The one real differentiator today is the speed with which you can deliver and respond to client needs. Are you prepared?
By Andy Cohen for ASI Central
As a customer, you don’t realize how conditioned you’ve become to order-fulfillment expectations until something doesn’t meet those expectations.
I was recently having work done in my kitchen, and let’s just say that one of those frustrating experiences came my way. The problem in question happened with Lowe’s, the big-box home-improvement retailer. Trying to purchase handles and knobs for new cabinets, my wife and I researched options on its website, found ones we liked, and then walked into a local Lowe’s to purchase them. Not so fast. While there were hundreds of choices on the website, the actual store had only three shelves worth of options and certainly not the ones that we had identified. “Oh, the store only has some of what the website has,” one rather unhelpful employee told us when we inquired about the SKU we were looking for.
So, we went home and pulled up the website again to order the knobs from there – only to find that they could be delivered to us two weeks later. Say what? What consumer product takes two weeks to deliver these days?
The website presented another option: Order the knobs online and pick them up in the same Lowe’s we just walked out of. Those could be delivered within a week instead of two weeks, the site said. So. Many. Questions.
The first: How can a retail website deliver products in half the time to a store three miles from my home instead of direct to my house? Sure, I can imagine the answers include bulk deliveries to a store, but this isn’t mass inventory being moved. Anyway, we chose that option because of the relative speed – and proceeded to get no updates along the way about when exactly the order would show up at the store. On the specified date, we called, and voilà, the box was in the store. We didn’t get an email or notification to let us know – we had to actually call and reach a human being to find out the status. My contractor’s spot-on question: “Why didn’t you just order from Amazon?”
Indeed, many of us are accustomed to receiving products through Amazon and other consumer-goods retailers within 48 hours, to receive multiple updates along the way, and to be able to access information about the status of an order at any time. Your customers are doing the same thing these days. If they can order promotional products in an easy way, get updates on the order throughout the fulfillment and delivery process, and receive the goods quicker than they ever could have before, then that’s the vendor they’re going to purchase from.
Providing that kind of order experience is imperative today, and those that don’t are getting close to being left behind. All companies in this industry – distributors and suppliers – must quicken the pace of fulfillment and delivery. But, maybe more importantly, distributors need to ramp up their communication to customers throughout the whole process – and it’s best if that enhanced communication can be automated and easily accessible by customers on their own.
This is the key to success as customer buying habits change and even more consumers, like me, become conditioned by the Amazon model in both their personal and professional lives. As a fulfillment business, the time to adapt is now.