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Opinion: This generation is all about concierge-level services

Ad Age 22 Apr 2019 05:05

There’s been an evolution in retail around customer expectations in the last 20 years for delivery and returns. When the internet became common in every household at the start of this century, e-commerce customers expected that their orders be shipped to their home—just like they had experienced with print catalogs for decades. Then, customers started expecting to be able to get their packages delivered at work or to a drop box.

The emergence of branded smartphone apps in the last several years has hastened the changes in customer expectations. The situation has called for giving customers more and more options as they’ve become increasingly accustomed to treating their iPhone or Android like a remote control that makes their lives more convenient. Now, with the smartphone acting as the hub for most brand-to-customer communications, people have come to expect that a retailer will provide service to wherever they are. Since people have their phone on their person almost constantly, the expectation is basically: Bring my packages to my phone and, if need be, let me use my phone to process returns.

Indeed, modern retail customers demand fulfillment service that actually finds them. It’s taken a while to get to this expectation: Consider that, in the last two years, Google mobile searches for “near me” that also contain the copy “can I buy” and “to buy” have skyrocketed 500 percent.

For retailers, millennials, Gen Y and Gen Z should be known as the “near me” generations because they expect concierge-level service as if it’s always been available. They want to look at their phone and know what the options are around them for not only purchasing but returning products as well. Currently, 96 percent of consumers would shop with a retailer again based on an easy returns experience. This reality is why more retailers offering more options for pick-ups, package drop-offs and self-service. For instance, Rent the Runway is letting customers drop-off their garments at WeWork locations in six cities. And Tory Burch has invested in printerless returns. Additionally, Kohl’s accepts Amazon in 100 stores and has seen a sales increase with that additional foot traffic.

From a longer view, retailers are re-imagining the relationship between physical locations and the surrounding communities. The corner shop, in a lot of ways, is back, but it’s more digital than ever as chain stores and merchants figure out how to be in the flow of life for increasingly mobile-minded customers. Many times, such ideas hinge on leveraging data to deliver relevant content at the right time, providing customers with order updates and other targeted information via email, text message or push notification. It gives customers a sense of security when they know where their parcel or package is in the supply chain.

In the end, a huge part of the customer journey is knowing if a product or service is “near me.” HotelTonight understands this concept, pinging app users with last-minute discounts as lucrative as 50 percent off while employing location data to offer nearby room vacancies. Subway sends text messages for sandwich offers for the nearest location to the 5 million customers who signed up for its SMS list, establishing an 85 percent retention rate among them. And Outdoor Voices, a five-year-old athletic-wear brand, offers an artificial-intelligence-powered mobile app that encourages users to go for a hike and shop while out on the trail. Called OV Trail Shop, the app scans clothing items and other gear worn by fellow hikers and points the user toward the nearest Outdoor Voices store. What’s more, the items can be purchased on the app via Apple Pay and then picked up in-store as well as returned there.

What these examples illustrate is the fact that marketing has been transformed from just pushing out messages to actually being where smartphone-toting customers are at in their journey. Providing consumers with concierge-level service is more than just an add-on feature for retailers—it’s purpose-built to make consumers’ lives more convenient and enjoyable.

It’s imperative that merchants meet such mobile-minded, consumer-centric expectations head-on. An Accenture study found that around half of customers who have a poor experience with a brand will stop doing business with that brand entirely. With consumers having so many more options as well as increased expectations, I expect that number to be closer to 75 percent by 2025. All in all, retailers that succeed in the next decade will be purpose-driven, putting mobile customers first and allowing them to navigate effortlessly between digital and offline channels.

Amit Sharma is CEO of Narvar, a shipping and delivery solutions platform for retailers.

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