E-commerce is slowly and steadily reaching more and more shoppers in today’s world. But at the same time, repeat and new e-commerce customers alike are also changing their expectations to match what the 21st century buying experience is providing them – a seamless integration of brick-and-mortar shopping with shopping done on the internet, social media or apps.
Retailers who hope to survive in this new era of consumerism need to respond to these changes by adapting their supply chains and business models to focus on attracting new customers and more importantly retaining their business after they’ve made their first purchase. The number one way that companies can do this is by a) understanding their customer’s expectations and b) enhancing their supply chain processes so that they meet these new expectations.
So, what do customers expect nowadays?
Generally, there are three things that customers are more or less conditioned to expect from omni-channel retailers: personalization, convenience and exceptional customer service.
The modern online consumer is already acutely aware of what it is they want; how much they need to pay for it and likely have two or three other places lined up where they could also purchase it. Thankfully, web-based shopping also allows companies to easily gather user data that can be leveraged to offer each individual customer a unique and personalized shopping experience. It’s this sort of customization throughout the shopping and purchasing process that can set a company apart from the two or three other options the customer is aware of and could use to buy the same product. A company with a personalized experience for their shoppers will more likely retain a customer who could even get the product cheaper somewhere else.
Customers today have never had it easier shopping online. They expect and demand to be able to be purchase whatever they want – with all the bells and whistles they’re looking for – and they expect to receive it quickly. If they can’t find adequate levels of convenience in one buying experience, they’ll go somewhere else.
Exceptional Customer Service
In a bygone era, customer service referred to an actual representative who was tasked with connecting with customers in person at a brick-and-mortar store, or over the phone. In some cases, it’s still that way today. However, more and more frequently customer service is a very different thing. Your customers now have new expectations for how they connect with customer service and what that customer service offers. They want to be able to connect with representatives via social media, email or live chats. If you’re branching into the world of omni-channel distribution, it’s critical you also create an omni-channel customer service network to help bridge the gap with new-age purchasers.
So, what can you do to improve your supply chain to match heightened customer expectations?
Ultimately as companies using an omni-channel retail fulfillment need to focus on inventory and transparency. The supply chain needs to have the products available that a customer wants, and they want to know when they can get them. If the product is unavailable or fails to meet the delivery time expectations, customers start to lose trust and you start to lose business.
1. Offer Free Shipping
Unfortunately, with massive corporations like Amazon dominating the e-commerce market, free shipping is almost an absolute must for most online retailers. Simply put, everyone expects it now because it’s been so normalized. This being said, it can be really tough for smaller retailers to eat these costs and keep up with the times. Some companies have attempted to get by with just ignoring these new expectations or offering free shipping on large orders. Both of these options are ill-advised because of how regular it’s become for customers to expect free shipping. They’ll simply find another retailer who is offering what they want without a shipping price. This means that small retailers hoping to take a bite out of the e-commerce cake really need to be smart with how they save on shipping costs, so that they can offer free shipping. A few options include seeking out new freight carriers, implementing new pick-up locations or using brick and mortar stores to ship product.
2. Leverage Third Party Logistics
If the e-commerce side of your business is just getting up and running and can’t quite stand on its own two feet yet, you may want to consider using a third party to handle your logistics and distribution needs. Luckily, there are plenty of these types of services available. Third party logistics companies can furthermore be leveraged during peak periods.
3. Optimize DC Locations
Back in the day, supply chains consisted of smaller retail DCs near brick-and-mortar locations, and one — or at most a few — larger e-commerce DCs located near a centralized parcel hub. This reflected the way business was conducted. Now, omni-channel supply chains need to reflect how their businesses operate and adjust the location of their DCs accordingly. A single or a few centralized locations in the center of the country may be the best bet in terms of achieving the lowest possible cost. This can also help with the free shipping problem mentioned above.
4. Improve Inventory Management
Inventory management is arguably the most important part of optimizing an omni-channel operation. To meet customer expectations, companies absolutely need total visibility in their supply chain so they can understand where their greatest demand is, where product should be located to minimize shipping costs and also facilitate product returns. This is an extremely complicated but import question, and paramount to a successful operation. Luckily, there are plenty of solutions and technologies available to help aid with this.
If you’re looking for an integrator to help find a solution for your inventory management problems, CCS could be the right fit for your operation. If you're interested, please reach out to Jason Noble at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-698-9660 x250.