Customers change their minds sometimes. All right, not sometimes. A lot of the time. And though we may try to accommodate their whims and wishes, there often comes a point at which letting customers modify their ecommerce order is just bad business.
See, while many ecommerce businesses can simply slap together the customer’s box on the day the shipment goes out, some products require a little more care and planning. And the eternal adversary of careful planning is last-minute changes.
In other words, some ecommerce businesses that offer subscription- or autoship-based services sink or swim based on their ability to lock in customer selections, preventing any further changes.
And that, dear readers, is where the “Lock Window” comes in.
The Ones in the Middle
Companies that autoship (like DSC and Petco) don’t typically have any issue putting together shipments. On the day of shipment, they look at the order list, source the items from their warehouse, then package them up and slap a label on them.
If the order changes right before you go to pick the items, it doesn’t make much of a difference, because you’re likely to have the items in stock either way.
Most subscription services (like DermStore’s BeautyFIX) likewise don’t worry about changes to the order, even when they happen right before the shipping date. If a customer switches to a different subscription tier, you just ship them a different box.
But some services straddle the line between the two. Most commonly, these are the food delivery services—businesses that traffic in goods that aren’t always shelf stable.
With these, customers typically pay for a certain level of service:
- Feeding a certain number of people
- Covering a certain number of meals a week
- Providing a certain quality of food/ingredients
But the customer also typically has a measure of control over what goes in the box. This is done to meet the expansive variety of dietary wants, needs, and restrictions—from allergies, to doctor-prescribed diets, to voluntary diets, and beyond.
For these companies, shipping-day changes would be disastrous, and here’s why.
Unlike pet food, razor blades, or beauty products, much of what food delivery services ship is perishable
As a result, these businesses only buy as much as they need, and they wait as long as they can before buying it to ensure freshness. For them, Just-In-Time inventory is a must, as anything that isn’t immediately used spoils and is wasted.
Thus, what they can’t allow customers to do is make changes on the day of (or even the day or two before). If someone wants to change their order by swapping out all of the chicken for beef, this means the company has to source more food (which they may not have on hand), and that the food they already picked may be wasted.
That’s why most companies (like Blue Apron) have a point at which changes can no longer be made to the order. Without such a practice, the whole business could be in jeopardy.
Obviously, that kind of “locked-in” functionality is a necessity for brands like this, and the question quickly shifts from “if” to “how.” Companies like Blue Apron get their “Changeable Before” feature because they built their repeat order functionality themselves.
Most businesses, though, don’t have the resources for that. So, well…
What About the Rest of Us?
Brands that are just starting out, or even mid-sized companies that are growing (but don’t exactly have a whole web dev team) need this feature too. How do they get it? What options are available to businesses that want to lock in their customer’s choices?
The first option is the path already trod: build it yourself. You can do this a few ways. You can hire one or more web developers internally to construct the functionality. You can do the same thing, but on a contract basis, with the understanding that the freelance work won’t be long-term. Finally, you can hire an agency to make the modifications for you.
Keep in mind, though, that depending on how and where you’ve built your site, this might be quite the undertaking, and you may be spending a pretty penny on development costs whether those devs are on staff or not.
Ultimately, building custom ecommerce website functionality is a) time-consuming (it takes a long time to convert all that caffeine into code—just ask the devs), and b) expensive (a quick visit to Glassdoor reveals that the going rates for just about any dev are decidedly above median national incomes). In other words, less than an ideal solution.
Your second option is to use a third-party solution. If you find the right framework, plugin, or API, you can get all the features your business depends on for a comparatively nominal monthly subscription (or, sometimes, for a per-transaction fee). Either way, it’s a great deal cheaper, or at the very least, allows you to spread an otherwise colossal expense over the lifetime of its use.
The problem is, most third-party platforms and systems don’t consider this functionality. After all, autoshippers can deal with shipping day changes, and as for subscriptions, who needs to make last-minute changes to their billing plan? More to the point, what subscription services would be adversely affected by such a change?
Your service, that’s who.
Autoship Cloud has functionality that accommodates this need. We call it the “Lock Window.” With it, you can set a date past which an order can’t be changed. No mess, no fuss. Just a few clicks, and you’re done.
But how do you put it to best use?
What’s important to remember is that, unless you take steps to mitigate it, most customers will see the lock window as a negative. They aren’t usually thinking of the logistics required for you to source, prepare, package, and ship perishable items. They’re only thinking of what’s easiest for them. Very selfish of them, really.
You can provoke them to think of how problematic last-minute changes could be, though, with the proper communication.
That’s why our QPilot engine does two things:
- First, we show the status of the upcoming Scheduled Orders that are in their Lock Window as “Processing” to the customer and let them know “Your order has started processing as of [date]. No changes can be made until your order has completed processing.”
- Second, we provide an email notification (a unique one that you can customize to make it snazzy and on-brand) that lets the customer know how many days they have to make changes to their upcoming Scheduled Order well before it starts processing and enters its Lock Window.
That way, the brand has sufficient time to get the order prepared and shipped accurately to the customer on time, and customers don’t feel cheated out of getting exactly what they want. Both parties get what they’re looking for, and no one walks away frustrated or unhappy.
For companies that sell these kinds of goods, this functionality can be a lifesaver. Or, in this case, perhaps “business-saver” is more appropriate. In any case, it can literally prevent a brand from nickel-and-dime-ing itself to death.
The good news is, if your website is built on WooCommerce, Autoship can give you this feature, and many others you need to deliver excellent customer service. Integration is bafflingly simple, and you can be up and running with minimal preparation.
Even if you’re not on WordPress, though, we can still help you get these features integrated into your site, and doing the heavy lifting for you. We’ve performed that very service for some of our other clients [link to Renova article], and we can have you offering recurring shipments on your site in no time.
So if you have questions, get in touch. We’d be happy to help you adapt our ecommerce engine to your brand’s specific needs.