The Age of the Customer: Redefining “Customer Engagement”

December 18th, 2014 @ Newgistics

Forrester Research recently published a report authored by Kyle McNabb and Josh Bernoff and entitled, “The eBusiness Professional’s Blueprint for Strategy in the Age of the Customer” (September 2014). The premise of the report is how companies are redefining customer engagement and are putting customer obsession at the center of their corporate strategies. Forrester defines a customer-obsessed enterprise as one that “focuses its strategy, its energy, and its budget on processes that enhance knowledge of and engagement with customers and prioritizes these over maintaining traditional competitive barriers.”

One of the main drivers of this shift to customer-centricity is technology. Having once favored companies, technology now empowers customers who can learn all about your products, services, pricing and reputation with just a few clicks. Customers are now in the driver’s seat – they can buy anything instantly and have it delivered anywhere. And as Forrester points out, technology will be the important factor that enables organizations to create the company-wide transformation needed to meet the needs of today’s customer.

While there are many ways to approach customer centricity, we do know one thing for certain: brands across all industries are obsessed with understanding and catering to their customers. From Chico’s to the Bank of Montreal to restaurants such In-N-Out and T.G.I. Friday’s, brands in every vertical are working hard to ensure customers are at the core of their corporate strategy.

For brands looking to achieve customer-centricity, Forrester offers a four-part blueprint, which advises companies to:

1) transform the customer experience with a systematic, measurable approach;

2) accelerate your digital business future for greater agility and customer value;

3) embrace the mobile mind shift to serve customers in their moments of need; and

4) turn big data into business insights to continuously improve your efforts.

Forrester recognizes this is a tall order, which is why it will take the combined efforts of an organization’s most senior leaders. The firm advises these leaders to center on technologies that support the customer lifecycle, place a premium on software skills, and embrace modern approaches to application and solution delivery. According to the report, “Modern delivery approaches will be the de facto expectation when delivering customer-obsessed solutions.”

Is your organization prepared for the “Age of the Customer”? To obtain a copy of Forrester’s recommended blueprint, download it from the Newgistics website.

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Enriching Ecommerce: The New Online Storefront

November 17th, 2014 @ Newgistics

Until recently, many e-commerce sites lacked the personal experience a consumer gets when they walk into a brick and mortar store. But, we’ve seen a shift happening within e-commerce where many retailers are offering services traditionally found within physical stores on their digital counterparts. With the busy holiday shopping season kicking off, there is no better time to take a look at some of the new ways online retailers are enriching the digital shopping experience.

The Friendly Sales Associate

Walk into most stores these days and you’re instantly greeted by a friendly sales associate willing to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. In the online world, retailers are using live video assistance to emulate this experience. Now, consumers have the opportunity to speak face-to-face with a sales associate that can help them with their online or mobile purchase. These live video sessions include co-browsing the online store with the shopper, showing them items that might be of interest, and even helping them through the checkout process.

The Personal Stylist

Think you need to be rich to afford a personal stylist? Think again. E-commerce startups like Stitch Fix and Trunk Club offer consumers an easy way to get personal recommendations online through style quizzes that give retailers a sense of each shopper’s tastes and interests. Personalized apparel and accessories are sent to shoppers on a monthly basis to try and – if they like — buy!

The Demo Station

Today’s retailers know that video sells. Whether it’s a model walking down a runway to show how a dress fits and flows, or a demonstration of new kitchen gadget, video promotion is six times more effective than its written counterparts (source: REELSEO). So much can be conveyed about products through short, high-quality videos – just as they are in-store at demo stations.

The Dressing Room

One of the biggest reasons shoppers still prefer to buy in the store – especially within the apparel industry – is the ability to try items on before purchasing. Enter the virtual dressing room, where shoppers can “try on” clothing, accessories and even cosmetics from the comfort of their own home. By using Kinect technology, shoppers can simply stand in front of a computer screen that acts as a mirror of sorts, allowing the shopper to see what they would look like in different articles of clothing. The technology even allows for the shopper to split the screen in two for side-by-side comparisons in different outfits.

When shoppers feel immersed and engaged with a brand, they’ll be a much more loyal customer. In the “offline” world, retailers have turned this into an art form, using things like lighting, music and even scents to strength the bond with their customers. This is much more difficult in the online world, but thanks to technology advances and retailers putting them to use in creative ways, we’re starting to see digital stores match the experiences once reserved for in-store shoppers.

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Retailers Must Diversify Shipping Methods to Offer the Best Shopping Experience for Customers

February 10th, 2014 @ Newgistics

Now that the holiday madness has come to an end, we’ve had a chance to step back, take a breath, and look at how shipping companies fared. With an unusually short holiday season and inclement weather, the shipping industry saw quite a few wrenches thrown into the system. However, Newgistics helped our merchants provide a positive shipping experience during the holidays with our streamlined returns management services. We’ve taken a closer look at some of the results from the holiday shipping reports to see what parcel delivery companies can glean from last year to make shipping methods even more reliable in future seasons.

Our very own Vice President of E-Commerce Elizabeth Hunter was recently interviewed for an Internet Retailer piece on lessons retailers and shipping companies can learn from the just-passed holiday period. Her key piece of advice for retailers moving into 2014 is to partner with service providers like Newgistics to complement their existing operational activities, bringing a more positive and reliable customer experience to shoppers in the event that one of their other providers experiencing shipping snafus.

Executing a “before, during and after” evaluation of carrier performance can help retailers keep tabs on how shipping companies are doing in terms of delivery time and accuracy. Diversifying shipping vendors to parcel delivery and returns management companies such as Newgistics, retailers can bring more flexibility to their operations in addition to other simple steps that can make a difference in the customer experience. Hunter says that by proactively communicating with consumers when a delay in shipping occurs, shoppers will be less likely to call customer service in aggravation, and etailers gain greater visibility into the status of shipments.

Newgistics solutions not only reduce customer frustration, but allow merchants to improve efficiency across their organization with inventory management and proactive communication. A notification on status of shipment can work wonders on customer perception of a retailer. For example, our Newgistics Transit Triggers service provides a mechanism for sending emails to the customer that supports this type of interaction, informing them of weather delays or special deals and promotions.

An accurate and reliable returns management program can be invaluable for merchants hoping to deliver high quality customer service along with customers’ packages. It’s inevitable that a customer will place an order for an item and, after receiving it, have it not meet their expectations. While shipping companies have no control over shopper product preferences and affirmation, they can control how easy it is for them to return a package to the merchant. One of Newgistics’ core pillars of service is a strong returns management program for its customers. The Newgistics SmartLabel includes prepaid shipping return labels that make it simple and hassle-free for customers to send back an item that wasn’t quite what they needed. This service is not only an easy way for merchants to handle returns, but customer satisfaction increases when their workload decreases.

What other lessons have you learned from the 2013 holiday season? Whether you’re a retailer or vendor, we’d love to hear from you to see what you might have learned from this not-so-normal holiday shopping period!

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Making the Most of Post-Holiday Returns: Four Steps to Being Prepared

November 8th, 2013 @ Newgistics

With less than seven weeks left in the make-or-break holiday shopping season, e-commerce retailers and brands are gearing up for the annual post-holiday ritual: the peak season for parcel returns.

According to a recent article in Internet Retailer, “merchandise returns typically vary from 10% to as much as 40% of holiday sales volume, depending on the merchandise category.”1 Shop.org predicts that e-commerce holiday sales will increase between 13% and 15% to as much as $82 billion in November and December, which means that merchants will again be faced with a record number of returns.

As eTailers prepare for the inevitable flood of returns, there are four key principles to keep in  mind. By focusing on these returns management strategies, e-commerce merchants can make the most of the busy post-holiday returns season, providing a better experience for shoppers and improving their internal operations as well.

Examine your returns policy. Merchants should make sure that policies are clearly stated and easy to understand, and that their policies enable omnichannel parcel returns. It’s not too late for a quick review. By doing a thorough returns policy review ahead of the holiday rush, retailers and brands can help ensure that returns don’t increase the demands on staffing, and they can also  reduce wait times in order to deliver a better customer experience.

Simplify the process with pre-paid return labels. One of the easiest ways to simplify returns is to provide a pre-paid, USPS-based return label with each shipment. Newgistics is the #1 provider of USPS® Parcel Return Service solutions, and the Newgistics SmartLabel is widely recognized as a leading consumer returns technology. Not only do pre-paid return labels such as SmartLabels reduce customer frustrations with the return process and improve satisfaction, but merchants can also choose to deduct the return shipping cost from the refund, or charge a small premium for the use of the service, resulting in an additional opportunity for incremental income.

Newgistics’ SmartLabels also provide an operational advantage for merchants, since the barcode labels contain a wealth of information that can reduce operational issues on the back-end. Door-to-door tracking visibility from the pre-paid labels will reach retailers far ahead of the returned merchandise. This will alert the retailer to potential issues with quality, sizing, or any other number of problems, in time for buyers and planners to make sale-saving adjustments and negotiate vendor concessions. Better data can also improve labor planning, inventory management and asset-recovery rates.

Be proactive with customer communications.

Whenever a consumer returns merchandise, it creates an opportunity to reach them in new ways with personalized, branded messages based on specific actions. Merchants can proactively notify customers when a return has been received and when the refund is issued, creating a better brand experience, increasing the likelihood of repeat purchases, and letting customers know that they’re important. Proactive communications can also minimize unnecessary customer service calls, providing an important operational advantage.

Process refunds and store credits quickly. A common area of frustration for customers is the wait to receive a full or partial refund or store credit once the merchandise has been returned. Merchants should examine the current wait time to receive a credit and remove any roadblocks that can delay the transactions. As mentioned above, one of the easiest ways to do this is to communicate often and clearly with the customer.

The post-holiday returns season will always be a hectic time for retailers and brands. However, by taking a close look at returns management practices and reverse logistics and applying these four principles, merchants can make the most out of the busiest season for merchandise returns.

1Internet Retailer, “Ready for Returns,” Nov. 4, 2013

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Catch Newgistics this week at Green Mountain Consulting Summit

May 15th, 2013 @ Newgistics

April has turned to May, and event season continues in full swing. This week, you can find Newgistics at the 8th Annual Green Mountain Consulting Leadership Summit, this Wednesday and Thursday in downtown Memphis, Tennessee.

This year’s focus is on the “Parcel network evolution: Executing for today, planning for tomorrow.” Summit participants will learn from case study driven sessions to gain a better understanding of the characteristics of each stage of the parcel network lifecycle and the strategies that can be used to optimize each stage, as well as how to better manage parcel networks at different points of maturity and growth.

Our director of sales, Patrick Allard, will lead a session Wednesday, May 15 at 4 p.m. He’ll speak on the topic Creating the Best Returns Processes in an Evolving Direct to Consumer Market.

Customers and prospects consider shippers’ returns policies and processes an important factor in their buying decision and brand loyalty. Yet, most merchants agree that their returns processes are far from perfect, especially in a continuously evolving “omnichannel” world. This session will present a case study on how Newgistics helped a shipper create a roadmap for implementing returns handling best practices to address customers’ needs for today and tomorrow.

Navigating the complexities of omnichannel retailing is daunting. We hope you’re able to attend this week’s summit, but if you won’t be there, please don’t hesitate to contact Newgistics to learn more about how delivering boxes can help you deliver the best customer service no matter how, where or when your customers shop.

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Give Your Online Shoppers More Confidence to Click “Buy Now”

March 19th, 2013 @ Newgistics

For most Americans, shopping online is nothing new. In fact, 53% of Americans purchased something online in 2011. But while shopping online is not exactly novel, it’s still a process that can be fraught with indecision, uncertainty and, when something occasionally does not meet expectations, frustration for consumers. For some online shoppers, there are a lot of unknowns when buying sight unseen, such as:

  • Am I sure this is the right color?
  • Will the quality meet my expectations?
  • Will it fit?
  • What if it arrives broken or damaged?
  • What if the package gets lost?
  • What if the package is delivered, but I’m not home?
  • How long will I have to wait for a refund after I make a return?

Fortunately for e-tailers, many of these concerns can be addressed and minimized in two simple steps.

1. Have a clear, well-defined returns policy.
Returns policies that clearly state when an item can be returned and for what reasons can give would-be purchasers the confidence to click “buy.” Review your current returns policy and ensure that it includes specific instructions on how and where online returns can be made—can they be returned in-store? Do they include a pre-paid returns label? Can they be dropped off at any U.S.P.S. location?

2. Provider your customers with detailed package tracking information.
Partner with a reverse logistics company that provides detailed data for both retailer and consumer. Newgistics’ Transit Triggers service starts with dynamic barcodes on our delivery and SmartLabel® return shipping labels. They’re embedded with an extraordinarily rich level of data, integrating tracking information with order-specific details.

Here’s how Transit Triggers Work:

Once an order ships, parcel scan events can generate automated customer emails containing updates on shipment status as well as precisely targeted marketing messages. So while you’re providing peace of mind, you can cross-sell similar merchandise or offer promotions based on the customer’s order history. Newgistics even enables you to start notifying customers about tracking events sooner, since we provide visibility on outbound parcels as soon as they enter our network.

Even when orders are returned, you can transform the anxious wait for an account credit into a positive brand interaction that promotes repeat purchases.

Eliminating the “black hole” of uncertainty with an easy-to-understand, customer-centric returns policy and an accessible package tracking system goes a long way toward building a shopper’s confidence and improving their willingness to purchase online.  While shopping online may have lost its novelty, shopping online with greater confidence will not go out of fashion.

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The Next Big Opportunity: Shipping to Canada

October 12th, 2012 @ Newgistics

Canada is much like the United States in many, many ways, though there are a few key differences within the respective retail industries. Not only do grocery stores sell milk in plastic bags instead of plastic jugs or cardboard cartons, Canadian shoppers also face a limited selection when shopping online with U.S.-based retailers due to restrictive shipping policies that do not accommodate shipping to Canada.

Newgistics believes this is an opportunity for, not a weakness of, U.S.-based e-commerce merchants and multichannel retailers. In this two-part blog series, originally featured at RIS News, we’ll share six key principles U.S.-based retailers should keep in mind when considering the expansion of shipping into Canada.

Reaching a ripe, untapped market
Eighty two percent of Canadians reported having shopped online by October 2011, and the rate at which Canadians click to buy is rising rapidly—Canadians spent C$16.5 billion ($16.0 billion) in online sales in 2010, and this is expected to double to C$30.9 billion ($30 billion) by 2015. Eighty three percent of online shoppers purchased goods through Canadian e-Commerce merchants, while only 60 percent reported they purchased from U.S.-based retailers or brands. The time is right for U.S.-based companies to tackle international shipping to Canada.

#1: Keep deliveries timely and cost-effective
Canada is massive, but fortunately for U.S.-based retailers, 75 percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S.-Canada border. As a result, Canadians across the country expect competitive transit times for U.S. goods at cost-effective rates. Target delivery times should be within 3-7 days to all Canadian provinces and territories.

#2: Simplify the returns process
One of the biggest hassles for online shoppers is when they decide a purchase must be returned for any number of reasons. This negative experience—a shirt that doesn’t fit, or a lamp that arrived broken—is a critical moment for an e-Commerce merchant, and they can reduce a customer’s inconvenience by simplifying the returns process. Make returns easy and create the opportunity to build loyalty by providing your Canadian consumers with a prepaid return shipping label, available in the delivery package or online, to be attached to the order and returned via any Canada Post location.

#3: Minimize Customs headaches
International shipping is complicated by the customs process, which includes taxes and duties and the reclamation of taxes and duties on returns, currency exchange, and product import restrictions. Eliminate paperwork problems and accelerate the process by providing documentation to customs before the shipment reaches the border.

Though the sales growth possibilities are quite lucrative, it is no small decision to begin shipping to Canada. However, the process need not be overwhelming for retailers and e-tailers. Stay tuned for the final three key principles to efficiently make the expansion into Canada, from handling returns and transit time to customer loyalty and shipment partner relations.

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Decoding the shipping gene

October 2nd, 2012 @ Newgistics

Retailers everywhere constantly ask themselves the question, “What makes our customers tick?” This question is quickly followed by, “What makes the consumers we want to be our customers tick?” These questions are difficult to answer, and can take an immense amount of resources to solve. At Newgistics, we liken this work to mapping consumer DNA. And we’ve decoded the shipping gene for you.

Newgistics recently sponsored an independent survey of consumers to study their shopping habits. Out-of-store shopping—particularly e-commerce—is booming; in fact, just this week Deloitte estimated that shopping online, or via mobile device or catalog will grow 15-17% this year. This comes on the heels of several consecutive years of very strong growth—e-commerce in particular had a banner year in 2011. Not only did online spending have its biggest day in history on Cyber Monday, but fewer customers waited until the Monday after Thanksgiving to shop online, spending 26% more online on Black Friday 2011 than in 2010. The research conducted by the third party looked at U.S. shoppers who had ordered from a catalog, e-commerce website, mobile device, television or ad, or home shopping party in the preceding three months, and at least one of the purchases was delivered via ground shipping, and what these consumers proved quite telling in what makes online shoppers tick.

It’s not surprising that traditional websites are the leading direct sales channel, but you may be surprised to learn that mobile and catalog shopping are now comparable to one another in popularity. You also might not realize the key role that shipping plays in selecting and staying loyal to a merchant, either. Here are a few other statistics that bore out how and why consumers decided to purchase (or not purchase) from a particular e-tailer:

  • 85% of shoppers admitted to not completing the purchase after selecting an item to order
  • The #1 reason consumers cited for not completing a purchase after selecting an item was shipping cost
  • More than half of consumers surveyed said they had returned merchandise to an e-tailer at some point, and the among these shoppers the overwhelming top expectation for the return was a prepaid, preaddressed shipping label
  • 9 out of 10 consumers have tracked an order or return, the vast majority said the ability to track shipments is at least somewhat important in deciding whether to patronize an e-tailer
  • 90% of consumers said they’d hold off on calling customer service at least a day if a package wasn’t delivered on time if they could track the delivery online, and the majority said they would be very unlikely to contact customer service at all

Although shipping isn’t the top factor for consumers in deciding where to shop, it certainly is important. Specifically, the following emerged as the top considerations regarding shipping:

  • Reasonable costs
  • Timely delivery
  • Receiving undamaged merchandise
  • Convenient returns process

Meeting and managing the shipping expectations of consumers makes them more comfortable with the order experience. It can also help you allay any lingering concerns they may have about buying from e-tailers rather than brick- and-mortar stores. At Newgistics, we believe that meeting the expectations identified in the survey can help retailers not only retain customers—but also acquire them in the first place.

It’s all part of understanding consumer DNA and adapting accordingly.

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Increasing the Lifetime Value of Your Customers While Controlling Costs

April 19th, 2011 @ Newgistics

By VP Marketing and Field Sales, Newgistics

Trends in consumer behavior continue to indicate a changing attitude toward shipping options within the overall shopping experience. Market analysis shows that, despite relatively flat growth rates in the U.S. shipping market as a whole, the acceptance of value-based shipping is rapidly displacing premium time-definite services.

Why this transition? Aside from consumers watching their spending more closely, some carriers are facing continued pricing pressures (tied to core transportation services) and high fixed operating costs, leading them to modify their billing procedures and negotiate service agreements with shippers – and the higher rates get passed on to consumers. However, there are alternatives that can help shippers not only control costs, but also improve base service levels by leveraging untapped information and opportunities.

This is about more than just shipping: a company’s brand and reputation is on the line every time a customer places an order. While some merchants get consumed with evaluating each individual transaction, intelligent merchants look at the lifetime value of customer and implement services that meet the customers expectations in price, service, and performance – encouraging the customer to continually ‘invest’ in their brand.

Certainly, there are still customers who want the option to purchase time-definite, higher-cost shipping services – but considering the growing number of consumers demanding economical alternatives, prudent shippers must offer an variety of services in order to appeal to a the needs of the their most valued asset, the customer. Otherwise, they risk losing that customer to the big box retailer who may not offer the same level of convenience, but doesn’t tack on inflexible high-cost shipping, either. A comprehensive shipping offering can tackle these challenges and more – from increasing the lifetime value of a customer and reducing call center costs, to creating new marketing opportunities and streamlining IT processes.

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Reverse Logistics Conference Wrap Up: Reducing Costs

February 22nd, 2011 @ Newgistics

Every year, more than 1,500 people from around the globe descend upon Las Vegas on Super Bowl weekend for the annual Reverse Logistics Association Conference & Expo. The audience is comprised largely of supply chain executives from the world’s best-known technology companies and consumer electronics retailers. The conference is a great forum to exchange ideas as companies improve their reverse logistics processes, identify opportunities to refine their sustainability programs, look at solutions offered by service providers supporting the industry, and reduce costs. Today I’d like to take a look at that last topic, reducing costs.

Limited product lifecycles and complex supply chains
To put it simply, the consumer electronics industry is cut throat. You are only as good as your last product, and nobody is safe from consumer backlash if a product does not “Wow!” them and deliver bottom-line results for the manufacturer. And unlike many retail products, the effective lifespan of a product and its ability to win big in the market is not just seasonal, it may have only days or weeks to perform before it is more or less obsolete. For that reason, the complexity of the supply chain required to support returns in such an industry can be accurately described as a maze littered with the remains of products that need to find a resting place at the end of their useful life. But these questions remain: where do they go?; how do they get there?; and what is the most cost-effective way to make sure they get to their final destination?

Measuring costs
Once the consumer is through with the device, the challenge becomes to identify the most optimal way to manage the flow of goods and materials. Unfortunately, many companies look at isolated areas of cost (such as transportation, for example) rather than the big picture, and are dissatisfied because they have a difficult time addressing other areas of the business where cost overruns are apparent. It is imperative to understand that any business, regardless of industry, is a delicate ecosystem that involves every area of the operation that relies on open communication among all channels. So while operations may try to save a few cents in one place, customer service may have a difficult time managing call center costs because the data required to support their environment is not necessarily provided through the ‘low cost alternative.’ As for marketing, well, if they cannot monitor consumer behavior and proactively market to them based on specific events observed through the use of the data, customer satisfaction may suffer and the business may miss critical revenue opportunities. It is enough to drive finance nuts, as the business as a whole may be headed in the wrong direction and with no clear answers as to how to go about fixing it.

The best solution for your business may not always be the least expensive. Trying to shave a few cents out of your operating costs may wind up costing you dollars in the end if you are not careful.

The future is the consumer
We have seen a complete evolution in the ways in which consumers shop. From the times of Ben Franklin (the original catalog marketer) until the 1990s, very little changed as people purchased through traditional brick & mortar outlets or through catalogs. The revolution in retailing brought on through integration of technology, customer buying preferences, and marketing is still in its infancy, as alternate retail channels accounts for less than 5 percent of total retail revenues. Whereas ‘mobile commerce’ was revolutionary a couple of years ago, we are progressing to the point of ‘social commerce’ as more and more people use alternate devices and mediums to fulfill their needs. As such, they demand that the information and services provided to them be easily accessible, have the ability to be consumed at a time when it is convenient for them, and have meaningful content.

Despite the wonderful advances that consumer electronics companies and their sales channels continue to make to offer products designed to support consumers’ lifestyles, they must also make sure their policies and the way they support the consumer after the sale supports their lifestyles as well. Trying to adapt old processes and unfriendly customer service policies in an effort to reduce costs or prevent returns may cost a company significantly in the new age of merchandising and retailing. As new thought leaders in the market emerge, it is likely that the focus will shift to service – based on a desire to build lifetime customer value rather than the idea of ‘saving’ a dollar here and there. For companies only focusing on the here and now, there may not be much to look forward to down the road.

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