I lay no claim to my prognostic ability, but when it comes to the future of customer experience delivery, I’m willing to venture an educated guess.
I predict future retail wars will involve online brands (whose value proposition will be an expansive choice, “best pricing” and quick delivery) pitted against traditional retailers who will rely on (reasonable prices, reduced customer effort, sufficient selection, and immediate product availability). Ok, I imagine some of you are saying, “That isn’t a prediction. That is a description of the current state.” To that, I might generally agree – with an evolving caveat!
2-hours, no wait…1-hour delivery
As we look to the future, I suspect we will see more of what is being tested in select cities through the Amazon/Whole Foods model (and also available through providers like Instacart). In case you missed the announcement – or don’t live in one of Amazon’s test cities (initially Austin, Cincinnati, Dallas, and Virginia Beach but now expanded to San Francisco and Atlanta), Amazon began a new delivery model in February.
Essentially, the new service provides free 2-hour delivery (for orders over $35) from Whole Foods stores for Amazon Prime members (those individuals like myself who pay a $99 annual membership fee). Alternatively, you can expedite the order further to 1-hour delivery if you want to spend $7.99 for rushed arrival. I should note irrespective of which quick delivery option is selected, a tip is highly recommended, not unlike free pizza delivery.
Taking away pain points – on and offline
Currently, companies like Amazon win customers through the selection, price, and ease involved in the shopping process. They lose them when customers want items now. So Amazon, and others like Instacart, will futuristically be looking for ways to whittle away at the time between ordering and item receipt. There are even rumblings that Amazon is exploring the development of its own delivery service so it will be less dependent on players like UPS.
Now let’s flip to the changes at more traditional “brick and mortar” retailers. Stores like Sams’ Club have been encouraging the use of an app that allows customers to “scan and skip the checkout line.” After you scan an item’s barcode, it drops into your virtual cart, and much like an online purchase, you hit check-out on your app when you finish shopping! Immediately your receipt appears on your phone app. The store’s inventory control staff member scans that receipt at the exit. This model is now being rolled out at Macy’s and other retailers (although the inventory control process is a little more involved as they have to remove theft control alarm devices affixed to higher-end items).
Narrowing of the differences and aligning with need states
Ultimately, I believe that these online and offline experiences will become increasingly more similar. As such, there will be a couple of different consumer need states that will predict which of the two options a customer will choose. Here’s how I see it. A customer will decide:
- Do I want it NOW or SOON?
- Do I need to SEE IT/TOUCH IT (have a tangible experience) before I buy it or can I purchase it from a distance?
- Is the inconvenience of buying it in a store worth the IMMEDIATE PRODUCT ACCESS?
- Will I ENJOY the shopping experience at the store such that it would be a welcome break from being home?
Most brands will likely have an online and in-store shopping experience. And many will have a third option of buying online then gain expedited in-store delivery exemplified by Walmart’s pick-up cubicles accessed by a code texted to your app.
The key to the future will be less about a war between online and off-line but a constant focus on how to minimize the liabilities of each platform while maximizing the benefits to the customer.
As customers we WANT what we WANT, when and where we WANT it – as economically, effortlessly, memorably, and pleasurably as possible.
As business leaders – we have to meet those WANTS across online and offline experience creation and delivery!
Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies. Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli