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Supply chain innovators take a central role in driving customer experience

Date: November 21, 2016

Category: Opinion piece


Author: Holly Porter

Holly Porter, CMO, GS1 UKConsumers continue to be spoilt for choice, making loyalty such a hard-fought thing – and extremely fragile.

This has led to the customer experience becoming a real top of mind issue for retailers. It’s important to be both consistent in service levels and also to manage rising customer expectations.

Back office staff and functions have always played an important role, but until relatively recently they were hidden from view. A customer’s experience simply started and finished in store. But now, with the new omnichannel environment, the customer is more empowered than ever and draws on e-commerce, mobile and other connected devices as part of a blended experience.

An example of how these technologies work together to improve the customer experience is an initiative launched by Tesco Labs. They’ve created a channel on IFTTT (If This Then That), which links together different online accounts and uses triggers and actions. Customers can automate parts of their shopping process, including programming in commands such as “if the temperature gets above 28 degrees, then add burgers and ice cream to my basket” – and then of course can opt to collect from store.

Of course the store still has a key role to play in the purchase journey, but now it’s a much broader one. It can be as a source of inspiration, as a delivery or collection point for online orders, or as a destination for concessions run by other brands. Not only is the store a channel for customer service and point of sale activity, but it has now taken a key supply role too. Starting from click-and-collect, efficiency is driving stores to become mini fulfilment centres. But the agility required within the supply chain to reach this is reliant on accuracy and visibility of all stock at all times. And this is why we’re seeing a lot of apparel retailers adopting the use of RFID – to gain a view of their inventory, down to the last item.

This new environment presents retailers and brands with challenges, as they are increasingly less in control of the customer experience. The brand experience requires careful orchestration, as the influence on the customer can come from multiple third-party websites, such as parcel couriers, or collection points in stores.

Everyone recognises that innovation is absolutely vital for retailers to survive, but it’s important to decide where it’s appropriate and where any true competitive advantage lies. But these days, it can be just as smart to think about being competitive through collaboration.

At GS1 UK we play a unique role in bringing different parties together, with our offices often playing host to competing retailers and their suppliers. We have a lot of conversations with our members and facilitate collaboration around areas such as logistics, fulfilment and returns. And we talk to industry peers and third parties so everyone gains through taking a more harmonised approach.

Working with industry we can enable fast, accurate product information, visibility of stock, faster flows of information and ultimately a better experience for the customer, right through to delivery or collection.

The ultimate test for how this all comes together is Black Friday. I recently spoke with One Connected Community on how retailers can prepare for this, while sharing our predictions for this year.

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