Fulfillment in the New Retail Reality, Part 2
Part one of this series can be read here.
The industry was reaching the age of next-generation fulfillment even before the global health emergency. Now fulfillment innovation is driven by surges in customer demand and dramatic market shifts. Companies that are able to answer the call for convenience will find lasting success. In this new retail reality, next-generation fulfillment may still be about differentiating the customer experience, but retailers need to first assess what a differentiated experience means in the coming months.
A recent Gartner blog analyzed consumer sentiment toward brands during COVID-19, saying, “brands that take proactive steps to comfort customers and protect their safety and financial confidence will earn strong reputational benefits during a volatile time.”
As retailers look to regain competitive strength through fulfillment programs such as buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), a differentiated customer experience should focus on the following key elements to provide comfort and convenience for the shopper, while providing a strategic path forward for the retailer to gain momentum.
Personalization and the Customer Experience
To ease consumers’ fears as they cautiously return to physical stores, retailers can utilize personalization tools during this time to answer each individual shopper’s needs for “right here, right now” shopping and fulfillment.
For example, leveraging an individual’s customer journey data prior to their arrival at the store can give retailers the tools to deliver a differentiated customer experience — whether that means having items ready for curbside pickup or utilizing a product return trip to the store to provide the customer with incentives to explore a new and relevant product line. Showing the customer that you understand their unique needs and preferences will go a long way in creating lifelong loyalty, as retailers can demonstrate they're in-tune and dedicated to their customers. As Forrester’s Emily Collins best puts it, “Strategies that rely purely on loyalty programs offering points and discounts miss an opportunity to drive deeper engagement through emotional loyalty.” Collins further states that brands should analyze and address “the foundational strategies, technologies and best practices that make intelligent and lasting customer loyalty possible.”
Planning for the Evolution of Next-Generation Fulfillment
As retailers continue to evolve their strategies to meet shoppers' needs, they also need to plan for changes and expansion to their fulfillment programs. Retailers need to be able to quickly provide a path for growth as fulfillment programs pivot and evolve due to market conditions and shopper preferences.
A recent example of this was demonstrated by the Texas grocery chain H-E-B. As COVID-19 forced Texas restaurants to close and limit their ability to serve customers, H-E-B partnered with local restaurants throughout the metro areas of Austin, San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas to offer ready-made meals from customers’ beloved restaurants in the area. What’s more, shoppers were able to choose how they purchased and received those meals from H-E-B, whether through curbside pickup, delivery or in-store pickup. This type of offering fulfills shoppers' needs in a creative way, providing meals that speak to nostalgic feelings, as well as bringing in various partners to expand the grocer’s reach.
However, a strategy such as this one involves the creation of a flexible environment in which the retailer can quickly and effectively pivot — this is required to promote long-term growth and sustainability. Connecting all of the retailer’s channels to make operations flow smoothly across the shopper’s journey and the retailer’s internal operation is key. Furthermore, a connected retail environment will help the retailer gauge if the programs are moving in the desired direction and will allow for growth.
As the world continues to change, next-generation fulfillment in a variety of retail verticals will also evolve. The most successful retailers will be able to meet shoppers’ needs in a manner that lets the shopper know the retailer is "there" for them, as well as through a strategy that allows the retailer to evolve and grow.
Lisa Kalscheur is chief marketing officer at Kibo, a cloud commerce solutions provider.
Related story: Fulfillment in the New Retail Reality, Part 1