Today, innovation in commerce is mainly customer driven. Consumers are demanding to control and personalize their buying experience: delivery in the evening… pick-up at a locker on the way to work… return in store. From the consumer’s perspective, all options are possible. And if you’re a manufacturer or a retailer looking to meet these expectations, you need to create a seamless experience from product discovery to product delivery and delight if you want to win their loyalty. During the annual Manhattan Exchange conference held in Barcelona, four key themes emerged regarding the customer experience, and how manufacturers and retailers can create a rewarding customer journey.
The Physical Store Lives On
Now, shopping is a digital process. Whether the initial product search begins online and ends in the store, or whether the entire end-to-end experience takes place digitally, the role of physical stores has changed. And while there’s no shortage of headlines announcing store closures, “digital” doesn’t have to mean “disappear.” Several presenters from well renowned retailers including L’Occitane, Kramp, Under Armour, and Logistyx customer Kering, actually emphasized the importance of stores, stressing that while customers might initiate their product search online, they often visit a store to see the actual product in person, and then opt to either purchase the product right there or request delivery to their home or a location convenient to them. These retailers also reported that many customers still prefer to return products to a physical store, where it’s easy to browse and exchange the product for an item more to their liking.
Apart from product pick-ups, stores are also being used to fulfill online orders, or to accept returns and make them available for resale. But to execute this successfully, full omnichannel integration from order to delivery is necessary.
Embracing an Omni-Channel Strategy Requires Company-Wide Involvement
Several retailers and manufacturers discussed why their organizations are embracing an omni-channel strategy and highlighted how an omni-channel distribution approach influences different functions throughout their organizations.
These speakers recommended that to implement a successful omnichannel distribution model, it’s important for organizational stakeholders to think beyond shipping (order, collect, invoice) and ensure functions such as purchasing, inventory, and finance are accounted for – and included in – the infrastructure, operations, and platforms. Some speakers recommended leveraging a cross-functional team to build from scratch, with entirely new systems and new processes, but forewarned a pivot of this nature can’t happen overnight. They also cautioned that when a project’s duration is long, it’s easy for other initiatives to take priority – slowing the implementation plan or causing it to get side-tracked all together. Their key to success? Staying focused on the set endpoint and communicating that endpoint to all stakeholders – including the board – regularly.
Data + Visibility Will Bring You Further
A common theme amongst the presentations at Manhattan Exchange this year was the importance of data, and retailers and manufacturers alike agreed that capturing data and working with the information in a meaningful way is the key to customer engagement and experience. Presenters recommended shippers establish a single source of truth for all data that empowers organizations to answer questions such as:
- Where is the stock located? From where is it most cost effective, and timely, to ship – distribution center or store?
- Which carrier service should we leverage for this shipment? Which is cheapest? Which is fastest? Which one will deliver to an apartment building or locker?
And once the shipment is in motion, shippers need to ensure they’re capturing delivery event data at each milestone. Pro-actively providing information to the customer about their product’s whereabouts during the shipping process, especially when things are going as planned, is vital in creating customer loyalty.
Remember, however, it’s not just about shipping data. For example, having detailed insight into stock levels and locations can avoid an unnecessary build-up of inventory, and the ability to see what carriers are doing helps rate their performance and eliminates incorrect invoicing. Data also allows finance teams to allocate revenue to the appropriate sales entity and improves cost accounting accuracy. With a 360- degree view of operations, shippers can either validate business decisions or adjust plans and processes as necessary.
The Rise of the Conscious Consumer
Speed of delivery has been mistaken for convenience. Over the last few years, the delivery mantra has been, “faster equals better.” However, as highlighted in several presentations at Manhattan Exchange, while consumers may be used to speed, speed isn’t necessarily what customers always want. Increasingly, customers are considering the consequences of their behavior, asking questions such as, “Do I need this tomorrow?” and “Is the packaging environmentally friendly?” They’re also examining how – and where – garments, groceries, and household products are produced.
Markets for secondhand goods are already in full swing with the popularity of online stores such as ThredUp, Poshmark, and Swap on the rise, and several presenters predicted the next innovation in commerce will likely come in the form of zero-waste platforms such as Loop.
The Consumer in the Driver’s Seat
From beginning to end at Manhattan Exchange, it was clear that today, consumers are in the driver’s seat. They dictate when, where, and how they’re buying, and while manufacturers and retailers may shape their behavior with incentives and offers, ultimately, they have to accommodate their demands to win their loyalty and repeat revenue.