Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it may be necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye. – Miss Piggy
From a customer's point of view, what is convenience?
Let's start with the basic premise that customers are looking for:
- Products they want
- Where they want it
- At a price they're willing to pay
To be sure, the era of online retailing ushered in by Amazon has moved the goal posts with regard to all 3 of those customer criteria. Traditional brick and mortar retailers have picked up the mantle and have actually (in my opinion) put Amazon at a bit of a disadvantage (for now) by offering customers the option to buy products online and pick them up in a nearby store.
But the experiences customers are looking for vary not only by customer, but also by the nature and reason for the transaction. In the last month, I have purchased products using the 3 most common delivery methods (buy online with home delivery, buy online and pick up in store, and kicking it old school by walking into a store, filling up the cart and checking out).
After reflecting on each of those experiences, I came to realize that, as a customer, I need different types of “convenience” in different situations and every shopping experience comes with positives and negatives.
Scenario 1: Buy Online with Home Delivery
The leather satchel that I've been using for years has started to get a little long in the tooth (2 zippers were broken and the shoulder strap was nearly ready to snap). As a consultant, I travel frequently with my laptop (along with all the accessories that go with it) and I thought that I would switch things up and go with a padded backpack instead.
I had a very specific set of needs and I wasn't in a huge rush to get it. However, I envisioned a scenario whereby I would have to visit multiple stores in order to find what I was looking for at a reasonable price. In this case (for me), Amazon was the answer.
I began with a search for “laptop backpacks”, got approximately 17 trillion results and started narrowing things down from there. Truth be told, the number of choices made shopping a less than pleasurable experience for me, as it took a fair amount of time to read descriptions, dimensions, features, etc. before I was able to come to a decision. But I feel that getting the exact product that I wanted from all available choices was worth the time and inconvenience of having to wait a couple days to get the product, while also not having to run all over creation hoping to find it on a shelf somewhere.
Scenario 2: Kickin' It Old School
Okay, I admit it – I enjoy grocery shopping. I always go with a list and I always come home with a few items that weren't on my list. I also come home without items that were on my list because the store was out of stock.
I'm not really much of an impulse shopper. More often than not, when I buy an item that's not on my list, I do so because seeing it on the shelf is a reminder that I actually need it, but I neglected to put it on my list.
Thus far, online shopping has been woefully inadequate at replicating that experience, which is what leads me to believe that the traditional supermarket is here to stay for quite some time yet. I couldn't imagine putting together an online grocery order for 50+ items.
That said, it would be nice if they were in stock, which leads me to my next experience…
Scenario 3: Buy Online, Pick Up In Store
It was Wednesday before an annual weekend (25 years running by my count) where a bunch of us head up to a friend's cottage for 3 days of music, laughs, fairly heavy drinking and general merriment. The weekend traditionally begins on Thursday night with a steak barbecue.
On Tuesday of that week, I noticed that my local grocery store had frozen lobster tails on sale for $3.50 each, so I thought I'd grab a dozen of them to accompany the steaks on Thursday night. I had a few other essentials to pick up while I was there, so I composed a small list and went to the store. I went straight to the seafood department first and they were out of lobster tails. That was my main reason for going, so I left without getting anything else on the list.
That same grocer had another store not far away, but I figured my chances of getting lobster tails there was low, plus I didn't have the additional time to spend on a treasure hunt that may turn up nothing. Disappointed, I went home.
As I was doing the normal work from home stuff (documents, emails, conference calls, etc.), I remembered that this store offered a buy online, pick up in store service, so I navigated to their website and placed an order for 12 lobster tails (plus the 6 or so items that were on my list) to be picked up the next day (Wednesday), which would still give me time to thaw them in the refrigerator overnight before heading to the cottage on Thursday.
I was fully expecting to be informed by email on Wednesday morning that I was still out of luck on the lobster tails. This would have sucked, but it would have sucked even more if I had wasted another trip to the store in order to find that out.
As luck would have it, I was able to get everything on my list (including the lobster tails) delivered right to my car in the parking lot in an appointment window of my choosing. And yes, the lobster tails were delicious.
Even though that customer experience had a satisfactory ending, was I actually using the BOPIS option for “convenience” or as a stock reservation mechanism due to lack of trust that the store was going to be in stock prior to my arrival?
The point here is that there is no catch-all definition of convenience that suits every customer in every situation. I know people who buy toilet paper online and have it shipped to their house. I also know people who would never buy anything on a website for fear of identity theft. And yes, sometimes trucking your butt to the store and rolling a cart through the aisles is actually the most convenient way to shop.
The truly great retailers of the future will be the ones who can execute well on all 3 of those experiences (plus others that haven't been invented yet).