As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, retailers and brands are still being significantly impacted by store closures, increased eCommerce volumes, and delayed supply chains.
With Q4 around the corner, it’s difficult to predict what holiday shopping will be like, but retailers that have a level of visibility across their supply chain are better poised to make faster decisions that ensure goods keep moving and their customers remain loyal.
In this installment of our Supply Chain Disruption Q&A series, we talk to Jenny Bebout, Co-Founder and Director of Product at Convey. Convey helps retailers take control of last-mile orders and delivery through a cloud-based platform that connects disparate data to provide better visibility.
In this interview, we discuss how:
- Carrier network diversification supports resilience initiatives
- Real-time visibility makes it easier to pivot in times of disruption
- COVID-19 has impacted customer experience
- Communication can make or break your business
What has the impact been to eCommerce?
Consumers are still quarantining, we’re seeing a resurgence in cases, so store reopenings have been slow. For months now, many people haven’t had many other options than to buy online.
I saw a stat recently that online sales rose 48% just in April. That's great news for eCommerce, because it means volumes are rising. That also means that last-mile logistics and visibility challenges come along with it.
Retailers faced Black-Friday volumes 9 months early.Jenny Bebout Co-Founder and Director of Product, Convey
As far as disruption to retail in general, consumers have had the opportunity to explore new delivery options. Personally, I had never tried buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) until recently at Target. With everything going on, I didn't trust that a retailer could ship me the items that I needed on time, and I didn't want to go roaming around a store during the pandemic. So this was the most convenient option, which is just one example of how the pandemic is encouraging us all to consume in new ways, depending on what we need.
What I’ve been hearing is that retailers faced Black-Friday volumes nine months early, and it wasn’t just a 5-day event. It lasted for weeks on end. Think about that. Normally, they have an entire year to plan for Black Friday. Even after months of planning, Black Friday is still chaos. Now, they’ve had to face more chaos and with no time to prepare and without increased staffing levels that come with Black Friday.
What key eCommerce challenges have been exposed in the last few months?
I think it’s less about challenges being exposed and more about really addressing the initiatives that were on the backburner in favor of whatever the day’s priorities were before COVID. All of the hypotheticals started coming to fruition and the projects on the backburner became the priority.
Instead of focusing on what should have been done, we as an industry have to move forward. At Convey, we focus on last-mile visibility and the delivery experience, so when it comes to tackling the myriad of challenges we have to address, there are really three areas that come to mind:
- Carrier diversity
- Predictive insights
- Customer experience
Instead of focusing on what should have been done, we as an industry have to move forward.
For any type of shipper, carrier diversity should be a priority to develop a strong delivery ecosystem. Just as retailers think about diversifying their supplier network, they need to diversify their carrier network. It gives them a huge advantage when there are capacity constraints, and unexpected surcharges during peaks or other catastrophic events.
Predictive insights go beyond simple visibility. Do you have artificial intelligence to help you predict supply chain slowdowns? Can you use your own supply chain data to better predict what will happen? The data is out there, they just need a means to consume it so they can act faster.
And then with eCommerce, the customer experience is so critical. At a time when that channel is exploding, it’s also time to double down on that experience—ensuring you can make, and most importantly keep, a delivery promise to your customers every step of the way.
Has the importance of customer experience increased?
The new delivery offerings are one thing that I think is amazing—more curb-side, more same-day, and those types of buying and delivery experiences.
As consumers, we’ve become so accustomed to fast delivery that managing the delays on a personal-level can be challenging. We’re all sitting at home and adjusting to this new, hopefully somewhat temporary, way of life. There isn’t a lot to do, so sitting and waiting for delayed deliveries feels even longer. Even though we know there's a pandemic happening, we just aren’t used to having to wait.
So, there’s added pressure on retailers to communicate really well with customers around delivery status. And this proactive communication can cut down drastically on those expensive “Where Is My Order” (WISMO) calls.
But, a lot of retailers selling online really struggle with that part of the customer experience because all of the data you need to provide last-mile delivery information lives across disparate systems in the OMS, WMS, TMS, CRM, or whatever three-letter acronym that your system has. To combine all that data to get accurate information to your customer is really challenging, but it's required for the eCommerce experience today.
Basically, customer experience all comes down to how you manage your data.
You have to have some type of data warehouse, a single source that can pull normalize and make sense of all of this data. To do that, you need a platform and you can either build it yourself, or use a third party. But there are platforms that will aggregate this data so you can see it clearly.
These complexities are often why customers don't diversify their carrier mix because it's just much easier to have one stream of data to manage. There’s only one place to go and look and if you have a question, it’s much simpler to collaborate. But, that’s not going to help you optimize your transit times or quality of experience. In that scenario, you can’t save time and resources or mitigate risk.
But when you have multiple carriers, and also one place to manage the data, then it becomes actionable and you can diversify. Then it’s easier to optimize operations AND provide a seamless customer experience. Basically, customer experience all comes down to how you manage your data.
Does customer loyalty exist during a pandemic?
Yes, but it’s weakened. Consumers have been more forgiving, but when you think about these essential items, there are a lot of options. They aren’t really unique to one retailer. So there are companies that are acquiring new customers because other retailers just can’t meet the demands.
That’s the primary reason I chose to try BOPIS at Target. There wasn’t a clear delivery promise on what I wanted from Amazon, but I could go pick up what I needed at Target the next day. From that experience, I was reminded how well Target handles the customer experience and how far they’ve come in developing that across online and in-store retail. They may have just stolen me as a customer from Amazon.
So, in times like these, speed and customer experience matter. Amazon is great for getting things to me quickly, normally, but it doesn’t provide a great post-purchase experience, especially when things go wrong. It’s impossible to contact someone to help, and that can be really difficult during times like these. Other retailers are more proficient in this particular area and the pandemic is giving shoppers an opportunity to rediscover them.
Does there need to be a human element in eCommerce?
Absolutely. You’re already asking someone to search a human-less website to buy your products, so there should be some kind of relatability factor. It can’t all be transactional. Relatability can come through in so many ways: Branding, chat features, customer service centers. Even having more playful commercials. There are ways to be more human online.
There are ways to be more human online.
We see this executed through last-mile communication a lot—in emails and SMS messages. Retailers and brands are using a more conversational tone, so even if you know it’s a mass email or text, it sounds like a human wrote it. And even that’s important.
Why is communication so important?
There’s a statistics that states 70% of shoppers are less likely to return if order delays are not communicated. 70%. That’s a huge number.
In eCommerce and last-mile delivery, it used to be that you packaged up your outbound orders, FedEx or some carrier would pick it up, and then you wiped your hands of it. But when an online purchase is made, customers don’t blame the carrier for a package arriving late, they blame the retailer. When things don’t go right, shoppers lose trust in the brand, which creates customer churn.
70% of shoppers are less likely to return if order delays are not communicated.
Brands have to take responsibility for every step in that last-mile of delivery. Adhering to the delivery promise is key. And, that’s not always about speed either—it’s about providing accurate information.
Convey recently put out a survey where we found that 94% of shoppers are willing to give retailers more time to deliver their order, but 99% expect to be notified of a delay. It just goes to show how important it is to set customer expectations, and how that can even surpass speed in a lot of cases.
Customers don’t blame the carrier for a package arriving late, they blame the retailer.
Again, being able to track every package across a diversified network of carriers, let alone your operations upstream, can get complex really quickly. There are different origins and services levels to consider. Managing all of that information and then being able to communicate it to customers just can’t be done without the right technology.
What’s top of mind for your customers?
With so much uncertainty, there are so many areas that need attention. A lot of our customers do come to us about enhancing the tone of customer communications, or seeing what options are out there to create a better customer experience across communication channels.
Another area does come down to the data and deriving insights from the data they have. A lot of carriers don’t give you the data you need, so it’s navigating that fact and helping our customers find the best solution.
Those are the two areas in which we can really make a difference, but both come down to reducing customer confusion. Given all the uncertainty we currently face as a society, building trust through clear and accurate communication can go a long way. We all just need a little reassurance sometimes.
Any predictions around Q4 peak?
There’s still so much uncertainty around what will happen for peak. Most people have a whole year to plan for peak, but not this year.
We’ve seen a lot more businesses get creative. As a founder, I get excited to see these older, more established businesses acting like startups—getting a little scrappy and more creative. With the red tape removed, decisions can be made faster and it becomes possible to innovate quickly.
With the red tape removed, decisions can be made faster and it becomes possible to innovate quickly.
But amidst all of the uncertainty there are three things supply chain leaders should be thinking about:
- Rethink your store space. With a reduction in foot traffic, how else can that space be used given a second wave hits and retail doors are shut again? We’re hearing a lot about these “dark stores” and turning a store into an automated, hyper-local fulfillment center to get items to shoppers quickly. These types of operations include the BOPIS and curbside pickups. It’s about optionality: options you can give your customers, and also the options you have to utilize resources differently.
- Look at your data. Every business has a level of data. Combining that with real-time insights can help alleviate last-mile bottlenecks that will probably come your way during the busiest time of the year.
- Communicate. I sound like a broken record, but it’s so critical to provide the right delivery estimates when shoppers are buying from you. You must keep the promise you make and build empathy into the customer relationship. That isn’t just about having the right technology to calculate delivery promise, it’s also about training your teams to support customers given everything that’s going on.
About Jenny Bebout
CO-FOUNDER & DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT
With a BFA from Kansas State University, over fifteen years of UX and entrepreneurial experience, Jenny has done everything from interactive design and engineering to strategic marketing to SaaS product building.
As a co-founder of Convey, Jenny became an alumna of Techstars in 2014. Since day one, she has a track record for using her product and design skills to deliver a top-notch customer experience, defining product vision and strategy for the company.
It’s no surprise that Jenny’s setting the world on fire has given her a love of fireworks, campfires, candles, and BBQs. You can also find her paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake and going on adventures with her husband, Dan.
At Convey, we believe the world’s supply chains need reinvention. As channels, carrier networks, and consumer demands become increasingly complicated, pressure is mounting for logistics and operations teams to become more dynamic, agile, and customer-centric.
Our cloud-based platform connects disparate data and processes, giving shippers better visibility to make smart decisions, and the tools to take action.
From parcel to freight, and first to final mile, Convey helps the world’s largest brands reduce costs, improve visibility and transform transportation into their next competitive advantage. Founded in 2013, Convey is based in Austin, Texas.