Customer behaviour has changed in the post-pandemic world and today, depending on what customers expect from a brand they are shopping from, the brand or the retailer is changing his strategy of doing business. It is all about putting the right supply chain forward, inclusive of a good last-mile fulfilment device. Experts in the field share some insights with us on the growing importance of CX in last-mile fulfilment.

When COVID-19 hit, digitalisation became a buzzword and every business in the sector began to adapt to the digital way. Post its being declared a pandemic, brick-and-mortar retailers closed their stores due to the many curbs and took the omnichannel-way of doing business. Along with all other functions, the supply chain, too, adopted digital technologies to give a better experience to the customer. Today, with customers viewing same-day deliveries as a necessity rather than a privilege and their buying behaviour having changed drastically, the supply chain is emerging as a crucial factor to enhancing the customer experience (CX) and driving heavy sales for retailers. 

At a session (powered by Shiprocket) hosted during the recently-concluded Phygital Retail Convention at Renaissance Hotel, Mumbai on the 10th and 11th of November, panellists further deliberated on the importance of ‘last-mile’ in today’s dynamic business environment. 

CX and the Supply Chain

Customer experience doesn’t end after placing an order; the post-purchase behaviour also depends on other factors like creating a great design experience or a great delivery experience, among others. Sharing his view, Ranjan Sharma, CIO and Head of Supply Chain, Captive eCommerce & Quality Assurance, Bestseller India, said, “One of the key things to retain a customer and make them keep coming back and buying from us is the last-mile, post-purchase experience. We can beautifully discover all pre-purchase experiences – they are all durable – but in the post-purchase experience, there are so many players contributing that make it more complex. And, if any brand is able to achieve that, then they can retain the customer for life.” 

Not only retailers, shopping centres, too, feel the need for upping the customer experience in today’s time and age. Anil Menon, Head of IT, Lulu Group, India, said, “That’s one point which can’t be missed. Supply chain is key, but right now there are many elements that are running around customer experience. Earlier, when you talked about customer experience, the question raised was – is marketing doing a good job? But, now, people have realised where the supply chain is in this whole circle of customer experience.” He believes that both supply chain and IT have now become one and equally contribute to the last mile. The pandemic has made businesses realise that the supply chain is the backbone of the customer experience. 

Sharing his view, Anurag Saxena, CIO, Biba, spoke about supply chain enhancing the customer experience during the journey of the brand from inception and having begun as a departmental store to now being an independent brand. He said, “We started our digital journey in 2014 and introduced the e-commerce platform. While identifying the right platforms for our digital journey, we also stimulated the supply chain part of the journey. For our brand, it was difficult initially as customers were experiencing late deliveries. But, after three years, we improved and identified the right partners and we can now deliver in 24 hours. And, through this, we can give personalised attention to the customers. We have also launched a luxury section at our flagship stores to ensure that our customers get a good, rich experience. We identify their purchase history, suggest options to them. So, as far as our regular customers are concerned, I think they are very satisfied with us. But, again, challenges are always there.”

Pandemic-induced Supply Metrics

The pandemic forced brands to adopt an omnichannel approach because customers needed everything with just one click. Digital innovations such as IoT, Machine Learning, Blockchain, warehouse automation and Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) have leveraged the supply chain to take a digital route. But, some companies that debuted digitally understood the importance of physical stores as well in making the customer experience better through a phygital approach. Prashant Bokil, CTO, Being Human, speaking about the journey of the brand, said, “During the pandemic, we had made the transition and it was very difficult for us to complete all the things in one place. Also, when we started the transition, we were not ready with our website. That was one part of it. If we talk about last mile, we faced many issues there. We’re still learning and making it accurate.” 

From a logistics company’s perspective, supply chain and IT are two functions that go hand in hand. Atul Mehta, COO, Shiprocket, said, “To me, it is a delivery experience and it is as important as customer experience. Auditing the metrics and giving world-class post-delivery experience is super-critical.” Speaking about Shiprocket’s partner brands, he added, “Brands now want to tell customers how the goods can move faster, when they are going to be delivered, predictability, etc. Initially, as a brand, you want your goods to be delivered but when you scale up, the brand understands that they want their customers to come back. But, while growing, they see the analytics and understand if the customer is coming back or not.” 

Gurukeerthi Gurunathan, Co-Founder & CTO, Caratlane, talked about their experience of supply chain when they started digitally and then decided to go the offline route as well. “It’s very important for us because people buy our products for gifting; about 60 per cent of our operational orders were for gifting purposes. So, there is a lot of emotion attached to every order. It’s not about the commodity or its utility, but about a relationship and building trust. So, if you spoil that particular experience, you are actually damaging the brand’s reputation for two people – the person who is gifting it as well as the receiver. It is critical for us to stay on track with delivering the right experience. We go to an extent in which we can book a flight to deliver the order at the right time; we don’t leave it to last-mile partners,” he said.

Changes in the Customer Behaviour 

The pandemic has led brands to make customer delight digital and meet their expectations head-on to gain more traction and attract higher engagement, thus leading to more conversions. So, what do the customers want? They’re now shifting to more value-based shopping. Sharing his view, Manoj Patel, CIO, House of Anita Dongre, said, “The idea or concept of customer experience in supply chain were already there when we all were starting our business, but now these concepts have become more prominent. Previously, it was more in-store, but now it is going to the end-customer. Customer expectations have however altered over the years and today, you need to be transparent with customers and tell them if you are going to deliver to them in two days, three or more, or if it’s not getting delivered, inform them so. It makes the customer happy and they are more open to trusting you. If your customer is happy, your business will automatically grow.” 

Menon said that with customer expectations increasing, brands needs to think one step ahead of the customer. Every organisation has now started looking internally, as one. He added, “The digital experience that we are offering has to be taken to the next level. But, how do you take it up? Obviously, by cutting out the edges and making it finer for a customer and also making sure that you bring a feature which is unique to your brand and your customer, making all the difference.” 

Gurunathan added that at Caratlane, they create clusters of pin codes depending on where the product is located or available. “As we have a dynamic network, we actually fulfil orders from various showrooms, too. So, the product is not sitting in a particular warehouse. If an order gets placed on any of the online mediums, the order gets blocked from that physical storeroom. There are various other conditions that come into play, too,” he explained. 

Impressive TAT

In a hyper-competitive business world, every company wants to deliver its goods as early as possible. Online retailers have been driven by customer expectations to provide faster, on-time delivery in order to remain competitive. Speaking about average delivery turnaround time, Gurunathan said, “It actually depends on the type of product. For example, a platinum product takes much longer to deliver, anywhere between 3-12 days. In fact, it also depends on various other factors. Usually, we do it in a matter of a few hours if the order is in that particular location and we’re able to commit to it. So, a lot of times, we have fast & express deliveries; that happens in a particular region. Otherwise, given a range, in terms of jewellery, people are willing to wait because these are products that are handcrafted.”

To this, Mehta, speaking from the perspective of a logistics company, said, “I think, for us, the journey started off at 3 to 5 or 7 days, and then we quickly realised basis the feedback we were receiving that the customers want us to be more precise. So, as a brand, if you are using a Shiprocket platform for logistics, then we can capture the pin code of the customer as well as the location of the inventory of a particular product. We know the SLA of different courier partners and how long it is going to take, hence, we can tell customers on the website that they can order in these many minutes and it will get delivered in 3 days. Fundamentally, what we do is because we have that information, but what is important is how we’re leveraging technology upstream in making it a part of delivery.” 

Sharma added that there were multiple ways and multiple services they could provide. “For customers who want the products within a few hours, we’re building that service for them if we have a store in that vicinity. Omnichannel is making that available, dark stores are making that available, chains of stores with partners are making that available. We’re expanding it to Tier-II and III cities with a lot of franchise channels,” he said. In fact, he added that what is important is that they’re not dependent on a few distribution centres alone, which used to be the case earlier. “And that’s what is making it possible for us to deliver in a few hours or a few days, and the customer will be able to decide where and how they want it to be delivered,” shared Sharma.  

Sharing his view, Satish Panchapakesan, Sr. Vice-President and Chief Information Officer, Arvind Fashions, said, “The first one is inventory discoverability where we have a localised pin code view of a particular order and we decide on serviceability or we decide on a seller who’s best suited to actually service the product. Now we’ve gone to a slightly deeper view in terms of ‘can my brand actually get that particular pin code serviced through an alternate store’ by doing an inter-store transfer to ensure that the brand doesn’t lose the customer for that particular inventory not discovered by that store. But, we could actually use agile system practices in terms of how we are configured to bring in a hierarchy system and then bring the inventory quickly to a point where it can do the last mile.”

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