It might be depressing to think this with Labor Day right around the corner, but Christmas is right around the corner as well. And, for retailers, the holiday shopping season marks, by far, the busiest and most lucrative time of the year.
In an effort to help prepare retailers for the upcoming holiday shopping season, PYMNTS sat down with Narvar CEO and Founder Amit Sharma to get his take on just what retailers should be doing to prepare for this year’s holiday shopping season and some of the hurdles they might encounter as more and more business moves online and through mobile sales.
Sharma is a retail veteran with stints at Apple, Walmart and Williams-Sonoma, where he helped transform delivery and logistics into a critical part of the customer experience. He founded Narvar in 2013 as a software solution that retailers can use to provide customers with a great customer service experience “after a customer clicks buy.”
Today, Narvar is used by more than 300 retailers — including Gap, The Home Depot and Nordstrom — to engage with 65 million customers after they click the buy button.
PYMNTS: So, Amit, can you tell us a little bit about what service Narvar provides for retailers?
AS: If you think about how the eCommerce channel has evolved in the last 10 years, the last 20 years, it has been focused on demand generation or user acquisition.
However, there hasn’t been much focus on customer retention or customer loyalty. What happens when you click the buy button? That experience is often undersold and often ignored. And the irony is that where the online channel came about was all about convenience.
Think about Narvar as a full-stack shipping gateway that can drive seamless customer experiences when it comes to delivery or returns and provide all the optimization seamlessly to retailers.
PYMNTS: What curveballs do you see coming down the pike this holiday season that retailers might have to contend with?
AS: A lot more shopping is going to happen online. Black Friday and Cyber Monday will see bigger portions of online sales again this year. And when it comes to customer experiences, consumers will expect more visibility and transparency. Hopefully, national carriers are able to deliver on the promises that they are going to put out to customers.
Today’s consumers expect instant visibility, knowledge and gratification in every aspect of their lives. As real-time information and instant delivery become mainstream, brands must keep focus on fulfillment and returns as a place to engage customers rather than as a back-end function. Shoppers are both more excited and more stressed than usual during the holidays, so getting real-time information about where their purchases are is especially critical to avoid gifting disappointment.
If you think about, in the last 10 years, the only topic of conversation (for retailers) has been free and fast delivery. But returns are important, and that is often ignored.
What we’re seeing is that customers won’t even buy if you’re return policies are not clear or they’re not competitive. So, we see that as a big factor driving holiday sales this year.
PYMNTS: What might be different for retailers this holiday shopping season even compared to last year?
AS: You’ll continue to see retailers trying to leverage their assets — in particular, multichannel retailers.
How do you make sure that you maximize all the assets that you have available?
But there’s too much pressure on top line without retailers worrying about maintaining their margins. If you can’t drive sales up, at least try and maintain your margins.
PYMNTS: How important is the return experience for consumers when they are shopping online for gifts or products during the holiday shopping season?
AS: Not only does it attract more customers, but it retains more customers on an ongoing basis. If customers have that piece of mind, they’ll actually shop more.
Returns can be a huge pain point for consumers and retailers. It’s frequently a frustrating, complicated process accompanied by customer service phone trees, ugly emails and a trip to an overcrowded mall. Retailers feel the pain as well. It can cost double the amount for a product to be returned into the supply chain as it does to deliver it. When returns start pouring in, products are often routed to the least optimal location (warehouse/distribution center or vendor) and often using a freight type that’s more expensive than it should be. All this adds up to less cost efficiency for retailers as they attempt to balance their business operations with customer experience.
PYMNTS: What parting advice would you like to give to retailers as they gear up for the holiday shopping season this year?
AS: Thanks to technology, customers expect more proactive communication from retailers. If a package is going to be late, customers want to find out from the retailer what happened to the order that they placed so they can cancel it if they believe it won’t be delivered on time (for the holidays).
So, proactive, transparent communication is very important.
Transparency protects the brand’s reputation as well. Retailers must be prepared to deal with issues that are out of their control, like third-party carriers delivering packages late. To show customers you care, retailers should be transparent with customers by providing real-time updates.