It is perhaps unsurprising to hear the words “I love logistics” coming from Stuart Hill’s mouth. He has spent over 20 years working in logistics-focused roles for online retailers, including heading up customer logistics and then international operations at ASOS, before co-founding a software solution to empower cross-border trade in 2012. Today he is Chief Operating Officer at luxury online retailer Matches, where he oversees all fulfillment, delivery, and customer care aspects of the business.
Working predominantly in fashion e-commerce means Stuart is well-versed in finding solutions that deliver exceptional customer experience in fast-paced environments. In fact, his focus on customer service was developed during his very first retail role at John Lewis.
“There really was a focus on customer experience; the customer is at heart of everything. Therefore, for me, logistics is actually about serving a customer as much as it is about getting something from A to B.”
So, how can businesses get it right? Read on as the logistics expert shares his expert advice.
From mastering sustainability to getting the last mile right…all the secrets from the logistics expert.
Matches ships to many countries across the world, but its stock sits predominantly in the UK. “Gone are the days where if you're starting a business, you can put one item in 16 different [storage] locations, because that's got a real fixed cost impact to it now.”
“International expansion is 90% logistics because it's that physical element of getting a product from A to B cross-border that can be very, very challenging. As an international retailer, we have to manage how to get [fast] delivery to a customer in Dubai when our stock is in a warehouse just outside of London, UK.” For that reason, Stuart highlights the importance of working with a carrier with global reach and extensive knowledge of cross-border shipping compliance.
“One of the real benefits that DHL brings Matches in the industry as a whole is that I can hand a parcel with a uniform set of data to DHL, knowing that within their network they are going to manage all the nuances around customs and duty […] Wherever that parcel is going globally, it's going to get to the customer efficiently, on time, and customs-compliant.”
Of course, selling to cross-border countries doesn’t just involve shipping considerations – taking it back to Stuart’s emphasis on always delivering exceptional customer experience. Yet, this is something that can be tricky for a business with customers in several countries.
“A customer in the Middle East actually has a very different view of what successful delivery is compared to someone in the US, as an example. So, when we go to a new market, we will lean on specialists like DHL and the local DHL teams to really understand that market, and get underneath the skin of not just what the customer wants, but where the innovation is in that delivery market.”
Stuart also highlights the importance of cross-border retailers tailoring their e-commerce website for each specific market it serves, to offer localised delivery options, local language, and local payment methods.
Though some customer preferences vary between countries, there’s one thing they all value, and that’s fast and flexible delivery. “Last-mile delivery is obviously vital to the customer experience – it’s the only touchpoint a customer has with us as a retailer and a brand. Ultimately, it's where I think the most cost is and where things can go wrong most often.” So, it’s no wonder Stuart points to On-Demand Delivery (ODD) as something all online businesses should offer, calling it a “game changer.” ODD prioritises flexibility and convenience for e-commerce customers, allowing them to choose exactly when and where their orders are delivered, with full tracking too. They can, for example, opt to have a parcel left with a neighbor if they know they’re going to be out.
“On-Demand Delivery for me is a key element of how many times a customer comes back to us. If we as a business can make sure that that customer experience on the doorstep is convenient to them, repeat orders will be higher and ultimately spending more.”
One of the key features of On-Demand Delivery is the choice it gives customers of where to have their orders delivered – such as to their workplace or left with a neighbor. “On-Demand Delivery stops DHL having to make multiple delivery attempts, which inherently means everyone's costs are lower at the same time as improving customer experience.”
He also highlights the tracking features of On-Demand Delivery, which means retailers can notify a customer immediately if their order is going to be delayed. “Delivery for me is about providing data to a customer, which ultimately is a form of communication.”
Lastly – but by no means least – Stuart talks about sustainability. Green logistics has become an important focus for online retailers in recent years, driven largely by customers’ increasing expectations of brands to be socially responsible.
“I think fashion has got a really interesting part to play within sustainability. There are some quick wins that we as an industry can target, for example, taking fresh air out of boxes. There is a big focus on the “unboxing” experience; customers have become used to getting a parcel in a big box with lots of tissue paper and multiple ribbons around it, which isn't sustainable. So, I think educating the customer at checkout to explain why we've got a sustainable packaging strategy is vital to that evolution of sustainability within the market.”
Unsurprisingly, the issue of product returns also comes up. Within the e-commerce sector, fashion has a notoriously high returns rate – Stuart says Matches' sits between 30-50%. To tackle this, he advises businesses to focus on their product descriptions.
“To anyone starting out in the industry, I would say look at things like size and fit. Are you actually explaining to a customer what the garment is, what the size of it is, perhaps even how it wears?” Matches is also working on a pre-loved resale channel to help extend its products’ life cycle – something which businesses of all types can consider as part of a reverse logistics strategy.
As we come to the end of our discussion, Stuart shares some final words of wisdom for retailers in what is often a highly competitive sector. “I come back to when I walked into John Lewis at the age of 16 and the first piece of advice that was given to me is “retail is detail”. I think sometimes within retail we can get carried away with what we're buying or how we're fulfilling it, and we lose sight of what the customer experience really is. But if you constantly focus on the customer, I don't think you're going to go far wrong.”
Inspired by Matches’ success? With a DHL Express Business Account, you’ll receive logistics support from the experts as you navigate your own cross-border growth.
*Header image source: Matches.com