Consumers need customer-centric ease of doing business, especially after they make a purchase. If a firm invests in its omnichannel service, it should also fare well in international competition.
Have you ever run into the same issue I have? I bought a pair of shoes from an international online store but they didn’t fit, so I had to return them. The size I wanted was not in stock. My only option was to get my money back.
This process lasted three long weeks: five days between placing the order and having the product delivered to my door, two days trying them on and returning them, five days for the return trip to the seller and another six days for a refund. It was a foreign online store. It was not a pleasant experience.
I personally shop a lot at both local and foreign e-commerce sites. The shoe episode reinforced my belief that Finnish retailers can succeed in international competition – once they get their omnichannel services in order. I have concluded it is possible to successfully stand up against global competition with a solid brand, targeted marketing, an adequate selection, right price level and a well-thought-out omnichannel service model.
An omnichannel service involves many things. Here I will focus on ease of post-sales transactions and building a competitive advantage. The easier it is for customers to shop both online and in a brick-and-mortar store, the better.
Omnichannel service model checklist
Get the following in order before it is possible to even speak of competitive advantage. Use the following list to tick how many areas your business has mastered:
- When customers make online purchases, they can pick up their orders at a sales outlet. Customers should be able to collect online purchases at the nearest store. This is a service many stores already offer. Deliveries often come from a central warehouse, a major supplier or another store. They go either directly to the customer’s home or to an outlet.
- When a customer shops online, the product may also be delivered from a store shelf. Do online purchases only come from a central warehouse or are store stocks included? If a product purchased online can be delivered to the customer from a nearby store, delivery takes place 1 – 2 days sooner.
- When customers reserve items online, they can pay for and pick up their orders at a store. Not everyone wants to use online banking or a credit card. Give your customers the option to order a product online and have it waiting for them at a store outlet.
- When customers shop online, they can return products to a store. If customers can return online purchases to a store, they get an immediate refund. It is also easy to change to another size or product.
- When loyalty programme customers return online purchases, they get their money back immediately. If a customer returns a product via postal services or other carriers, the refund should take place immediately without waiting for the product to arrive at a warehouse. For example, the customer could inform the company about the return via its online store.
- If the product a customer wants to buy is not available at a local store outlet, the salesperson can sell it from the firm’s e-commerce site or from another store outlet for home delivery. If a customer is shopping at a store where a product is not in stock, but is available elsewhere, the salesperson should be able to sell the product from the online store or from the selection at another outlet for direct home delivery.
If you got six/six correct, congratulations! You are clearly ahead of many of your competitors and are well on your way to building a customer-focused service model that covers post-purchase events. Most competitors can only tick off one or two items on the list.
It often seems we are prepared to go to extremes to refine services, such as online store user interfaces, in the name of a great customer experience. Of course, that is an important area, but it will not create genuine customer loyalty or even brand advocates extolling your store’s excellence to the rest of the world in social media.
The sources of true competitive advantage include simple things such as those described above. They make your customers wonder why they bothered to buy those shoes from a foreign online store in the first place.