Companies winning in retail are those that listen well to customers and provide “first-class service.” Good listening and excellent service are old-fashioned ideas that never go out of style, like the Burberry trench coat. But our age of digital transformation redefines how to listen to customers and what excellence means. Two crucial aspects of great service these days are connectivity and rapid, reliable availability of goods.
Understanding customers and connectivity
Customers need companies to listen. Good listening in business requires fostering and responding to feedback on social media. This helps companies form decisions about what goods to make available at what times and locations. They gather information from customer interaction on social venues such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. Brand loyalty can decline if consumers feel like a company is not listening.
Customers need understanding. Retailers increasingly rely on vast amounts of information from social media and the Internet of Things (IoT). It aids understanding about customer buying habits and needs. The IoT is a network of objects that contain sensors for collecting information and sharing via the Internet. In retail, these include cash registers, tags, and packaging. This connectivity gives retailers a better picture of consumer needs.
Customers want speedy, easy access to goods. Their expectations have changed about what “availability” means. We live in an Amazon world of one-day shipping and instant pickup. More customers become accustomed to getting what they want when they want it as more retailers strive for same-day delivery.
Customers want omnichannel shopping. Selling to customers in many ways is becoming necessary for retail survival. They expect multiple channels of access. These include shopping on-site at brick-and-mortar stores, purchasing online for mail-order delivery and buying online for pickup in stores (BOPIS).
Burberry and BOPIS
In 1856, apprentice cloth retailer Thomas Burberry started his own business to produce outdoor clothing at 21. Burberry invented gabardine 23 years later. It is a tightly woven cotton cloth that Burberry used in making everyday raincoats and clothing for polar explorers lighter and water resistant.
In time, Burberry outfitted the British military. During WWI, the company’s iconic raincoat gained the name “trench coat” due to soldiers wearing it during trench warfare.
Burberry’s 1904 logo shows a knight racing on horseback and carrying a banner reading Prorsum, which is Latin for forwards. The company still strives to be at the forefront of change. By the turn of the 21st century, it was charging forward digitally as one of the first retailers to sell online and as an early adopter of mobile e-commerce and the IoT.
Rapid availability is now one of the company’s hallmarks. One change customers like is the ability to buy fashions from Burberry runway shows right after they are broadcast online and in stores. Now, Burberry also offers shoppers BOPIS shopping with pickups in-store as early as a day following online ordering.
RFID (radio frequency identification) sensor tags are at the heart of IoT connectedness. They are placed in garment tags and packaging for other retail products. This improves the availability of merchandise by enabling inventory tracking from manufacture to sale. Accurate availability information is necessary for BOPIS and regular online ordering.
The declining price of RFID tags — from roughly $1 per tag in 2003 to a dime in 2017 — is making it easier for all kinds of retailers to adopt RFID inventory control. Managers make decisions about replenishment based on sensor data showing changes in supply at the warehouse and in stores. This is true at discount supermarkets as well as luxury clothing stores.
Supermarkets and super availability
Lidl is a European discount supermarket and, with 10,000 stores, one of the continent’s largest retailers. Like Burberry, it has enacted end-to-end inventory processes that track its goods from supplier to customer.
Business Insider notes that to keep prices low and improve availability, Lidl sells mostly private-label brands, which eliminates middle market costs and delays. It gains deep discounts on the few brand-name products it sells by making massive purchases. Displaying goods in their shipping boxes, much the same as Costco does, is one way it cuts costs on presentation.
Also, to keep profits up while keeping prices down, Lidl has small stores. Instead of providing storage in each of its supermarkets, the company connects to logistics hub warehouses for replenishment of foods and sundries.
Meanwhile, the Coop chain of groceries In Switzerland has included automated sales-based ordering in its new program for inventory that forecasts needs and keeps shelves replenished.
It displeases consumers to encounter out-of-stock situations whether shopping for fashions or food. Digital inventory solutions can minimize disappointment, maximize loyalty, and empower customers.
Learn how to innovate at scale by incorporating individual innovations back to the core business to drive tangible business value by reading “Accelerating Digital Transformation in Retail.”