Has Eliminating the Human Factor Backfired?

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By Bryon Morrison

We are living in the era of convenience. Companies, big or small, are making strides to facilitate customer demands, and Omni Channel Marketing is leading the way. From integrating customer data and marketing automation to predictive analytics and digital strategy, companies are fine tuning their process of making the entire spectrum of the shopping experience virtually effortless. With only a few clicks or taps, you can order flowers while stuck in traffic or purchase a new pair of heels during lunch hour. A lot of this convenience can easily be attributed to wiping out the human factor on the customer’s end.

In the long run, has eliminating the human factor backfired?

Let’s go back in time to the mid 90’s when approximately 15% of convenience stores started offering pay-at-the-pump. The time it took to put gas in your vehicle was drastically reduced because you no longer had to venture inside and wait in line to pay. Back then, this feature was monumental. By 2002, the percentage of convenience stores offering pay-at-the-pump jumped to over 80%.

The customer experience, as a whole, was more personalized, however, behind the scenes, something else was happening.

In-store sales were spiraling downward. The pay-at-the-pump feature eliminated the customer’s need to go into the store. The decline in customers resulted in lost sales. Since then, convenience stores have altered their approach and began offering perks. The most popular are the cash-only discounts. Pay with cash and your price per gallon of gas is cheaper than if you paid at the pump.

On a larger scale, in the past decade, online shopping has soared through the roof. The internet has revolutionized how we shop. Companies have the tools to win customers and grab their attention through personalized marketing campaigns. By integrating customer data, targeted ads are sent in real time. Without leaving our home, we can browse, compare prices, shop ‘round the clock, and make purchases. It’s like having all of the world’s malls at your fingertips.

However, with the spike of online shopping and eliminating the human factor, the impact on retailers has, at times, been challenging. While retailers have kept up with customer demands and trends, there was a noticeable decline in sales. Retailers were forced to take a few steps back and face these challenges head on.

Could retailers reintegrate the human factor without infringing on the convenience of online shopping? Is it possible to reap the benefits of Omni Channel personalization in its entirety by doing this? Yes. By collecting customer data and creating a 360 degree profiles, companies became aware their customers wanted choices.

For starters, retailers needed to take a close look at how customers defined convenience. For some, it was ordering online and opting for ship-to-home. However, a percentage of customers preferred the Buy Online Pick Up in Store option. Why pay for shipping and have to wait for delivery when you could pick up your order after work?

With this in mind, retailers began shifting strategies making it easier for customers to buy online and pick up in store. It didn’t take long for in-store traffic and sales to increase.

Retailers jumped on board and began accommodating this trend. Apple launched their Personal Pick Up Program. Walmart provided their customers with an extended selection of products available for same day pickup. Last year, Macy’s rolled out their Buy Online, Pick Up In Store program. A handful of retailers, including Nordstrom and Macy’s, added a feature that combines online and offline inventories to offer their customers a larger selection.

Across the board, these retailers have taken in-store pickup to the next level by offering designated parking spots for in-store pickup, email and text notifications when your order is ready, Friends and Family pickup, and apps to arrange for curbside pickup.

Where will be a decade from now? Omni Channel is already paving the way. For the most part, we can only speculate. As we advance and leap forward in personalizing the customer experience, redefining the term “convenience” and customer relationship management, it’s important to keep in mind that completely extracting the human factor isn’t always going to work. When all is said and done, it’s all about balance.

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