Laura Ritchey, EVP and COO at Radial talks about the aspects that eCommerce brands should keep in mind to build better customer shopping journeys:
Welcome to this MarTech Series chat, Laura, tell us about yourself and more about your role at Radial…what’s a typical day at work like?
I started my career in public accounting as one of the law school graduates the firms were adding to develop and grow their tax consulting practice. If you asked me back then where I might be today, I would have seen myself as a partner leading the tax practice at Arthur Andersen. Instead, I have had an amazing career journey that has taken me across departments including treasury, new concept development, strategy, sourcing and logistics, retail inventory planning, digital and IT at companies that were publicly traded and private equity backed.
In my current role as COO at Radial, I am able to leverage all of this knowledge and my experience working in various functions to partner with our clients, many of whom are focused on the retail space, and our business delivering eCommerce solutions. We deliver those solutions through order management, fulfillment, transportation and customer care supporting the customer throughout the order lifecycle, so it is a great fit!
I am a lifelong learner. I enjoy the opportunity to see our business evolve with the introduction of new automation and technologies as well as exploring how we can better leverage data for our clients and improve our business performance. As a leader, I am passionate about developing and sponsoring talent that reflects the diversity of our business in an inclusive and equitable way.
A typical day in my role would include meetings with clients – especially as we are preparing for peak – project reviews to ensure we are on track and remove barriers, and touch bases with leaders across all levels of the organization to support efforts on key priorities. While not always typical, my favorite day is when I am spending time with our teams on the floor of our fulfillment centers or virtually with customer care agents. Their dedication to delivering for our clients and creating a great place to work is my inspiration.
What are some of the latest eCommerce trends (from the buyer and seller point of view) that you’ve been observing across markets that you’d like to highlight?
For the last three years, Radial has hosted a consumer survey to help brands understand expectations ahead of the holiday shopping rush, and we have recent data that speaks to this directly. Shoppers are back to pre-pandemic delivery expectations, while only 14% of them expected holiday eCommerce orders to reach them in two days in 2020 (during the height of the pandemic), that number has jumped to 33% in 2022. Brands in turn must prioritize streamlining their order fulfillment and transportation operations, and automating where they can, to meet this customer expectation.
The findings also show that nearly half of all shoppers plan to begin their holiday shopping before Black Friday, so it’s paramount that brands are already prepared with product availability for peak season. Technology and automation can be beneficial to understand demand fluctuations that come with this time of year to help manage inventory levels and avoid out-of-stock issues. These were top pain points for shoppers last year with 66% experiencing items being out of stock and 40% noting that last year they did not receive items in time for the holidays.
One way to avoid shopper disappointment is to set expectations around delivery timelines and provide frequent status updates. Over the last two years, many brands started adding messaging to their webstores about possible delivery delays and, with continued supply chain sourcing delays, labor shortages and capacity constraints on delivery, these messages have remained on most websites and are being relayed to many customers via emails. Throughout the peak window, messages can be updated frequently to let customers know when they may see a delay as well as the duration of that delay.
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When it comes to optimizing the whole eCommerce journey, what do you feel brands need to dig into and improve more on to stand out?
The number one priority for most customers is convenience. That typically translates into getting the product they want, when and how they want it. The best way to ensure brands and retailers do not lose customers is to be in-stock on the favorite items that a business sells. Narrowing the assortment to focus on key items is a strategic imperative and has the benefit of improving profit margins. With the increase in eCommerce spending, it has been tempting to believe in the “endless aisle” and to broaden product assortments and adjacencies. Given that sales typically follow the 80/20 rule, brands and retailers should focus on the top SKUs that deliver 80% of the sales and improve their supply chains to keep those items in stock. This strategy will preserve the most loyal and typically high-value customers while driving better overall financial health.
Another layer is getting those orders to customers and doing so in the most convenient way possible for them. The Radial 2022 Peak Consumer Survey revealed that 33% of consumers plan to use buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) options while 30% plan to leverage buy online, pickup curbside (BOPAC). These options were popularized during the height of the pandemic, but they’re clearly here to stay. Brands should be also cognizant of supply chain delays and staffing shortages as they navigate the complexities that come with managing online order fulfillment and in-store customer shopping inventory needs.
Can you talk about some of the most innovative ways in which you’ve seen leading brands drive eCommerce impact with newer tech innovations?
The customer experience is always top of mind across brands and retailers. That has resulted in a focus on improving navigation on webstores, reducing the number of clicks to check out and adding alternate payment options including deferred payment. While these innovations seem standard now, many have been introduced within the last three years. Despite this investment in the pre-purchase and purchase experience, innovations have lagged in post-purchase, particularly in fulfillment. That is changing now with the acceleration of demand experienced in the pandemic and the increasing supply chain costs. The return on investment in automation makes sense against the prospects of higher labor costs and labor availability, so many are deploying robotics. The technology integration between the robots and a typical warehouse management system is evolving and many companies are racing to fill that void. Ecommerce returns remain a pain point for many retailers, and solutions to provide both ease of the physical return as well as crediting the customer while avoiding fraud are still developing. This is made even more difficult when retailers enable returns to stores in addition to shipping the package back to the fulfillment center. It’s an exciting time to be in the supply chain.
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A few thoughts for marketers in eCommerce to keep in mind?
It will be paramount for marketers to understand what is important to their customers. Sustainability has become an important topic for all of us, both from a social impact perspective and as a business imperative. However, we should not assume that all customers will equally value sustainability efforts. A segmented approach that considers differing customer values will ensure success. For example, some customers would prefer being offered sustainable options such as recycled packaging or slower delivery to avoid the use of air freight while others may not. In addition, when brands make these commitments, they should consider the feasibility of executing these options in the supply chain and appreciate the financial implications to avoid unexpected outcomes.
The accelerated evolution of eCommerce requires us to move even more quickly than the typically fast-paced nature of retail. Adopting a “test and learn” approach will enable marketers to try new things in a controlled way and then roll out those successful experiments. As an example, some brands have started to insert handwritten notes from the associate who packed the products in their order for shipping. Will this create more emotional connection to the brand? If it does, will the lifetime customer value increase justify the incremental expense of this addition? It is too soon to tell, but it is an interesting idea that is now being more widely tested by retailers.
Some last thoughts on the future of martech and B2B marketing?
Like nearly all industries, we are seeing how data rules. Omnichannel management order systems are being used more widely to help meet revenue targets and set customer expectations with near real-time information. MarTech and B2B marketing teams are able to share insights that matter with organizational leaders and customers much faster than ever before, which builds trust and loyalty among key stakeholders.
Automation will also continue to be a driver for successful brands. Both on the order fulfillment side and in customer care, automation will help streamline and efficiently deliver on consumer expectations. Brands are looking for partners who can improve their customer experience and create brand loyalty. Effective marketing of this value proposition will differentiate brands from others and attract new customers.
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