Introduction: Winning Despite Overnight Shipping

The purpose of this page is to document and promote the small business competitive advantage of delivering “Early Success” to customers. All businesses should strive to provide a taste of "success" as soon after the purchase as possible, especially considering that the customer's product may not be delivered for another few days.

It’s entirely possible to provide an incredible customer experience without offering next-day delivery. Amazon is such a juggernaut it’s easy to see why new and small retailers are afraid of the competition and apprehensive about their future opportunities. But there are plenty of other opportunities for merchants to dominate in their niche.

Amazon is successful because they can get consumer most of what they need, basically, within five days. In a recent study by AlixPartners online shoppers generally expect products to be delivered in under 5 days. The majority of Amazon fulfilled products are delivered within 3 days, which places them firmly in the sweet spot for customers’ delivery expectations. But this doesn’t mean 3-day delivery is the most important thing in our buying and using experience. It’s part of the experience; for many products things like pre-sale service, post-sale follow-ups, and concierge services might be a more important experience. And it’s in these opportunities that small businesses have the advantage.

So let’s explore this and remind ourselves that the 3-day shipping that is reverberating in the echo chamber of popular online sales blog and surveys isn’t the end-all, be-all for online retailers. There is so much else to consider…

What is "Early Success"?

We're defining “Early Success” as experiencing some form of success early on a customer journey. In their interaction with the brand, do they experience success, however small, towards their end goal quickly?

For example, when buying nutrition supplements, the goal isn’t just to procure the pills or powder. Procuring the supplements is just one of many steps along that customer’s journey towards health and fitness. So if we as merchants can address our customers’ overall objectives, and show we care about them reaching their goals, we’ll create bulletproof customer relationships. And the quicker customers realize the merchant understands their goals and provides a valuable recommendation, the more likely they’ll do business with them. In fact, they will be much more likely to trust their brand long-term as well.

This example is really well displayed at Kinobody.com. Kinobody sells workout programs and supplements, but the first thing they ask you to do (even before browsing their selection of products) on their website is to pick your gender, age and fitness goals. Once you’ve done this they suggest the package you need to buy to achieve your goals (quickly) and a short video personalized to you and your goals to help you get started. This is great because Kinobody is successfully delivering "early success" via a free general overview of the regimen they should be following; they laid out their fitness journey for them.

"Early Success" when buying furniture for a new home is probably not the 48 hour delivery (because a buyer may not have the time to assemble the furniture until the weekend anyway) - so what gratification can be pro-actively delivered right away? Perhaps sending a free pizza right away to a customer is the tactic to provide faster “success”. Very few people buy a bed and require it to be delivered now. But they might require dinner now. Additionally, another tactic might be to call customers on the evening the bed is delivered and offer proactive assembly support over the phone.

Because when we’re buying a new bed frame, we’re not only buying a bed frame. We’re TRYING to accomplish the objective of sleep. Just like anything we buy; actually, it’s just us on a journey to achieve something.

Buying workout supplements (to achieve physical fitness), or books (to learn more about a subject) comes at a certain stage of an individual's journey, looking to achieve a goal. And they’ve looked to us merchants as supporters in that goal. As mentors, advisors, and allies. So let's provide it!

This doesn’t apply equally to all things. Some products, commodity products like toothbrushes, don’t need to be thought into too much. Because for them, “Success” means getting it right away, using it for it’s function and utility. Hence why Amazon is and may remain king of the commodity goods.

But for some products, it’s vital to explore the customer journey and think more into it. There are so many examples, some including original art, kayaks, electric motorcycles, furniture, or workout supplements. When buying workout supplements, the customer is on a journey for physical fitness; they might be early on their journey, or in the middle. Either way in addition to the supplements in and of itself, advice, equipment or other tools may also be required of a brand from it's audience. If this is the journey most of their best customers are on, fitness brands should also offer workout and diet plans. Kinobody is a prime example. When you visit their website, the first thing you have to do is inform them about your goals, and then Kinobody recommends the stack of products you need to achieve those goals. And then they strive to keep you as a customer by keeping you on your journey. Image if Kinobody agents call new customers who’ve made a large first order, and they discover these customers are new on their journey and have just signed up for their first gym membership. It might be worthwhile asking if the gym lockers have built in locks. If you find they need locks, you can casually offer to send them some (for free, wow, great customer experience) or at the very least provide it for a cost. Only by talking to your customers will you figure out what the customer journeys look like, for each type of customer segment.

When buying camping gear, it’s for a literal journey through the forrest. When buying electric motorbikes, the journey might include assembly. In the first example of the bed frame, the journey might include teamwork in assembling the product. Again, understanding what role your product plays in your customers journey will inform you on how to better re-market, retain and maintain a bulletproof customer relationships.

Amazon's Advantage

The service that Amazon provides is getting products to their customers fastest. For a lot of things, outside of the success the product itself provides, the earliest way to provide that success is to get it to your door fastest. And this is where Amazon shines. Amazon currently rules in many product categories, but it’s strongest domination is clearly in commoditized products where immediate usage is the “next step”. In those cases where the “next step” in their journey is simply using the product, then immediate delivery is the most valuable service in that transaction. Amazon isn’t popular because it can sell you almost anything; it’s popular because it can get you to your “next step” faster than anyone else.

Interestingly, it’s the common pattern Amazon is using even for grocery stores. At Amazon Go stores you can just walk out with your products and Amazon charges your account automatically. Grocery shopping is part of a journey to preparing dinner. Preparing dinner is the end goal of the journey, and getting groceries is a step along that journey. Amazon is delivering a “mini”success in the overall journey by making it easier and not requiring you to stand in lines, take out wallets, and  bag items, while you’re on your walk home from work. It removed a significant chunk of time and effort along the customer's journey to preparing dinner.

Learning from Tech Companies

Get to the “AHA” moment ASAP

There exist teams of designers and developers focused entirely on the onboarding process at Facebook, Twitter, AirBnB, Slack and virtually any big name tech company you can think of. These multi-billion dollar companies have figured out the key to sustained growth is to deliver an “aha” moment to their users, so their users internalize the value of the app. The faster the app can deliver this “aha” moment, the more likely the user will stick around long-term and convince friends to join the app as well.

At Facebook and Twitter, their growth teams studied user onboarding very carefully. They segmented them to identify the “power” users because they needed to see what made their “best” users tick. It’s important to segment users on HOW the users used the service because the demographics aren’t reliable. Demographic user segmentation isn’t accurate because two people could be the same age, same interested, and same geography, and still have massively different usage patterns for their apps.

Facebook and Twitter found their “best” customers were people with a certain number of added friends in their first interaction. Facebook found that users who “friended” at least 10 friends in 14 days were most likely to stick around. Twitter found that users who followed 7 other account were also more likely to stick around. What did Facebook and Twitter do as a result of this insight? They made friending and following a key component of the onboarding process, so everyone had to do it to finish their account set up.

These companies figured out the real value of their product, and strove to deliver it ASAP.

As online retailers, we need to approach our customers in a similar light. We need to figure out what the real value to our customers is, and deliver that ASAP. Amazon is betting that “value” is ASAP delivery, but for many products, I don’t believe this to be the case. I believe customer service and experience is the real value, and so let’s deliver this ASAP.

Some value delivered now is better than all value delivered later

Another important lesson from technology companies is to deliver some value fast. It’s better to deliver something now, however small, than waiting for the whole thing to be delivered later. Facebook’s famous internal motto during their early years was “Move Fast and Break Things” which showed the value they placed on launching features quickly. As a tech startup, those that can deliver a “minimum viable product” quickly to get to market have a significantly higher chance of success than startups who overdevelop the product before focusing on users and creating feedback loops. Again, let's revisit the first graph to see how retailers can think about this. For a successful technology entrepreneur, the purple line is better than the yellow line.

Understanding and Applying Early Success

Early Success doesn’t just have to mean pre-delivery. Depending what it is you sell, delivery isn’t the last step in using the product. Many products require setup, installation or assembly. For products like that, “early success” would be defined as getting setup as soon as possible and not leaving a product left boxed for days or weeks before it’s used.

We’ll pull this example from our own store, getnadeef.com. We would watch to see when our product was delivered and call our customer on the phone. Since our product requires installation, we would proactively call them when we knew they hadn’t had time to install the product yet and offer support over the phone. The vast majority of the time customers wouldn’t avail the offer but we'd let them know we were just a phone call away if they needed it. This built incredible brand reputation and we saw the average order numbers increasing as the same customers we called would end up buying a 2nd or 3rd time, not to mention sharing our number (since now they had it) with friends and family that would text us citing the reference.

It was through this that we started understanding the concept of "Early Success" and subsequently got together with my team to build our suite of apps. If you're interested in running our customer experience "early success" exercise, let us know - we would love to guide you on your journey.