Image of Foc Phillip Akhzar Great Time To Be Customer

Future of Commerce

It's a Great Time to Be a Customer

Phillip Akhzar, CEO and Founder, Arka

Retail isn’t dead, but bad retail is. That’s good news for people who buy things. We are currently seeing major upgrades to the retail customer’s experience. What might have worked even five or ten years ago looks very stale compared to what works today.

Take the mall, for example. If you go to one now, it’s a lot emptier than it used to be. That wasn’t exactly by design, but it’s taught us something valuable: it’s a lot more pleasant and convenient to shop without the crowds.

The rise of eCommerce has given us, as shoppers, options. There’s rarely a common incentive that will get us to spend an afternoon at the mall, browsing the racks. Even when there’s a major sales event, most people don’t want to wait and stand in line to fight with other people for the big discounts. We’d rather have email notifications about promotions and the click of a button. Smart retailers know this, and are working hard to give us better options—both in the store and online.

Understanding those options starts by putting themselves in our shoes—a seemingly easy thing to do since everyone is a consumer. And, because going to a store isn’t our only option anymore, retailers really need to know their audience and give them a good reason to swing by. Retailers have to know and appeal to our individual preferences.

Give me a good reason to shop with you

Why should I leave my house or make a special trip to purchase something at your store? Why should I buy your product on your website when I can search for it and possibly find it cheaper? Retailers and brands that want the sale need to make the in-store and online experience simpler, personalized, and differentiated. They need to connect with their shoppers—more so than ever before.

Apple was one of the first retailers to figure this out. It completely dismantled the old concept of ordinary and average, giving every customer an opportunity to get personal, expert service in a predictable way. And the products are cool.

That once-unprecedented experience is now the standard. Shoppers expect to be treated better—they want a differentiated level of service—and retailers that can’t deliver will cease to exist.

We want email notifications and the click of a button.

Even now, years after the Apple store opened, we still have a reason to go—and hopefully it isn’t to fix a broken device. What Apple cracked is a way to create an online and in-store experience that’s interesting, informational, and helpful; the seamless, mobile checkout experiences and delivery options are just pieces of the experience—not the crux.

Unfortunately, there’s really no roadmap for where we go from here. Retail isn’t one-size-fits- all. Not every retailer or brand can or should adopt what Apple did.

There are, however, a lot of “experts” out there who recommend new strategies—some of which are working—but, as it turns out, there’s no bigger expert than everyday customers.

They are the judge and jury; the ones who will be voting for your products and your offers with their dollars, or maybe even BitCoin, depending on how far out we want to look.

Stand the test of time

Understanding customer demands and how to thrive in today’s uncertainty requires a lot of trial and error. There will be continuous failures as companies attempt to grok and ultimately dominate today's consumer market. Those failures will eventually serve as stepping stones to get us to the right answers.

We’ve seen this before. Pets.com got huge recognition and spent millions on advertising, but it was unable to make a profit while paying so little for goods and absorbing logistics costs. It’s domain, Pets.com, still redirects to PetSmart today—17 years later. Webvan, an online grocery service ahead of its time, tried to grow too quickly and eventually filed for bankruptcy and was absorbed by Amazon.

Retail isn’t one-size-fits-all. Not every retailer or brand can or should adopt what Apple did.

People were very excited about those early dot-com providers, but today we can look back and see that many of them didn’t consider the bigger picture or know enough about their market to survive. In five years, we are going to look back on what we’re seeing today and say the same thing.

The power dynamic is shifting away from big brands to the individual customer. Until now, retail was pretty homogenized; a lot like fast food. Today, even at fast food chains, we expect local, organic ingredients, with relentless service improvements. We want stores to pull out all the stops to deliver something that truly satisfies our individual tastes.

Make the case for loyalty

We could talk about this all day. We all know that it’s five times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain one, and that first impressions are everything. Whether you’re an omnichannel retailer with both physical and online storefronts, or a pure-play eCommerce retailer, instilling value in a customer’s first purchase could make or break their willingness to shop with you again.

The devil is in the details. From the story you tell on their social feeds to their experience on your website to the packaging they open when they get their order—it’s all interconnected and makes up your brand. At Arka, we focus on the final interaction of eCommerce: the physical one—the moment your customer opens their package. It’s such a critical point.

The power dynamic is shifting away from big brands to the individual customers.

We make it simple for our customers to customize their packaging and create a differentiated experience at that critical moment—helping retailers tell that final point of their story and turn customers into loyal ones.

Today, there is a lot of pressure on retailers to get everything right, but the next few years will be about testing and iterating on solutions that work for your businesses and your customers.

It’s a great time to be a customer, but also an exciting time to be a retailer. If we keep working as hard as we are, we’re going to not only meet customer demands, but exceed them. We aren’t fully there yet, but I'm really excited to see what it's going to look like when we do.

It’s a great time to be a customer, but also an exciting time to be a retailer.

Tell us More

What’s one piece of advice you’d give that you’d follow?
Retail, eCommerce, or Social Media. The advice stays the same: "talk to your users."

What’s something we, as an industry, aren’t talking about that we should be?
Tracking. Standardizing software to keep systems from different locations

What’s a product that you buy online, but thought you never would?
All of my groceries.

What’s a product that you don’t think you’ll ever buy online?
Nothing.

You’re a new addition to a crayon box. What color are you?
Pink! After Crayola had the original 8 colors, they added pink in the 1930s. This opened up the floodgates to what ended up being over 120. I’d like to think we’re opening the floodgates to eCommerce now.

Image of Phillipakhzar

Phillip Akhzar

CEO and Founder | Arka

Phillip Akhzar is a YC and 500 startups alumnus and the founder of Arka. A bay-area native, he moved south to San Luis Obispo to study Industrial Engineering at Cal Poly. Phillip worked at Boeing and Silicon Valley startups like iCracked before starting his own companies.