E-commerce has become an essential constituent of the global retail framework. It currently accounts for 14% of global retail sales and poised to scale 22% by the end of 2023.
It’s hard to escape the comfort of digital shopping paired seamlessly with the convenience of store-to-door delivery.
When you factor in internet penetration, infrastructure development, information accessibility, generational effects and technological advancements, e-commerce is set for major strides moving forward.
E-commerce Continues To Amaze
In 2019 alone, an estimated 1.9 billion people across the globe ventured online to shop for goods and services contributing $3.5 trillion in e-retail sales. With the 2020 pandemic raging, those numbers are bound to be surpassed effortlessly.
Over the years, e-retailers like Amazon have grown dominant with a robust product selection backed by a distribution network capable of pushing lead-times down substantially.
Amazon’s Prime membership has crossed 150 million global subscribers with products sold through one-day and same-day time frames growing exorbitantly.
With a host of creative features like augmented reality, online customization, trial-before-purchase, recurring deliveries, complementary services, payment options and many others, it’s difficult not to see the promise.
In response, Brick-and-Mortar (B&M) retailers have adapted their operations to suit the digital channel. B&M stores now double as local warehouses capable of supporting the online needs of their primary market area.
The question is, “Have they managed to replicate the online customer experience as well as Amazon?” Based on my decade long relationship with the e-retailer, I have to say no.
I have yet to find an alternative experience with the same speed and fluidity that Amazon affords. Sure, in-store has its perks, but, as mentioned early on, shopping trends are shifting. Retailers must accept what this entails. They must replicate and improve the customer’s online experience even if they depend primarily on in-store sales.
Best Buy Without The Best Experience
More recently, I decided to purchase an item on Best Buy for a curbside pick-up. Bearing in mind that I have completed several such transactions with the retailer in the past, I was expecting the usual mobile updates and email notifications to kick in an hour or so after completing the purchase online.
However, a bit of panic began to seep in. My order continued to remain in “preparation” state for what seemed like an eternity. I decided to move things along by contacting a virtual assistant to help with the order, a wait-time that spanned about twenty-six minutes.
I was eventually informed by the agent that stock discrepancies occur and that it would be beneficial for me to reach out to the designated store for clarity.
This reminds me of my omnichannel experience with Home Depot a few months ago, where over 1000 units of an SKU went missing at the store. Stock, we were led to believe existed via the website.
Now, physical vs system stock discrepancies do occur in minor quantities from time to time. Being off by a thousand is kind of a red flag.
Anyway, I was also informed that there could be system delays or update failures in play and that time would allow the process to correct itself.
24 hours later, I decided to call the store at opening, only to find myself in queue again due to high call volume. Frustrated, I ended up cancelling the order.
What was equally disturbing was seeing the stock for that item update itself on the site following my cancellation.
Stop That Ball From Dropping
What amazed me about this experience was that the virtual service agent did not have the necessary tools to pull up my online order, an ability I assume most service agents should have handy.
Oddly enough, the top two reasons why people contact a customer service agent, specifically in retail, are for product information and to report a delayed or missing order.
I was also taken aback by the lack of updates from the staff executing the order at the store. Should a discrepancy exist, it seems intuitive that some protocol should be exercised to make that discrepancy known, whether internally or with the customer.
Unfortunately, none of these actions came to fruition. Perhaps, my order would have continued to remain in “preparation” in perpetuity.
Additionally, the fact that a customer must integrate himself/herself into what should be an automated and seamless system this late in the e-commerce game, is uncanny.
The absence of a system to tackle discrepancies as they occur is even more ludicrous. Obviously, as orders remain in open status, the staff and managers involved are compelled to close them diligently, especially those that are time-sensitive. Even the simplest of inventory applications will provide a status list to peruse over.
A Basic E-Com Order Fulfillment Process
The process described above is a simple flow of information and product from receipt to despatch. The process is much more sophisticated at larger establishments For instance, Amazon merges human arbitration with robotics to pick and consolidate orders.
Along the way, checks and balances allow for anomalies to be cleared up before they snowball and the customer remains in the information loop until the package is received.
As in my circumstance, the order did not make it passed the “open order check”, where, if anything were wrong, the system should have been updated manually or automatically with the relevant reason. This would help service agents respond better to customer queries, assuming they have access to this information.
The transparency and accuracy of that information restores faith in the process and motivates customers to rely on e-commerce as stable platform for purchasing goods and services in future. Amazon ensures that the customer is updated of delays, thereby managing expectations early on.
After all, an informed customer is much more liable to understand a setback as opposed to one that’s left in the dark.
Let’s also consider the Domino’s pizza tracker, a simple yet powerful tool that does a wonderful job of providing customers with real time updates. Although Domino’s is famous for quick delivery times, this tracker offers a little more to overall customer experience.
These two examples described above are not isolated. Their intentions are a common denominator in most e-retail transactions. If B&M retailers want to mount any serious challenge to e-commerce players, they must address the basics first.
Digital customers are as important as in-store customers and must be offered an equivalent level of customer experience. In the absence of in-person interactions and dialogues, the key is diligently managing their online shopping journeys and expectations, ushering them towards a satisfactory end.
Assuming that my initial experience was the exception, I booked a second order the following day at another Best Buy location for a different product. This too was well stocked and labelled “ready for same-day pick-up“.
Unfortunately, that order’s status changed to “Arriving after 3 days” after completing my purchase. My only guess is that the warehouse must be astonishingly huge.
Eventually, the product was shipped to my home address on file without my any intimation nor permission to do so.