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A Look at Logistics: Decoupling, Integrating, and the Customer Experience

In this 3-part series, we’ll look at how retailers can tackle the logistical hurdles standing in the way of developing and delivering a superior customer experience.

With the adoption and proliferation of cross-channel purchasing paths, the customer journey has changed tremendously. A single-touch purchase is rather uncommon in today’s market, meaning a customer doesn’t regularly browse, research, and buy all at the same time, or through the same channel. Often a purchase is made only after a customer has interacted with the brand multiple times, in multiple places. It’s commonplace to see a purchase made online after a customer has interacted with a product in person, or a purchase made in person after the background research has been done online.

To address this change in modern consumers’ browsing and buying behaviors, we’ve seen companies like Demandware and Oracle acquire POS companies, bringing POS capabilities in-house to mingle with their existing commerce platforms. The idea is that this will help to unify systems, allowing for a more seamless customer experience and a more efficient merchant experience, but this type of integration comes with a lot of challenges. Backend operations need to come together to support these new business models, without negatively impacting the customer. But how do you bring together a complex operations backend with a beautiful customer experience on the front end, and unify the experience across all customer channels? That’s the million dollar question.

In order to deliver on the optimal cross-channel customer experience, businesses need to be able to efficiently source product wherever it is, whenever a sale comes through, and they need to be able to deliver that product to the customer’s requested destination in a timely manner. On top of that, products purchased online or via mobile need to be exactly correct -- the right wash and size of a pair of jeans, the correct type of apple or bunch of perfectly ripened bananas, the right quantity of plates or bowls… the opportunities for error are endless. And this is where the logistical complexities arise, at the intersection of sales, operations, and fulfillment. The entire process requires extensive connectivity behind the scenes, and seamless communication between stockrooms, warehouses, store locations, in-store staff, and online staff. There’s even a growing network of partners, like Uber, that are inserting themselves into the fulfillment landscape, which adds even an extra level of complexity. Unifying so many different business units, both internal and external, to deliver on one shared outcome -- a superior customer experience -- is an easy goal with a complicated implementation.

When existing, established retail and chain stores are trying to integrate their offline businesses with their online presence, they need to look at the process, technology, and operational systems in place, and figure out how to unify them to execute flawlessly across channels.

In my next post, I'll explore the beginning steps of building a superior customer experience, starting with the initial order.

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