happiness even after they’ve completed their order. Finally, implement a thorough quality assurance process so customers receive the right items on the right delivery date.

Communicate on multiple channels

Phone anxiety is a real thing. Many Millennials prefer live chat to talking on the phone. And the average response time to a customer service email is 12 hours.

If you want to build customer loyalty, shoppers need multiple ways to get answers about their order status, for example:

According to Sprout Social, 90% of consumers have used social media to communicate directly with a brand. Not only that, nearly 35% said social media is their #1 preferred choice for customer service. The crazy thing is that Sprout Social also found 89% of social media messages go completely unanswered. This means if a shopper can not only communicate with you on social media but also get a timely response, you’re almost assuredly heads and tails above a decent chunk of your competition.

Live chat is an increasingly popular way to respond to customer inquiries. The majority of consumers consistently rate their experience with live chat as positive. Let’s say a customer needs to make an urgent change to a rush order she just placed. An email won’t be fast enough, and she can’t make a call because she’s at work. Solution? Live chat. She can get the instant help she needs without stopping everything she’s doing.

But what if your company is too small to have a dedicated social media team, Or live chat simply isn’t an option? That’s where a customer self-service portal comes in.

Self-service portal does double duty:

    It reduces the number of calls and emails you receive, which allows you to focus on other aspects of the business.

    It's ideal for customers who would rather get answers on their own instead of having to contact a brand directly.

The overwhelming majority of consumers (90%, to be exact) expect brands to have an online self-service portal. A well-optimized, regularly updated self-service portal is a great way for smaller brands to give customers the shipping support they need without being on-call 24/7. E-commerce brands of any size must take advantage of every opportunity they have to prove their dedication to every step in the customer journey. Showing you’re committed to the shopping experience as a whole is the best way to build customer loyalty.

Callie Hinman is the Content Marketer & Writer at ShipStation, a leading provider of shipping software for e-commerce fulfillment. Callie holds a B.A. in English from the University of Texas and is staunchly committed to following Ann Handley’s Rule of FIWTSBS (“Find Interesting Ways to Say Boring Stuff”).