As we pen this Supply Chain Matters blog commentary on Cyber Monday, retail supply chains are continuing to respond to the needs of holiday shoppers, both online, in-store, or combinations of both. While information continues to flow in regarding how the first major shopping weekend milestone has unfolded, and how retail and supply chain management processes has responded, we thought this would be a good opportunity to reflect on some insightful independent research data.
Oracle Corporation recently made available a research study: Setting the Bar: Global Customer Experience Trends 2019. (Complimentary with registration information)
This report, conducted by independent research and creative consultancy Savanta Group on behalf of Oracle Retail researched and explored specific responses from over 15,000 consumers, along with over 200 specific retailers, residing across 16 countries, providing a broad perspective. The data essentially examines three core process areas where retailers can make an impact toward changed customer expectations.
The three specific surveyed process areas were:
The Final Mile– defined as a crucial phase of the customer experience, often the make or break process area where the consumer has committed, checked out and is awaiting delivery of ordered goods. Questions were focused on whether the item arrived as anticipated and when promised, along with the ease and flexibility of the returns process.
Mastering the Connection– whether retailers are consistently communicating with consumers in ways that are authentic, consistent, transparent and trustworthy.
The Store UX– essentially how consumers view the in-store user experience in terms of value, convenience and brand experience, along with what are the discernable differentials between in-store and online experiences.
The report summarizes that each of these process areas have strong interdependencies and that should capture the attention of our Supply Chain matters reader audience.
Our review of the report’s response data points to specific areas that industry supply chain management and product marketing teams should pay close attention to.
In meeting Final Mile expectations, this report’s data clearly indicates that consumers have once again raised their expectations for online as well as in-store delivery. The data would indicate that consumers care little as to how delivery is accomplished, as long as it meets stated delivery expectations of free and fast. Thanks primarily to Amazon, it seems clear that one-day delivery has become the new expectations milestone of the online or in-store consumer. Most interesting was an indication that 86 percent of consumers feel that “retailer should offer the ability to choose the most convenient delivery option for me at time of ordering.”
From our Supply Chain Matters lens, such an expectation tends to weight an online customer fulfillment model that is more weighted toward leveraging in-store inventory as well as local customer fulfillment focused fulfillment. Such models are now being practiced by retailers Target and Walmart, among other retailers.
In the area of returning of products to retailers, this survey highlighted opposite perceptions among consumers and retailers themselves, with a majority of consumers indicating that returning such products is a complete hassle, and the same percentage level of retailers indicating that their return processes are hassle-free. That is an obvious are of conflicting expectations. Here again, such data reinforces the advantage that brick and mortar retailers hold in demonstrating a hassle-free returns process through the convenience of dropping off merchandise returns to a local outlet.
All of this specific Final Mile data once again reinforces the critical importance of end-to-end visibility to inventory, transactional and customer data.
Mastering the Connection
In this area, the report authors point to a specific area of disconnect, that being the need for more personalized offers and with clear and honest information: “Creating personalized experiences is no longer just about dynamic content or ‘special offers. Consumers seek preferential treatment – when it comes to bespoke offers, 48% say that offers/discounts which are better than what anyone else can get based on my loyalty to that retailer are “absolutely essential”.
The authors further observe that perceptions among Generation Z and Millennials groupings are low, with just a small profile completely trusting what retailers tell them.
The Store UX
The report identifies an important yet crucial distinction for today’s retail consumer: “Shoppers don’t view online and in-store as discrete channels; the brand is the umbrella and the service should be uniform across both.”
In other words, retailers can no longer take the view that in-store or online customer fulfillment can solely be managed with separate goals, functional objectives or inventory assets. Consumers instead expect a virtual responsive and consistent shopping and returns experience across any fulfillment channel, at any given time. An important reinforcement statement from the authors was the following: “It’s about which channel is the most convenient at a particular point in time and this consideration must be brought to the forefront of any retailer’s strategy across the complete journey – from searching, to buying, to returning products.”
Other Reader Takeaways
On a positive note, the report concludes that gaps among today’s consumer retail perceptions and retail industry realities are closing and credits such efforts on general industry progress in addre4ssing digital transformation strategies. That statement alone should provide some pleasure to retail teams at this height of the holiday fulfillment period.
From our lens, such a situation contrasts to unlike a mere three years ago when the Retail industry severely struggled with what strategies were required to successfully meet the wave of the permanent shift toward online and Omni-channel buying on the part of global consumers There have been specific retail brand casualties and likely painful process and organizational learnings as a result.
Like all major organizational and industry transformations, there are people, process, change management and advanced technology enablers involved for each. Each holiday surge period provides added learnings, both positive, and in additional effort and resources needed.
The good news is that industry progress is being made.
The other takeaway is that that consumer demands and expectations also continue to change, along with their mastery of technology-laden shopping tools. The bar continues to rise, and so must the collective efforts of retail management teams.
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