December 27, 2012, 3:16 PM

When free shipping isn’t enough

Some online retailers need to go the extra mile when delivering items.

Lead Photo

When it comes to shipping, e-retailers must often go beyond waiving delivery charges to win over customers.

Take Ontario-based Stratus Vineyards, which sells premium wines. It not only ships beverages via temperature-controlled trucks—excessive heat and cold can foul wine—but sends its most loyal shoppers personalized notes of thanks. “Wine is a premium product, a very respected product, as opposed to something more generic,” says Suzanne Janke, director of hospitality and retail. “It’s not a widget, and it’s important to us to make sure that the experience is an exciting as possible.”

While increasing the pace and scope of shipping constitutes a prime focus of e-commerce operators going into 2013—in early December, for instance, Google Inc. bought BufferBox Inc., a service that lets consumers have their web orders delivered to secured lockers in the Toronto metropolitan area—some retailers also are trying to stand out by offering special delivery treatment for certain products. “That last mile, if it doesn’t work out correctly, can really spoil the experience for customers,” says Josh Klaristenfeld, co-founder and executive vice president of operations for Dazadi Inc., which sells pool tables, shuffleboards, pinball machines and related products.

Dazadi has to do more than offer free shipping, as many of its products are too large to be dropped at a customer’s door. That’s why for some items, the e-retailer offers not only delivery into a room or office, but unpacking, assembly, installation and debris removal. Such a service not only saves Dazadi customers from worrying about damaging their pricey purchases, throwing out their backs and cursing the narrow stairs in their dwellings while hauling up their new toys. It boosts Dazadi’s image for customer service, which can bring shoppers back to the e-commerce site when they desire other games to round out their basements, or need smaller items such as cue sticks.

Free shipping is not enough for some customers,” says Mark Magill, director of business development for OnTrac, which serves six Western states, provides Sunday pickup for Monday deliveries and does same-day deliveries for Quidsi, a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc. that operates a number of web-only merchants including Soap.com and Diapers.com.

Partly as a response to demand for quicker shipments, along with the overall growth in online retail, delivery and fulfillment providers are moving to increase their own capabilities. For instance, OnTrac, which has annual revenue of about $200 million, has over the past year added 1 million square feet of warehouse space to accommodate that growth—a 70% increase from its previous space, Magill says.

For much more about how retailers and fulfillment firms handle special deliveries read the upcoming January issue of Internet Retailer magazine.

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