One of the key challenges in managing a successful customer journey – from customer desire to satisfaction – is fulfillment. In strict terms, it refers to the completion of an order – packing, shipping, and delivering the goods. In this fast-changing retail age, where the balance of power continues to shift towards the customer, omnichannel fulfillment becomes a term that warrants review and expansion.
A store, by definition, has long been a repository of goods for sale and where transactions are fulfilled. There have been numerous innovations on this model, especially in the last century – mail order and catalogue-based shopping to department stores, and shopping malls to today’s online marketplaces. Through it all, it has been a place to go to browse for items, pay for them, and take them home. Things have changed somewhat, and one of these changes has to be the definition of “fulfillment” in the minds of retailers and customers.
Fulfillment of a transaction now includes an increasing range of choices for the customer. In addition to a wide variety of transaction types, there are also many more intermediary services to choose from, including ratings/review sites and payment and shipping apps. There are concepts like “buy online, pick up in-store,” and “buy online, return in store,” both of which present further fulfillment challenges. Forrester’s Adam Silverman, writing in a recent whitepaper, “The Future of the Digital Store,” points out that these innovations don’t only present increased challenges to logistics, but also to traditional cash flow.
For example, how should employees be compensated for picking and packing produce that is credited to an online marketplace? Mall owners must offer facilities for customers to pick up the purchases they made from any tenant on its property. This is another redefinition of the term fulfillment: a centralized staging point for multi-store purchases, where consumers can drive their car, or courier companies can ship a collection of products.
Order and product fulfillment are not the only activities that bricks-and-mortar businesses need to reconsider. There is a wider brand of emotional fulfillment at play, one that speaks to the shopper’s in-person, in-store experience. When a shopper chooses to visit, she is doing so in spite of numerous alternatives. Although price and convenience are leading influencers, they are not the only ones. A shopping transaction is fulfilled in other ways, including ambiance lighting, music, layout, and comfort. From the luxurious amenities of high-end fashion boutiques through to the no-frills practicality of big box chains, the customer’s motivation and desire to travel to the shop floor connects to these touchpoints. One of the most significant is free Wi-Fi.
A few years ago, a well-known national department store pulled the plug on its free Wi-Fi service for customers, citing the high cost. This particular chain was facing a number of other economic challenges at the time, and new senior management were quick to justify the termination of this $7 million annual expense, saying that it was not being used efficiently, and customers did not quite understand the login procedure.
The removal was not greeted warmly by shoppers, and it has since been reinstated.
2012 is a long time ago in Internet years, but this ill-fated action serves as a reminder to decision-makers in retail that there is more to fulfillment than merely transacting goods. In the case of Wi-Fi, customers will use online services regardless, even if they must do so through their own wireless accounts. Stores cannot censor activities like price comparisons and web-rooming by flipping a switch. They must recognize that such things are here to stay, and they can enhance engagement and conversion with increased customization of the selling process.
In-store Wi-Fi also offers indirect fulfillment benefits. The concept called “retail sales” is not all about the shopper. Very often, shoppers travel with their children and spouses. When these less-engaged family members are given the opportunity to kill some time on their own devices, more time is made available to pursue and engage the shopper.
This is a small example, of course, but it highlights the wider vision required of senior decision-makers – to interpret Internet-based commerce as more than an electronic iteration of the traditional retail transaction. As Mr. Silverman writes, “The retail store is on the cusp of a transformation, one that hasn’t been seen since the advent of the modern suburban mall,” and much of this has to do with personal experience.
Be sure to get your hands on ’The Future of the Digital Store’ from Forrester and learn why brick-and-mortar stores must digitize the in-store experience to not only cater for a new generation of clientele, but also to deliver a more efficient omnichannel fulfillment experience while remaining competitive.