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The era of the ‘Me’ channel: how fulfillment shapes the customer experience

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If there’s one thing you need to know about consumers in 2021, it’s this: They don’t care about D2C brands, retail stores and even fancy omnichannel shopping options.

The word ‘omnichannel’ has become a buzzword beloved by logistics experts and retail commentators, but it means very little to your customer.

They just want the right stuff to arrive in the right place at the right time. And if you can do this, you’ve got yourself a loyal customer.

It sounds simple enough. But the key to meeting your customer’s expectations rests on offering a seamless, integrated, shopping experience across channels – something that brands are investing ever more time and resources into achieving.

Welcome to the omnichannel customer experience.

Put simply, CX is all about the customer’s perception of how your brand treats them. These perceptions across a network touchpoint in the customer journey affect both their current and future behaviors – for better or for worse. 

Whether it’s one (if it’s memorable enough), a few, or dozens of impressions, they’ve built memories and feelings of your brand over time. If these experiences are overwhelmingly positive and frictionless, you’ve earned their loyalty. If not, they’re likely to decamp to a competitor.

CX was rapidly becoming a top priority for brands and retailers even before the pandemic. Nearly 80 percent of U.S. consumers polled by PwC said that speed, convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service were the most important elements of a positive CX. 

But wholescale disruption to retail over the past year has only increased consumer desires for convenience and speed, raising expectations for a customer-centric brand experience – the “me” channel. 

What is the ‘me’ channel?

Omnichannel is defined as a multi-channel sales approach that gives the customer an integrated shopping experience. But in today’s one: one marketing world, the customer only cares about one channel: the “me” channel.

Consumers today want to shop whenever, wherever, and however they choose. They demand fast delivery and no-hassle returns. They expect personalized product recommendations and promotions, with a plethora of fulfillment options including hybrid models like BOPIS (buy online, pick-up in store), curbside pickup and BORIS (buy online, return in store). 

For digitally native and retail brands alike, this means creating a seamless CX across all channels.

illustration of a woman holding headphones next o her dog. above are the word ‘efficiency, convenience, easy checkout, knowledgeable service, friendly service, fun, brand image, delight, personalization.’

Fulfillment is increasingly critical today because it can make or break the customer experience for the end consumer. The many touchpoints of the fulfillment process hold great opportunities for brands and retailers to create a great CX. 

After they’ve made a purchase, the consumer pays close attention to the ease and convenience of the entire process – from check-out and payment processing to shipping, delivery, the unboxing experience (especially if it’s memorable, in a good way) returns management, and any contact they may have with your customer care team). 

In sum, brands need to View CX holistically through the lens of possible shopping and fulfillment options that go beyond just BOPIS and BORIS. Of the many CX challenges that retailers face, today’s shopping options are more dizzying than ever as the lines continue to blur between traditional retail and D2C. More digitally native brands are turning to opening their own stores, and retailers are allocating significant resources to optimizing their online stores and web presence.

5 fulfillment strategies that shape the customer experience

1. Hybrid fulfillment options: you might like this

As noted above, multi-channel shopping options read more like a matrix than the old-school online/offline dichotomy. As technologies like AI and machine learning are fuelling capabilities like predictive purchasing and suggestive selling, while also bringing more flexibility to warehouse management systems (WMS) and order management systems (OMS). 

These capabilities make it easier for previously siloed systems to talk to each other and share information, even in real-time. Picture “virtual warehousing” APIs that connect an in-store POS to a WMS, making it easy for store staff to order in-demand product fast and easy to avoid stock-outs.

2. Get smart with stocking strategies

You need to take into account the seamless CX when planning your stocking and distribution strategies. From placing stock across multiple DCs to streamlining SKUs in a move away from the endless aisle, finding your brand’s fulfillment sweet spots requires planning and synchronization with consumer behavior, demographics, and seasonal trends. After all, a product that sells well on the East Coast might not move in the Midwest. 

Most of all, make an effort to leverage the spaces you have. If retail stores are involved, think using a “dark store”—empty retail space—as a fulfillment center, or using stock rooms in the back of live stores as micro-fulfillment centers.

3. Smooth returns can make CX shine

It’s a double-edged sword: returns are costly and time-consuming to process, while the consumer increasingly demands a flexible returns policy and a convenient returns process. A poor returns experience can send customers away for good, while a positive returns experience and generous returns policy drives loyalty. Third-party return services like Returnly help take the pressure off brands by triggering a refund after the order status is updated, smoothing the way to return the product into inventory so it can be refurbished and resold.

4. Dropshipping goes strategic

Dropshipping often gets a bad rap due to the dropshipping of yesteryear when retailers and brands overused it to create the endless product catalogs without regard to ensuring consistent fulfillment across channels. But retailers can strategically leverage the power of dropshipping arrangements with their suppliers by offering in-demand products they may not carry in store. Even emerging brands can consider dropshipping to offer accessory products or other items that complement their own branded products. Fulfillment needs to become part of these conversations in presenting a CX that is consistent with the brand or retailer offering the product.  

5. Personalization: Mass and highly customized

Personalized experiences are a huge driver of loyalty. Mass personalization is already in wide use thanks to technologies like AI and big data. Tailored brand experiences can be created at the fulfillment end, using anything from branded packaging materials to customized cards with a QR code with promotions based on the consumer’s shopping history or their current order. Imagine a discount code for the companion top for the skirt in that customer’s order, or a matching sandal that pulls the whole outfit together. Personalized, hand-written notes also help to take the experience to a whole other level. 

At Whiplash, we recognize it’s all about “me” channel while we deliver great brand experiences with modern fulfillment solutions. For more on the critical link between CX and fulfillment, download your copy of our Customer Experience Evolution eBook.

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