Written by Kamran Iqbal, Commerce Strategist at PFS
As the festive season heads into its final weeks, it’s important for retailers and brands to reflect on how successful they have been in matching consumer desire with brand objectives, and what more they can do in 2022 to continue to drive growth. Those that have been most successful in the face of sustained supply chain challenges have balanced effective supply chain and delivery partner management, robust returns processes, exceptional customer service, innovations in retail stores and payment and fraud services, and the like. 2021, much like 2020, has continued to present challenges – none more so than labour and delivery partner shortages – and the importance of visibility has only increased, not waned.
There will always be customers asking ‘Where is my order?’, but the ‘Where is?’ question has seen an upward turn with customers and brands alike asking ‘Where is my […]?
Brands striving to provide a seamless customer experience rely on an unconstrained, strong and sustainable supply chain that provides real-time insight into their up-and downstream networks. The ability to drill down into real-time data and insight does so much more than just answer the ‘Where is my […]?’ question. It provides visibility and confidence, enhances processes and communication, and empowers retailers and brands with more efficient cross-channel operations.
VISIBILITY AS A CONDUIT FOR COMMUNICATION
Transparency and visibility translates to competent communications for customers. Retailers and brands should continue to focus on the importance of data in solutioning their fulfilment operations to drive growth and customer loyalty. For example, the ability to offer customers a buy online, pick-up in store option and a buy online, deliver to home option, depending on what works for their shopping objectives, is a privilege that customers have come to expect. Whether they are seeking a more sustainable purchase, or are driven purely by convenience and cost, a real-time inventory snapshot, combined with effective website content that guides customers, and a Distributed Order Management (DOM) process with the ability to route orders to where they need to go to get the purchase fulfilled, enables brands to provide a seamless customer experience – allowing customers to shop to their preference. The combination of data visibility and communication in this process is imperative, and effective.
An alternative area that retailers and brands could consider, is the interpretation of their customer data to drive business strategy. Through considered use of customer enquiries and complaints received through their contact centres, brands can begin to extrapolate key areas for improvement within their operations. By strategically leveraging customer service data, visibility into active regions, the pain points customers are regularly facing, or delivery partner issues, can be detected far earlier – avoiding the need for customers to take to online forums to vent their frustrations.
A NEW WAVE OF TRANSPARENCY IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN
Data and reporting are the hard metrics that drive an organisation and customer interaction. Sourcing is the more recently sought-after metric the new wave of “conscious consumers” have developed a thirst for. It’s increasingly important for retailers and brands not just to consider sustainable sourcing, but to be transparent in what that looks like.
By being transparent about the inner workings of a brand, and effectively communicating the value chain, buyers can engage with brands at a higher level – making a difference and making them feel like they are more involved, whilst supporting sustainability management efforts.
Other areas include labour and manufacturing considerations. Consumers now value the openness of brands sharing product origin, what fabric clothes are made of and who produced them, where and in what conditions, etc. Access to the bigger picture – where a brand is, who they work with, where, and how – all contribute to the need to strive for greater visibility and communication.
DATA AND LOYALTY
Trust is the ultimate aim when it comes to customer loyalty. If brands have ongoing, transparent conversations with customers, appropriately set expectations about delivery and returns, and provide easy access to visibility for the times when exceptions happen, customers are more likely to reward brands with more than just their wallet. Genuine loyalty and trust are built with time, consistency and communication. Retailers and brands that demonstrate their maturity as an organisation, whilst remaining authentic in their communication, stand the most to gain.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2022
The eCommerce industry is at a pivotal moment. It’s a moment when supply chain capabilities are challenged, despite hefty anticipation. Macroeconomic factors at play (such as COVID-19) made the impact feel greater by accelerating the timeline and causing unpredictability to skyrocket, after an already tumultuous 2020.
It was only a decade or so ago that there was talk about brick-and-mortar retail being overshadowed and effectively doomed by the rise of eCommerce. That notion, today, seems very dated. The eCommerce industry boomed outside of the forecast, but not truly at the expense of brick-and-mortar – the two channels are not at odds. They are complementary to one another; they work together. At the end of the day, it’s a supportive retail model that’s all about getting consumers what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. Customer convenience, cost and choice lead the way today – and visibility must be the “golden thread” of the trinity leading us ahead into 2022.