Since the emergence of the first department stores in the 18th century, retailers have faced the same challenge ─ meeting customer expectations. Using storefronts with exquisite window displays to lure passersby evolved into more complex strategies to attract and retain consumers as shopping malls and big-box retailers consolidated the retail experience. Today, retailers are experiencing a new phase in the industry as e-commerce and m-commerce reshape the supply chain and customer focus. What was once an industry responsible for driving consumer strategies is transforming into one that is customer-led and demand-oriented.
The advancements in technology and mobile devices have reinvented retail. Zaballos says, “With the touch of a finger, consumers are engaging with retailers and brands on their own terms through apps, mobile sites, product reviews and social media – even while they are shopping in-store.”
Fulfillment Expectations Evolve
Will Binns, senior consultant for FitForCommerce, says customers today expect a fully seamless process across all channels and throughout the end-to-end process. The immediacy of m-commerce requires accuracy and low latency of data availability across all locations. Customers expect products to be available immediately in-store, or shipped next-day, or even same-day. If a product or specific SKU is unavailable in-store, shoppers will check availability online either from the current company or a competitor. Keeping the customer experience seamless prevents loss of sale.
Amazon, to a large degree, has set the bar for customer expectations, says Glen Coates, founder and CEO for Handshake. With the pressure from Amazon for same day delivery, retailers are going beyond the traditional, wholly-owned and operated model to create a more immediate customer and fulfillment experience than their competition.
However, executing on that immediacy often requires understanding customer needs and segmenting customers appropriately; however, the experience is not a one-size-fits-all. There may be customers with high-order volumes or localized order requirements, while others are web or mobile focused in their buying patterns. A company must have a strong sense of their customer segmentation to tailor the desired experience to their customer.
System Integration for Greater Visibility
The complexities of e-commerce and m-commerce doesn’t end with customer segmentation, it’s just the beginning. Before e-commerce it was much simpler and easier to track product through the process: it moved from the manufacturer, to the distributor, to the retailer’s warehouse and finally, the retailer’s store. The arrival of e-commerce and omnichannels transformed demand planning and inventory optimization strategies ─ and those strategies continue to evolve.
Within the constantly evolving retail landscape, brands are orchestrating digital engagement across all channels and require complete visibility into the sell-through performance and demand of all retail channels, says Zaballos.
Coates and Zaballos agree that retailers are turning to systems that provide richer analytics and business intelligence capabilities in order to transform the buying experience. The data helps provide a more complete and robust picture of customer intent which in turn improves the overall customer experience.
Collaboration Is Critical
With these changes in the customer experiences also changes business strategy. The key to visibility is collaboration, internally and throughout the retail supply chain. Due to customer demand and the need to remain competitive, companies want to fuse the experience of buying and selling into one interconnected solution, says Coates. Thus, companies use an e-commerce or mobile solution, which can create tension between sales and marketing teams that traditionally control and direct their own customer experience with strategies for which product lines are introduced and to whom. This issue is occuring in both B2B and B2C. Companies need to maintain a complete view of the customer and retail experience to avoid any disconnect between in-store and online sales.
The results of SPS Commerce’s 2017 annual benchmark study, conducted in partnership with Retail Systems Research, indicates that of the 500 surveyed retailers, suppliers and logistics companies, inventory visibility throughout the supply chain is the leading priority for how retail businesses plan to enhance collaboration this year. 53% of respondents are expecting an increase in online orders which is proving order fulfillment execution to be difficult. Companies now more than ever need real-time inventory visibility, accurate item information, and a streamline order fulfillment for retail success.
Identifying and reacting to customer trends can maximize customer satisfaction, but it require collaboration across all sales channels and the supply chain. Creating a simple, flexible, and collaborative process only adds to customer loyalty.
Robert Andris, director of business development for Avondale Décor, says collaboration has been the most critical element in establishing and building strategic relationships between the company and e-tail partners. In fact, Andris believes it levels the playing field for small companies that lack the resources of larger manufacturers. Andris claims that “Collaboration is everything. E-sales can decline quickly without alignment with your e-tail partners.”
Future Redefines Customer Experience
As companies look to the future of e-commerce and m-commerce, collaboration will surely remain a staple for success. Binns says e-commerce and mobile commerce are making headway in new product categories at a rapid rate. Products from groceries to automobiles are seeing swift adoption of online buying channels. “Consumers expect availability of the exact item at the best price, fulfilled in the manner most convenient to them and in a best-in-class experience each time they interact with a business,” says Binns.
New innovative ways of doing business are emerging where technology is not the focus ─ but it plays a central role in customer fulfillment. Trevor Blumenau, founder and CEO of Voodoo Robotics, claims that the purchase of Whole Foods Market by Amazon was based on the understanding of quality. Jeff Bezos choose the company with the best reputation in food quality. Not all business moves are technological, rather they will impact distribution channels for e-commerce and m-commerce.
And what does lie on the horizon for technology? Handshake is using AI to drive their future customer experience. Consider a food and beverage company that receives 30 percent of its orders via text message, says Coates. A solution with a chatbot, AI-driven experience that operates via text on customers’ mobile device opens many options. A restaurant chef can text their supplier at 2 a.m. to deliver 10 pounds of mushrooms later that day without a salesperson ever opening the message. Or pick up a cell phone to ask Google for the mushroom delivery, and a chatbot responds recommending an order of onions as well based on the chef’s ordering patterns. “It’s fusing the traditional world of contacting sales to place an order with the technology world that responds to customer demands in a natural language and beyond,” says Coates.
The general population is at a point that companies have an opportunity to leverage m-commerce and e-commerce innovations to stay ahead of the competiton. How can you use mobile and technology to transform your customer experience?
This article was originally published by Supply and Demand Chain Executive.