As Chief Good Guy at PICKUP, I lead our obsession with reinventing retail’s last mile for big/heavy items.
Today’s retailers face the ultimate leadership challenge of their careers as they navigate the paradox of labor and supply chain shortages and increased consumer demand. According to The National Retail Federation, retail sales are anticipated to grow “between 10.5% and 13.5% to more than $4.44 trillion this year as the economy accelerates its pace of recovery.” To succeed in the face of ongoing adversity, retailers need to utilize a blend of people and technology within their organization. This will allow them to deliver exceptional customer experiences despite the current challenges and build long-lasting customer loyalty.
In my 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur, I’ve witnessed the mandate for organizations, especially those within the retail vertical, to create exceptional services at every point along the customer journey. More specifically, as the current leader of a delivery company, I know consumers are looking for retailers who can provide them what they want and when they want it.
I believe success lies in striking the right balance of people and technology, and ultimately people are the key to a successful business, for technology will only get you so far. Organizations cannot automate everything and expect to beat their competition without the crescendo of human touch. Instead, I recommend an integrated approach to creating a retail environment that works like a well-oiled machine.
With current supply chain bottlenecks, shoppers are encountering unusual wait times to receive their products, especially in the big and heavy category. For example, delivery for some upholstered furniture now stands at an unprecedented five to nine months delivery time.
Material shortages, coupled with transportation issues, are the main reasons for these delays. As such, organizations must invest in the right resources to strategically meet consumers’ demands, increase customer satisfaction and grow the organization’s bottom line. These are all critical business goals that retail organizations cannot solve without both technology and people.
The Technology Ingredient
In my time as a founder of a last-mile delivery service, I’ve found that there are a few ways you can modernize your logistics environment through technology. One solution you can deploy is to implement a “buy anywhere, deliver anywhere model” (BADA) for last-mile delivery. (Full disclosure: My company provides these types of services, as do others.) Companies can track products throughout the supply chain and ensure inventory is available to fulfill customer orders. This type of last-mile logistics service means that customers can receive their e-commerce order anywhere they would like, making the fulfillment step a crucial part of the overall customer experience and helping mitigate issues from supply chain bottlenecks.
Retailers can also consider leveraging a technology platform to help track key delivery information for both the retailer and customer. If this is a solution you invest in, make sure to create a logistics strategy to find the fastest and shortest routes possible for servicing customers. Utilize real-time displays in order to get the product to the customer from the nearest store or distribution center based on inventory levels.
Retail leaders should also ensure they have full visibility and data insights across the supply chain. Couple the data you collect with demand forecasting strategies to accurately analyze real-time inventory against current and future consumer demand. This ensures customer expectations are met quarter over quarter. One method I recommend to do this is by using IoT sensors or RFID tags to track products throughout the entire supply chain process.
As retailers look to incorporate various technology solutions to modernize their logistics environment, a key consideration is working with solution-agnostic providers to easily plug in various solutions into the retailers’ tech stack and work in unison and harmony.
It’s also important to vet each technology partner that a retailer brings into the mix. As you assess solutions providers, consider the question: How deeply does their solution fix the real-time problem you are looking to solve for your customers?
The People Ingredient
The human element is still a crucial part of the customer experience. When a consumer ventures into a store to shop for a high-ticket item, they expect to have a knowledgeable sales associate present to guide them through their shopping journey, from initial research to purchase and delivery. They expect a consistent high-touch experience that culminates in the product arriving at their doorstep or, in some cases, a frictionless return experience. This requires a service-minded human.
For digital shoppers, the only face-to-face interaction the consumer may have with the retailer will be when the product is delivered to them. As such, the delivery experience should serve as a natural extension of the retailer’s customer experience. Customers seek a trustworthy, professional and convenient delivery experience, along with the support by a live customer support representative. Providing this type of delivery experience gives customers a high degree of confidence.
To meet this consumer expectation, retailers need to take careful steps to hire the right associates and delivery professionals for each touchpoint of the customer journey. This is the critical extension of the customer experience that must extend all the way to the point of use. Think of this as the “last foot.” Who you put in front of each customer matters, period.
There are also certain points during shopping where technology has the potential to fail. This is when a knowledgeable customer experience professional can step in to manage the customer’s expectations and arrive at satisfactory solutions.
The Right Blend Of People And Technology
The pandemic created a demand for omnichannel approaches of both in-store and online shopping. No matter the method, the end goal is clear: deliver products to the consumer and meet them where they are on the continuum of speed, convenience and cost. To succeed, retailers must integrate all their touchpoints and create a value stream through the blend of people and technology. Winning retailers are those who build a full customer experience that seamlessly meets consumers’ expectations in order to get what they need, when they need it and how they need it.