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Discover the First Mile

By Ruben Martin, Co-Founder &CTO/COO, Quivers


Ruben Martin, Co-Founder &CTO/COO, Quivers

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” – Arthur Ashe.  These words are regularly used as motivation for people who are striving to be the best, whether it’s in sports, business, or relationships.  This also ring true for commerce, particularly in the aspect of customer experience that can make or break a long-term relationship.

In recent years, many “last mile” solutions have come onto the market, focusing their attention on getting products into the hands of customers faster, easier, cheaper and with less hiccups along the way.  The core idea is that if the customer can see a product and get that product in their hands within a small amount of time, the customer will be satisfiedand there may be cost savings for all.  However, is receiving the product as important as getting the product that meets the customer’s needs while taking the customer along a compelling journey?

Apple has all but perfected the buying environment, from simplified and clean web interfaces to stores that are beyond the norm, particularly for the tech industry.  Their goal is that a customer leaves with an Apple product in their hands and an amazing experience from the time they first hear about Apple (those heart-touching billboards) to the welcoming Apple team to the boxes that are perfectly put together.  Yet, in recent months, the confidence in Apple has waned due to slowing sales and an unknown future of mega-products like the iPhone.  So what’s missing?

"The commerce model is ready to be flipped on its head and have sellers accommodate buyers, not vice versa"

As anyone in retail knows, one of the key areas to sales is listening: listening to the customer’s needs, desires, complaints and challenges.  Listening allows us to hone in exactly what the customer is trying to tell us and take our product knowledge to ensure a (hopefully) perfect match so the customer walks away satisfied.  However, listening relies on the customer telling us information that is relevant in the current situation and not necessarily what is core to their need.  So what’s the next step beyond listening?

The answer is not just doing, offering and listening, it’s understanding:  understanding the customer’s background, their long-term goals, their relationships and most importantly, their intent.  For example, listening to a customer might result in finding that they need a black dress in size medium to be delivered to their house by Thursday.  That leaves the retailer in a position to offer limited options, other than listening to those detailed “commands” from the customer.  However, understanding the customer’s intent may mean that we know the customer is going to a corporate event in the city next Thursday where she will be accepting a leadership award.  After the event, she will be going out to a party to enjoy the rest of the evening.  That changes what the retailer may suggest and how they get the best product to the customer.

There are several companies that are tackling the challenge of intent including Uber (I need to get from A to B) and TaskRabbit (I need to have work completed).  However, when it comes to product-based commerce, few companies have made large headway of truly understanding intent.  There are solutions that focus on tracking customer interactions on the web/in-store and use those details to offer promotions, products, etc.  This tracking can be both invasive to the customer and lead to false-negatives; just because I visited a snowboard site does not mean my intent is to buy a snowboard.

A regarded American journalist and friend of mine, David “Doc” Searls, wrote an inspirational book called “The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge”.  In the book, Doc talks about how the “Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers”.  The commerce model is ready to be flipped on its head and have sellers accommodate buyers, not vice versa.  Omni-channel, mobile, remarketing, and various other hot topics may be part of the solution since they make up the commerce eco-system, but they are only tools not the full answer.

In a world where commerce solutions are becoming easier to access, implement, and integrate, the business and IT core focus should be to better understand our customers, whether it’s through technology or simply asking the question.  This may not solve every problem in retail, but it will certainly give businesses a way to differentiate and create an amazing customer experience.

The next evolution of commerce is all about going beyond listening, it is about understanding intent and using those details to help specific customers get the exact product they need in the time they need it.  So instead of focusing heavily on the “last mile”, let’s begin with understanding why they took the first step.

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