The Era of the ‘Me’ Channel

omnichannel fulfillment

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. 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's easier said than done.

Put simply, customer experience (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% 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 time 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 cohesive, multi-channel sales approach that gives the customer an integrated shopping experience across platforms. But in today's retail landscape, the customer only cares about one channel: the “me” channel.

In sum, 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).

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.

For digitally native and retail brands alike, this means creating a seamless CX across all channels - and order fulfillment plays a central role in connecting all of these different nodes.

Effective fulfillment is increasingly critical because it can make or break the customer experience. 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) 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 shopping and fulfillment options that go beyond just BOPIS and BORIS.

5 Fulfillment strategies that shape the customer experience

 1. Hybrid fulfillment models

A plethora of hybrid fulfillment options are available today. Consumers have embraced the convenience and reliability that comes with hybrid models such as BOPIS (Buy Online, Pick-Up In-Store), curbside pickup, and BORIS (Buy Online, Return In-Store). Why?

Today’s “me” channel consumer wants to buy from anywhere. Connecting online checkout systems with a POS system enables popular fulfillment options such as hands-on local delivery, 'ship from store', or local pickup. Some hybrid options, such as BORIS and BOPIS, encourage what’s known as O2O (online-to-offline) retail, designed to entice consumers into making purchases in physical stores after beginning their shopping journeys online.

The list of hybrid fulfillment options keeps growing. Showrooming, for example, could get flipped on its head from today’s practice of evaluating a product in-store and purchasing it at a lower price online. Stores of tomorrow may become transactional hubs and experiential venues, acting as a showroom to communicate about the brand and support online sales as e-commerce fulfillment points for local pickup and deliveries. 

 2. Smart stocking strategies

Consumers want to receive and return products when, where, and how it is most convenient. Getting the product in their hands needs to be time and cost-efficient. Brands have a great opportunity to elevate CX when they optimize their distribution and fulfillment networks.

By design, hybrid fulfillment models are raising the logistics game, requiring brands to consider stock strategies. This includes:

  • Positioning bestselling SKUs in regional fulfillment centers located in close proximity to their largest customer bases or the transportation networks of parcel carriers.
  • Using stores or the hubs of affiliate partners as micro fulfillment centers.
  • Creating a warehouse-in-a-warehouse with operations dedicated to e-commerce fulfillment.
  • Placement of best-selling e-commerce items to optimize fulfillment processes.

Large brands can offer shortened delivery times and more options for delivery methods and delivery windows when stock is smartly positioned across multiple distribution centers, within one to two days of transit from the consumer. Likewise, emerging brands that rely on a centralized fulfillment center can use multiple carriers to help balance cost with delivery expectations.

As e-commerce continues to attract more consumers, a high-quality post-click experience is essential. Brands can leverage fulfillment operations to create a seamless CX that garners loyal customers.

Because of the many consumer touchpoints involved in fulfillment, the right fulfillment provider can make a difference in NPS (Net Promoter Score) which measures customer satisfaction: how likely the consumer is to recommend your brand based on their experience with your company. Brands use NPS as a tool not only to measure CX, but also to improve their customer satisfaction rates and boost revenue.

 3. Returns matter

While the returns process is labor and cost-intensive for brands, returns are on the rise as more consumers shop online and many "bracket" their purchases by buying multiple versions of a product with the intention of returning some items. Returns hold significant opportunities for brands to shine in the realm of CX.

Consumers increasingly expect free returns, and at the very least want a frictionless returns process with policies that are flexible and lenient. This means pre-printed return labels for online orders, printerless return options like mobile QR codes, in-store credits or free shipping on exchanges, or programs that allow the consumer to keep used or damaged items that can’t be resold.

Consumers are inclined to shop with a brand based on a positive return experience. Leading reasons for a poor returns experience include delays in getting a refund, having to pay fees or shipping costs to return the item to the merchant, or a delay in receiving an exchange or a replacement item.

 4. Dropshipping expands scale

Retailers commonly make dropshipping arrangements with their suppliers as brands in order to present a high selection of SKUs in their online stores and ship items directly to customers. Likewise, even emerging brands can expand their reach with large retailers by using a flexible 3PL fulfillment partner that can ship the product directly to the retailer’s customer, using packaging and branding on behalf of the retail brand.

In today’s age of social commerce, new and emerging brands can also align with social media influencers and bloggers to grow their own brand’s media impressions and customer bases. While influencers likely want to give the overall look and feel of their own brand in the delivery experience, dropshipping still presents opportunities for brands to reach a larger audience with their products and messaging while differentiating their brand with agreed-upon packaging materials, etc. A fulfillment partner with wide experience in dropshipping ensures your brand doesn’t miss the mark in the seamless CX.

 5. Personalization rules

In addition to friendly and knowledgeable customer service, consumers want a personalized CX. Think offers for relevant products and individualized treatment throughout their brand experience, requiring customer service representatives to have access to their customer history. Mass personalization is already here thanks to automation and technologies such as machine learning, AI and big data.

Suggestive selling technologies take preferences and order history to an art. Data sources can include marketers capturing declared data from quizzes, likes, and “save for later” options at online storefronts.

Other examples of mass personalization include dynamic website content powered by real-time behavioral analytics and customized purchase journeys.

E-commerce orders can be personalized through customized packaging such as branded boxes, tissue paper, stickers, or reusable bags. Other touches that give the feel of personalization include hand-written notes, free samples or teasers of other products, and story cards or brochures that tell more about the ordered product. In the case of luxury brands, sensory unboxing experiences can even be created. One example: spritzing perfume (based on customer preferences, order history, etc.) prior to sealing the shipping box!

The customer experience has rapidly become a top priority for brands. The pandemic has highlighted the consumer’s desire for convenience and immediacy, raising the expectations bar for a great brand experience across channels—the “me” channel.

D2C e-commerce is growing exponentially and the consumer’s new appetite to shop online for ease and convenience transforms CX. Many consumers no longer base their loyalty solely on price and product. Removing pain points in the customer journey and creating new, memorable experiences ensure a great brand experience. Brands that allocate resources to create a world-class CX build customer loyalty and higher spending with their brands while reducing customer churn and supporting customer satisfaction.

While the responsibility rests on brands to create a seamless CX or risk losing customers and becoming irrelevant, brands are partnering with 3PL fulfillment providers to ensure a seamless post-purchase customer experience. Selecting the right fulfillment partner can make all the difference in delivering the brand promise.

At Ryder, we recognize it's all about the “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 2023 E-commerce Consumer Study.

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