Why the ‘Last Mile’ should be retailers’ first thought

person signing for delivery on ipad over a box that a delivery person wearing a denim shirt is holding

The anticipation of receiving that perfect order can be easily derailed by a poor product delivery experience.

The “ultimate” shopping experience depends on excellence from beginning—the order—to end, the delivery.

How quickly goods get from a warehouse to a customer depends on what’s called the “last mile” of the supply chain.

The efficiency of that final leg ultimately determines the customer’s satisfaction with the buying journey.

The Last-Mile challenge

person in fuzzy brown sweater holding two smaller boxes

Retailers face the challenge of managing their supply chains to keep delivery times short while keeping costs low.

Customers overwhelmingly opt for fast, free delivery when placing orders, which has led to a growing need for a broad distribution network, including warehouses.

Logically, such distribution centers should be in close proximity to the customers they serve.

CBRE Research analyzed the 15 largest U.S. metro areas and found that distances range from six miles in the San Francisco Bay Area to nine miles in the “Inland Empire,” a region east of Los Angeles County.

Not surprisingly, highly urbanized and dense population centers tend to be closer to last-mile facilities, while more suburban locations were farther away.

Proximity is important because customers expect fast delivery.

As Amazon continues to push the limits of logistics by offering same-day delivery, other retailers are expected to provide two-day delivery — at the latest. That final step in the delivery process is the most expensive and complex.

Gather and analyze logistics data

person in front of brick wall in denim shirt holding medium cardboard box

Companies collect so much data that it’s easy to suffer from information overload.

Gathering data is only the first step in understanding what is happening.

The real valuable information only comes to light after the analysis.

Put all of the “last leg” data in one centralized visual analytics tool, crunch the numbers to better understand the ins and outs of the last mile delivery process, and make regular adjustments as needed.

Offer Real-Time Delivery Tracking

Static tracking numbers are so last decade.

Invest in building or sourcing an app for your customers that tracks driver locations live and provides accurate ETAs, like the Uber of last-mile deliveries.

In addition, text messaging customers with updates on the delivery process creates a transparent process that supports a frictionless buying experience.

Many challenges associated with last mile delivery are outside of the retailer’s control, for example:

  • The number of orders picked and packed daily
  • The frequency that orders are picked up by the carrier
  • The proximity of the warehouse to the customers
  • The number of deliveries made daily

Many retail businesses partner with external fleets and use multiple carriers.

But there are ways to improve the “last mile,” and retailers can take more control of their business’s last mile logistics to identify inefficiencies quickly and improve their customers’ experience in a delivery-first world.


Retailers benefit from unified commerce insights

For retailers, a unified commerce strategy is built on the foundation of integrated retail technology for an efficient, frictionless customer experience across channels.

Unified commerce gives retailers a smooth, efficient means of transacting business, because inventory, sales, e-commerce, and fulfillment system data is integrated to regularly and automatically keep inventory availability and customer details synced and up to date.

From Point of Sale to e-commerce, from CRM to inventory management, all these technologies need to be connected so retailers have a clear picture of who their customers are and how to provide what they want.

Interaction with customers

Woman examines various items of dishes. Beautiful woman shopping tableware in supermarket. Manager helps a costumer.

Each time a customer enters the retail store, they leave behind a wealth of data for any retailer who can measure their interactions within the store:

  • What was bought?
  • What was picked up but not purchased in the end?
  • What was the dwell time near products that were not purchased?
  • How long was the customer in-store?
  • Was this an online pickup?
  • Did they purchase other items along with their online pickup?

Those answers, when documented with technology, inform a retailer’s back-end systems, so inventory can keep pace with demand, and so marketing teams can keep pace with customer needs.

To collate and analyze that information, retail processes and tools must be intelligently integrated in a retail management platform like Retail Pro to enable sharing of relevant data across both customer-facing systems and those that integrate with backend vendor systems.

Applications from the point-of-sale report on purchases, inventory, and customer data. Sharing this data with an integrated warehouse management system allows warehouse staff to have insight into stock levels currently on the shelves, and to place orders with suppliers as supplies diminish.

Sharing the data with a loyalty and personalized marketing platform like AppCard for Retail Pro allows marketing teams to create targeted campaigns around a customer’s purchase history.

Consistent data across channels

That principle also applies to in-store sales staff—they should have the same product information available as retailers’ online channels.

Integrating your ecommerce software with your POS can give store staff the visibility they need to serve customers who call in to verify stock availability before coming in.

Customers who started their retail journey at home but then switch “channels” to come into the brick-and-mortar store must be certain that inventory is in sync: Surprises such as realizing that products aren’t in stock when the web site said they were there are unacceptable.

If your website indicates there is a pair of shoes in certain size on the shelf, your in-store staff should be able to verify that through an inventory management application.

Retailers that use disparate, unintegrated systems risk delays in communication because data is manually updated at the end of the day, causing inventory counts to become out of sync and unreliable.



Customer-facing systems for engagement

There are a number of technologies that retailers can put in place to provide a seamless customer-facing experience.

Shelf labels and cameras can map consumers’ movements within the store. That helps in product layout for future products, and in product forecasting. They can also indicate where is the heaviest foot traffic within the store.

Beacons can communicate with an app on the customer’s phone to notify them of product sales when customers are in the store’s vicinity, enticing them to stop in.

When integrated with the POS as well, interactions in the app which originated from a beacon trigger and resulted in the ultimate purchase can be properly attributed to track the efficacy of the tools and campaigns put in place.

The connected data then provides insight also on unvoiced customer needs which are nevertheless discernable through their interactions with a retailer’s various channels.

Integrating data in retail technologies provides the foundation for retailers to more effectively determine and act on customer needs for a better customer experience.


Retailer innovations during COVID aim to keep customers happy

Excellent customer service has always been the hallmark of well-established, highly respected retailers.

Nordstrom’s, Zappos and Trader Joe’s are a few of the best examples of retailers that make concerted efforts to make and keep customers happy.

Before 2020, many retailers were happy to let those top-rated companies be the standard bearers for superior customer experience.

Meanwhile, many retailers continued servicing customers with no real CX roadmap.

It appeared to the uninformed that the return on investing in the customer service wasn’t worth the time and money spent.

And, the truth was, mediocre customer service was tolerated – until COVID came and retailers were forced to answer a deluge of customer questions and provide new services without much preparation.

In 2020, customer service became the only thing that mattered to customers.

COVID led to an expanded definition of customer service

Image: Anna Shvets

Shopping last year meant dealing with lockdowns caused by COVID-19.

The global pandemic made getting to stores difficult, so, at first, many if not most customers were ordering online.

And while those retailers may have believed they dodged the CX bullet, they were in for a surprise.

Retailers learned the customer service is not simply to answer questions about shipping and billing, but it is also to offer information and help for those struggling with the Coronavirus.

Customers may be desperately searching for products or information on payment options because can’t pay a bill, or are otherwise frustrated by the pandemic hindrances to getting products they need are reaching out via texts, online chat and phone calls.

This year, Forrester predicts customers will continue to look toward retailers for sympathetic customer support.

Forrester Principal Analyst Ian Jacobs recently wrote, “With U.S. unemployment peaking in April, millions of individuals found themselves struggling to pay for food, bills, and other necessities. Organizations must react to provide high-quality, emotionally sensitive customer support in the flexible ways that consumers need.”

In Forrester’s retail predictions for 2021, Jacobs said digital customer service interactions will increase by 40%. That gives retailers many more chances than ever before to prove their mettle.

Self-service options improve customer experience

One way to improve CX, ironically, is to offer more self-service opportunity.

Customers have reported liking to use self-service options, if the process is quick and easy.

In a word, it must be frictionless. For example, a capable site search tool can be invaluable for customers.

Likewise, chat bots are particularly helpful for providing succinct answers quickly; in addition, bots with the power of artificial intelligence bots can reflect whatever personality a brand wants to project.

Adding relevant services based on discerned customer needs

Image: Laura James

Another way to differentiate customer service is to launch a virtual service based on fulfilling a defined need.

Online pet supply provider Chewy, for example, has seen a huge surge in business during the coronavirus pandemic.

But its newest offering, a telehealth service for pets, was launched in response to customers telling service agents about their pet’s problems – while they are ordering food, treats, toys, etc.

The virtual service was on the roadmap for years down the road, but the company saw the need was for now, and launched in October.

Which services will carry on beyond COVID?

Image: Anna Shvets

This year, consumers will let retailers know which innovations will “stick,” and become part of their future shopping expectations.

Top of mind are questions such as: Will the evolution of click and collect to curbside delivery remain a shopping option? Will jewelers continue to offer virtual consultations? How will retailers be able to support the expansion of the sales channel without spreading their staffs too thin?

Those and many others will be answered by 2021 shopping patterns. And perhaps some new “kings of customer service” will be crowned.


The practicality of endless aisle when supply chain delays cause in-store stockouts

In retail’s busiest months when supply chains are most strained, stores face stockouts that translate to lost sales and potentially lost customers.

Endless aisle improves a brand’s ability to satisfy customers by offering a more robust product selection.

Online, selections are virtually limitless; endless aisle solutions allow traditional brick-and-mortar retailers to effectively compete and save sales.

Extending in-store inventory

True omnichannel offerings match, complement, and sync customers’ online and mobile experiences with that of an in-store visit.

Endless Aisle can be achieved simply at your store by offering inventory visibility to both customers and associates through mobile touchpoints.

For example: While that Michael Kors bag may not be on the shelf in hot pink, it is an available color offered by the brand.

Using an in-store mobile device, a customer can peruse all the brand’s selections, and an associate can place the order for any desired color—as well as any matching accessories—and have it delivered to the customer’s home.

Though the delivery will still have to pass through the same supply chains, the customer is satisfied in knowing the item has been purchased and is on its way, rather than feeling the frustration of not getting the item upon which they had set their hopes.

Checking stock availability for BOPIS

In addition to extending the in-store experience, Endless Aisle can manage a number of tasks for at-home shoppers as well.

That includes stock visibility for those who want to check whether a product is available before heading in-store to purchase, as well as those who simply want to pick up their online orders at a retail location.

Buying online and picking up in store (“BOPIS”) has significantly increased due to COVID-19: Research firm McKinsey reported in the early stages the global pandemic that BOPIS usage grew 28 percent year over year in February compared with 18 percent in January.

For those shoppers wanting to avoid the ecommerce delivery wait with impacted supply chains, getting visibility into in-store stock availability helps them leave the house with a plan and a high probability of its success.

Saving sales for out-of-stocks

It’s estimated that 10% of online and in-store sales are lost due to items being out of stock.

It’s even possible that, if potential customers are turned away, they may never return, compounding the loss of revenue.

Providing associates with quick and easy one-touch access to inventory of a network of stores or warehouses reduces the likelihood of losing sales, especially when the product is in stock at another store location.

Creating a personal shopper experience

Endless Aisle solutions offer retailers flexibility with inventory: Stores don’t have to stock every single item.

They can showcase best-selling items in their (often very) expensive retail space.

Pricey or very large items can be represented on the retail floor, and a full complement can be viewed in-store within the Endless Aisle on a mobile device, with an associate close at hand to answer any questions.

In that way, salespeople become trusted advisors, instantly accessing detailed product information and stock availability, searching for products in other store locations and within warehouses.

AI-generated style recommendations can help round out a sale with perfect add-on accessories.

Orders are placed directly and can be sent right to the customer’s home or business.

By avoiding lost sales and delighting customers with virtually limitless options, Endless Aisle technology can boost revenue and sales.

An effective Endless Aisle solution blends the best part of online and in-store shopping, helping you outpace the competition.


How Digital Communication is Giving Businesses a Boost This Holiday Season

The holiday season has arrived and while we can’t expect business to resemble years prior, there is a way retailers can make the most of it.

Customer experience matters now more than ever and everyone knows it! Many retailers are running promotions to attract business, and those without a means to directly communicate these promotions will struggle.

So how do you stand out from the crowd this holiday season?

Watch this webinar to see:

  • How to creatively use the Holidays as a means to gain shopper attraction
  • How to create a safety net for your business in the upcoming year
  • How businesses using AppCard for Retail Pro are able to personally connect with shoppers via SMS and Email

Customer data: collecting selectively for better service

Today’s retailer faces stiff competition, particularly from ecommerce.

In a world in which fewer people want to visit malls and other enclosed spaces, retailers have had to pull out the stops to provide exceptional customer service.

In addition, online retailers are fiercely competitive with one another, angling for the best way to attract and keep shoppers.

Customer loyalty is critical to success – and profitable retailers know how to foster repeat business.

Understanding customers to predict future purchases

Image: Porapak Apichodilok

Customers respond to the personal touch.

It’s one area in which in-person, brick and mortar stores can effectively compete against their online cousins.

But virtual stores can and do also provide personalization.

Data analysis is used by all varieties of retailers to predict future purchases by analyzing customers’ previous shopping history.

A “360 customer view” is used to create a strategy that considers each shopper’s interaction history and maps out an outcome for each event.

But recent research by Gartner points out that collecting the “right” data is much more important than collecting “all” the data.

Unifying data sources for a holistic customer view

The key to understanding the customer is having software that brings together certain data that is scattered throughout the business.

Combining various data sources into a heterogeneous whole in business intelligence solutions like Retail Pro Decisions helps retailers consume data to uncover customer patterns and needs and optimize processes for serving these needs.

That information may lie within other channels and includes shopping history, preferences, consents, products owned and relationships with other customers.

Many of those other channels, such as social media or mobile apps, provide rich information on customer preferences.

Brick and mortar locations use POS data as well as technology such as line-of-sight detection, which uses sensors to collect data from eye movements, allowing retailers to identify shopping patterns and tailor the customer experience to those habits. 

Collecting focused data to solve specific needs

Image: Jopwell

Collecting every shred of information is time consuming and burdensome.

It is also, according to Gartner, unproductive.

Identifying a problem first and then collecting data related to that issue is a far more efficient solution.

A number of customer experience problems can be addressed by gathering specific information and applying it to specific problems, such as long customer wait times, inadequate communication and low inventory.   

POS solutions like Retail Pro Prism that integrate CRM software can be tailored to collect certain information that provides a customer view that will help retailers predict shopping trends.

What information should be collected?

Retailers should filter their data through a lens of what will help them improve each interaction with a customer.

All information gathered should be able to be used to enhance the relationship with that customer.

The more precise the data is, the more targeted marketing campaigns for each customer segment can be.

And that will provide retailers with the ability to offer more personal, proactive customer service based on an individual’s buying habits. 


How AR can bring immersive retail to shoppers staying at home

Image: Vlada Karpovich

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told Bloomberg that augmented reality (AR) is “changing the whole experience of how [customers] shop.”

Considering the typical experience of entering a store, looking through the merchandise, speaking to an associate and paying for the purchase has, in some cases, changed very little in the United States since Colonial times, until COVID-19.

Now, with social distancing and the Stay at Home life, augmented reality can bring brand stores home to their customers.

AR for COVID-19 omnichannel

Image: cottonbro

AR could be a very effective tool for retailers looking to enhance their omnichannel retail strategy while shoppers are still hesitant to return to stores with the pandemic’s ongoing threat.

AR adds digital elements to a live view usually by using the camera on a smartphone.

In a store, shoppers typically already have their smartphones out, so taking over that screen’s real estate with AR content can deliver additional information that will grab consumers’ attention and keep them focused on making a purchase.

Brick and mortars and e-commerce could benefit from AR advantages over more traditional advertising efforts.

Merging digital and physical retail

Image: Oladimeji Ajegbile

The technology can merge online and offline customer experiences through an intuitive, context-sensitive, and socially connected interface.

How will that desk look in my home office? Will that color red look good on me?

AR puts the desk in your room or the blazer on your back, using the smartphone’s camera.

AI currently serves as an attention-grabber for retailers looking to deliver novel experiences.

It also provides interesting potential benefits to customers – such as allowing them to “showroom” a product at home, or see a product in its future environment, helping them to make more informed purchase decisions.

With shoppers unable or unwilling in many regions still to visit stores, augmented reality’s showrooming benefits could be an opportunity for a more consultative approach to distance sales.

Bringing customer value

Image: Ola Dapo

Customers have been slow to warm up to AR, often considering it gimmicky and failing to see much value in it, but COVID-19 may change that perception.

The technology can deliver real value during the lockdown if firms are able to prioritize actual customer needs, such as more efficient and enjoyable shopping experiences that reduce decision-making uncertainty.

In contrast to other emerging technologies, which immerse customers into a fully synthetic environment (e.g., virtual reality), AR supplements reality rather than replaces it.

As such, it is the perfect lynchpin between the online and offline world.

Contextualizing experiences & spreading the word

Image: Anna Shvets

AR contextualizes products and services by embedding digital content into the customer’s physical environment, interactively and in real-time and increasingly allows customers to share their enhanced view of reality with others.

Customers draw on their own physical experiences and actions to learn more about products and services, while also relying on others to support them in product or service evaluation.

Because people have a natural tendency to share their experiences with peers, customers commonly consult peer reviews, go shopping together, and increasingly share their shopping in real-time through highly visual social media such as Snapchat.

AR blurs the boundaries between online and offline channels by providing a combination of embedded and extended experiences.


Measuring ROI of relationship building with loyalty programs

Customer retention is a huge challenge for retailers, and all recognize the advantages of cultivating a base of customers: A 5% increase in customer loyalty can increase the average profit per customer by 25% to 100%, according to fitsmallbusiness.com.

Creating a customer experience that is satisfying is a much more cost-effective strategy than constant prospecting.

Short-term value of increasing sales vs building relationships

Some businesses assume that by simply rewarding customers with discounts, shoppers will become more loyal; JC Penney discovered the unintended side effects of sale psychology too late.

However, cultivating a strong emotional bond between a brand and its customers is what makes it more likely that a customer will continue to visit the store or website in the future.

And the intangible aspects of relationship building come actually with a very clear ROI, if you’re tracking the right metrics.

For example, offering a sales discount as part of a birthday recognition personalizes the rewards experience to every member, making each feel special and recognized for being a loyalty club member.

Yes, you’re making them feel special and a little more bonded emotionally to your brand.

And yes, you see immediate ROI on those relational tactics when they redeem their birthday offer.

Watching for and leading customers to the next phase in the journey toward a higher overall CLV should be the goal of every loyalty program, and can be accomplished more effectively with loyalty and personalized marketing tools like AppCard for Retail Pro.

While well-run loyalty programs that deliver customer satisfaction clearly improve retention rates, they can also be a means to attract new customers.

First-time shoppers can easily recognize a program that makes customers a priority and that anticipates and exceeds their needs as soon as they join.

Having a well-designed loyalty program not only keeps returning customers happy, but it also grows the retailer’s customer base.

Millennial mindshare: Experiential loyalty

Millennials are the largest group of shoppers in the current market, and as a demographic, they are very brand loyal.

However, they are particular about what they are looking for in a loyalty program.

No punch cards for this generation — or trading stamps.

The key to success with millennials is building a relationship, and that’s done through offering special experiences rather than coupons.

For example, a credit card that offers advance ticket purchasing for popular events; a coffee roastery that gives members a heads up to new roasts and coffee tastings or a makeup line that provides VIP access to a celebrity Q&A on a social network are ways to make a customer feel special and want to be part of a loyalty program.

Loyalty programs are important to retain customers and attract new shoppers, as well as to help retailers forge deeper, richer, customer connections.

Happy customers spread the word, and prospective customers generally trust friends’ feedback more than advertisements or other types of marketing.

Loyalty programs help polish a retailer’s image.

Humans want to feel special, and loyalty programs help retailer provide that experience.

By doing so, retailers reap the benefits of repeat customers while attracting new ones — and enhancing their brand’s reputation.


Mitigating in-store risk and acting on customer safety perceptions during COVID-19

Covid-19 Best Practices for Retail: Safety Experience

COVID-19 triggered a rapid, never before seen evolution in consumer attitudes and expectations towards retail.

While many consumers are ready to get back to stores, fears and concerns around safety and hygiene are at an all-time high.

Watch this webinar from Retail Pro International and customer experience experts TruRating to see:

  • First-hand data on the evolving state of consumer attitudes to both online and physical retail over the past 12 weeks
  • How retailers are leveraging retail-time customer feedback to adapt faster
  • Best practices and retailer examples for mitigating risk and measuring safety experience (SafeX) in store

Take a proactive approach to measuring customer sentiment across your channels. Watch this webinar to get practical steps to help you:

  • Set the standard for safety in your in-store customer experience to encourage your customer base to shop in store
  • Maximize your opportunity with the first-mover customers who are shopping with you in person right now

In times of great acceleration, those who are able to innovate and meet the moment will be most greatly rewarded.


Get the COVID-19 Safety Experience Best Practices

Consumers are watching for consistency between brand’s messaging and business reality during COVID-19

Gaining customers’ trust and loyalty is always a painstaking business.

Particularly in times of crisis, that work pays off as customers turn to the comfort of the companies they are not only familiar with, but are also aligned with on global issues.

McKinsey research has found that 64 percent of customers choose to buy from socially responsible brands.

Retailers are under scrutiny today more than ever, as customers are increasingly interested in how companies demonstrate their ethical practices in the ways they conduct business.

Customers are attuned to local, national and global issues, and their buying decisions are increasingly influenced by how retailers are responding to the world.

Indeed, customers who once wondered, “Does this company have questionable labor practices?” now also ask, “How did this company treat its employees during COVID-19?”

News reports suggest that the businesses that show concern and empathy for their employees are winning with customers.

COVID-19’s shift in retail plans and consumer behavior

The COVID-19 pandemic and periods of economic shutdown have thrust retailers into crisis mode, and into providing services that were not on the roadmap for this year — if ever.

Curbside pickup of items from bath towels to ground beef has become commonplace; even this past January curbside was something only a handful of pharmacies and chain restaurants offered.

Customers too had to change buying habits and embrace e-commerce.

The proof is in the numbers: It was, quite literally, Christmas in May as digital sales were up 77.8% year over year to $82.5 billion, tracking higher than holiday shopping levels on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, according to Barron’s.

Analysts are still watching to see whether these shifts will remain or recoil.

But during times of crisis, the way a business treats its customers can make a lasting impact.

Loyalty is reinforced with brands who show care in crisis

Consumers remember which companies contributed to their communities’ well-being.

Those that were supportive earn loyalty — and the ones that were perceived to be unsympathetic lost customers.

Customer experience leaders must not only position their companies as being socially responsive in order to attract and retain shoppers, but actually strive to embody those values.

Empathy, care and concern are part of a new currency.

Of course, delivering high-quality products and services at a good value along with providing excellent customer service will never go out of style.

But involvement in civic causes demonstrates how — and whether — the company cares about their customers.

In times of hardship, customers want to know their favorite stores are there for them and will reward those retailers with their loyalty even after the crisis has passed.