Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Final 3 Feet Have Become The Most Important in The Supply Chain

We have talked about "the final 3 feet" before which is defined as the leg of the supply chain where product is brought from the back room to the shelves.  However, in this COVID-19 world, the final 3 feet have really become the final 5 feet as there is a building expectation that the store will bring the product to the car and put it in the trunk for your.  People do not necessarily want to go in the store.  My thesis is the stores which do this really well will win and they will beat Amazon.

So, I have done some of my own research as I have not been in a store for at least 1 month yet I have bought many things.  I have used either Amazon or I have used the buy on-line / curbside pick-up process and I can emphatically say that when the latter is done right, it is by far the best experience. The inverse is true however.  When it is done wrong it is such a pain and so frustrating I just will never go back.  Here are the elements of a great curbside pick-up process (This is NOT buy on line, pick up in store - BOPIS as I do not go into the store.  This is Buy On-Line, Deliver to my Car).  
  1. A seamless web presence which allows me to buy what is in inventory at the local store.  Take payment so there is a complete touchless process when I arrive at the store. 
  2. An alert process which tells me when the order is ready. 
  3. A tracking method, using my cell phone, which tells you when I am at the store and in the parking spot. 
  4. A well established location to park - good signage - easy to find. 
  5. A numbering system on the parking location to make it easy to find me. 
  6. A "through the window" confirmation process (Show ID, Scan email etc.)
  7. Associates put in the trunk. 
  8. Associates need to be the best customer service people and need to be in full PPE (Mask and gloves).  
While many stores have done a good job at this, I have yet to be in one which does it all extremely well.  Even the big box home stores have yet to tie all the inventory into the order system (if the store buys locally it is not in the web site) meaning I have to order some on line and some I call in. 

They almost all fail at the last two which is great customer service at the car.  Many stores (including the big ones) have sent people to my car without any PPE and they have leaned over to ask me a question.  The entire purpose of this drill is lost when that happens. 

      Surprisingly, the most sophisticated has been Shell gas station.  Here, of course, the issue is not going into a store but it is the extensive interaction you have to have with a dirty pump and they have eliminated virtually all of it.  Using the Shell app on my phone I follow the process below. 
      1. Open the Shell app and it knows I am at the station.  It asks me what pump number I am at. 
      2. It then asks me how much gas I want (From a fixed dollar amount to a "fill up). 
      3. I use Apple Pay on my phone to pay (Completely eliminates the "skimming" threat which is where a lot of credit card fraud occurs).
      4. The app activates the pump and all I have to do is put the nozzle in the car and select gas type.  
      They have solved a lot of issues by doing this and one at least (the skimming) was a pre-COVID 19 issue. 

      The lesson here is for all retailers:
      1. Invest heavily in the final 3-5 feet of your supply / value chain.  The rule used to be your mission was to get people through the threshold of the store.  But now a huge amount of customers will not want to cross the threshold no matter what.

      2. Technology is your friend - Use it aggressively and substitute in-store upgrades with technology upgrades. 

      3. Always think seamless.  If there is a spot the consumer is interrupted in this process fix it with technology. 

      4. Train your associates to forget their political views.  Give the customers what they want and they want to feel safe.  Masks, gloves and touchless processes do this. 

      5. Take mobile payments.  It is almost silly in this day and age that we, as a society,  are not close to 100% pay by smart phone / mobile payment.  Everything should be paid this way.  
      Technology is the "great equalizer" for the locally owned and operated stores.  If they embrace it and invest in it, the will beat Amazon.  Remember, Amazon can replicate just about everything except the things I described above.  GO AFTER WHAT THEY CANNOT DO!