Stephan Schambach

In the U.S., some coffee shops let customers place an order from their smartphone before entering the store, and when they arrive it’s ready for pickup. No waiting in line, payment has already been taken care of and your order is ready when you want it. It’s the new, modern-day customer experience.

The same concept now applies to retail stores through curbside pickup programs, and Amazon is putting some skin in the game. A few months ago it announced Instant Pickup, and it will be interesting to see how this changes the holiday shopping game.

The paradox of Amazon is that it has strived to be number one in convenience, but it’s missing half of the equation — a physical place for consumers to visit and engage with the brand. More than 90 percent of commerce is still happening in stores, because people crave live experiences. Not to mention that during the holiday season, e-commerce sales have increased but brick and mortar is still bustling. Instant Pickup is an interesting take on “the last mile” concept, that crucial distance that completes the transaction between vendor and customer. But as successful as it is, Amazon is a virtual vending machine. And now they have actual vending machines.

Amazon has always conveniently dispensed and delivered products without human intervention. Even now, its version of buy online/pickup in-store bypasses personal interaction. This puts Amazon alongside a shortlist of brands; our Mobile Retail Report found that only 18 percent of retailers offer BOPIS. Ironically, these brands are trying to meet (and beat) the customer expectations Amazon has ingeniously cultivated.

Instant Pickup has strengths, but also limitations. First, there’s the customer’s perspective. Amazon does not provide sales associates who understand and love the brand and its products. Amazon merely responds to requests. Second, there’s the retailer’s perspective. Merchandise might see its hard-won brand fade substantially under the overpowering presence of Amazon’s influence.

Retailers can beat the holy grail of Amazon-driven customer expectations. How? By using mobile technology to offer what the e-commerce giant cannot — a personalized experience. It’s a mistake to think technology reduces the high-touch experience. In truth, technology can increase it, placing other sellers at the polar opposite of Amazon’s approach. Retail, after all, is theater. It’s a physical and emotional event organized for the satisfaction of each customer. The best real-world stores integrate the personal experience with the digital.

Fulfillment isn’t solely about the last mile. It’s another opportunity to delight the customer. So here’s the question, would you rather pick up an item in a store or from a vending machine?

Stephan Schambach is founder and chief executive officer of NewStore Inc.

For More Business News From WWD, See:

Amazon, Wal-Mart and Apple Top List of Biggest E-commerce Retailers

Consumer Preferences Reshaping Retail Landscape

As IoT Grows, AT&T Sees Broad Deployment of Connected Devices and Products

How Malls Can Satiate Consumer Desires for Experiences

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