Since the emergence of the first department stores in the 18th century, retailers have faced the same challenge ─ meeting customer expectations. Using storefronts with exquisite window displays to lure passersby evolved into more complex strategies to attract and retain consumers as shopping malls and big-box retailers consolidated the retail experience. Today, retailers are experiencing a new phase in the industry as e-commerce and m-commerce reshape the supply chain and customer focus. What was once an industry responsible for driving consumer strategies is transforming into one that is customer-led and demand-oriented.
In the e-commerce and m-commerce world, retailers are facing new operational and customer challenges. Pete Zaballos, senior vice president, chief marketing officer for SPS Commerce, says before e-commerce came into play, retailers were in control of merchandise at the store and category level. They presented an array of items on the shelves and expected consumers to shop from what was offered. For the first time in the history of retail, the consumer is setting the course and the retailer is the one doing the chasing.
“Technology and mobile device advancements during the last decade have redefined retail as the barriers between the physical and digital storefronts blur – resulting in channel-agnostic consumers,” says Zaballos. “With the touch of a finger, consumers are engaging with retailers and brands on their own terms through apps, mobile sites, product reviews and social media – even while they are shopping in-store. They view all interactions – both online and offline – as a single experience.”
Fulfillment Expectations Evolve
Will Binns, senior consultant for FitForCommerce, a boutique digital and omnichannel consultancy, says customers today expect a fully seamless process across all channels and throughout the end-to-end process. The immediacy of m-commerce requires accuracy and low latency of data availability across all locations: in-store, distribution centers and throughout the supply chain. Customers expect products to be available immediately in-store, or shipped next-day, or even same-day.
“M-commerce powers in-store competitive shopping. If a product or specific SKU is unavailable in-store, shoppers can quickly check online availability from you and your competitors without engaging a sales associate. Site-to-store, store-to-store, and delivery options need to be available and seamless to prevent loss of sales,” says Binns.
Amazon, to a large degree, has set the bar for customer expectations, says Glen Coates, founder and CEO for Handshake, a B2B e-commerce platform provider. The availability of same-day delivery, for example, is driving the need for greater immediacy, which is placing pressure on traditional fulfillment models for many companies.