What If You Could Optimize Trendsetting?

What If You Could Optimize Trendsetting?

Trends don’t start at the brick and mortar of a big-box retailer. They begin at the boutique level, where tastemakers and trendsetters are relentless as they search for the new and amazing. This is why it’s important for your business to have a plan to connect with, and sell directly to, the boutiques where styles and trends are born. When your brand is discovered organically, viral waves of growth follow quickly.

Choosing dress

As always, there’s a catch. Building a boutique wholesale business has its own logistic challenges that can grow too big for you to sustainably control. From the start, one must address the realities of the costs of doing boutique wholesale business.

Assuming that most wholesalers expect to maintain a profit margin of around 20%, you have to cut into your own margins in order to make the sale. For example, if you’re selling a sweater that cost $20 to make at $90 MSRP, the wholesaler price will be at most $72 and you’ll be left with a margin of $52. For big-box retailers that buy at large volumes, the margin cut isn’t so bad. However, boutique wholesalers don’t nearly buy as much at one time, so the margin cut rarely justifies the costs of maintaining these relationships.

Then there’s the cost of managing a boutique wholesale channel. The challenge is in the inherent diversity of the business. Instead of managing two or three big-box customers, you have to manage 30, 40, or maybe even 50 different customers with different agreements, different expectations, and different demands. It’s not a one-man job, it requires a team of people to engage with these accounts and process their orders. Hiring that team and accounting for their errors can cost you money against your already thin margins.

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Simply put, if you want to heighten your chances of success with boutique wholesale, you need to automate as much of the process as possible. Your boutique customers will always want to maintain their own margins, so you can’t really optimize around that. But if you can automate your processes to cut down on human error, save on labor costs, and scale without worry, you can make your boutique wholesale business grow in a quicker, better, and more sustainable way. Let’s not forget, growth is crucial in making boutique wholesale viable; the more boutiques you’re able to place your products in, the more chances you have of catching the eye of those valuable tastemakers.

The best part of boutique wholesale automation is that it’s simpler than ever to achieve. Commerce platforms nowadays can unify the D2C and wholesale experience under one site, which makes it infinitely easier to automate the entire wholesale process. Customers can now log into your current site, where they’re given a personalized wholesale experience with the assigned terms and credit limits applied. Orders can get processed automatically and shipped out within a specified window. You minimize the touchpoints needed to get your products into their boutique, which also eliminates headache of human error and cuts down on the team needed to manage this channel.

Becoming the next big thing only happens when the tastemakers embrace your brand. Since these trendsetters do their hunting at their trusted boutiques and not mainstream department stores, it makes sense to build the best possible boutique wholesale channel. As your offline business grows, it drives your D2C channel as your new customers look to engage in a deeper way with your brand. This virtuous cycle is what propels your brand into unprecedented growth, the kind that turns good brands into iconic ones.

Does Your Current Commerce Set-Up Serve Your Customers the Right Way?

Does Your Current Commerce Set-Up Serve Your Customers the Right Way?

There are three elements to a good customer service experience: speed, experience, and resolution. Everything that goes into optimizing customer service should focus on improving those three elements. It makes sense: nobody wants to be kept waiting, nobody wants to be brushed off, and nobody is OK with “I don’t know” as an answer.

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There are already plenty of resources out there that tell you how to improve your customer service teams. But beyond what goes on in your call centers, the quality of your customer service is also determined by the fundamental operations of your commerce systems. For example, Forrester research demonstrates that customers expect proactive outbound communication, which includes notifying your customers when packages ship and when they should arrive. If your current commerce setup doesn’t allow for automated shipping notifications, you are missing opportunities to deliver customer satisfaction.

Your commerce setup also determines what your customer service team can (or can’t) do. Many warehouses don’t allow any changes to an order – even for something as simple as an address change – once it reaches them. If your customer service team can’t change a shipping address or expedite a package, no matter how polite and how responsive they are, it will be a terrible experience for the customer.

Most importantly, your commerce infrastructure can also determine how fast your agents can resolve issues. It’s great if you can train a great customer service team that responds quickly and stays on top of every ticket. But none of it will matter if your customer service team (and more importantly, your customer) is always waiting for answers from your fulfillment or your development teams.

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Since most commerce setups are usually a stack of 3rd-party systems that are barely able to work together, the likelihood of customer-facing issues is high. More importantly, the ability to go in and fix these errors is weakened. If your team has to go through three different interfaces (one for your store, one for your inventory, one for your wholesale business) to track down an issue and solve it, there’s no amount of optimization or process improvement that can consistently create a good customer service experience. 95% of customers are willing to give a brand a second chance if their first issue was resolved quickly and effectively, but that number drops sharply if their experience with your service was neither.

And since customers expectations are growing and shifting, it might be time to start thinking about your current commerce infrastructure and its ability to meet those expectations. Being unable to meet customer expectation leads to stagnation. Keep in mind that only 4% of unsatisfied customers complain about their experience, so if you can’t provide an amazing experience for that 4%, how can you expect to create an amazing experience for all of your customers?

If you want to find out more about how commerce-as-a-service can empower all facets of your brand – including customer service – reach out to one of our commerce experts and we’d be glad to talk. We’ll give a free consultation on how commerce-as-a-service can lift growth barriers and provide a strong foundation for your brand’s continual rise.

2-Day Fulfillment is the New Standard

2-Day Fulfillment is the New Standard

Customer expectations are the demarcation between a poor shopping experience and an amazing one. Fall short of the line, your customer satisfaction and brand equity will fall. Go beyond the line, and you have an opportunity to convert that customer into a brand evangelist. When you make business decisions or pore through analytics, you should always ask yourself: Are we meeting the demands of our customers? If so, how do we exceed them?

When your customer is shopping online, he wants a store that’s descriptive and easy to navigate, no hidden fees revealed during checkout (shipping, handling, etc), and orders to arrive as soon as possible.

You can look through your site engagement metrics and pricing models to find answers to the first two, but for fulfillment, we have studies that confirm our natural assumptions – customers want their packages as fast and as affordable as possible.

Since the advent of Amazon Prime, we’ve seen a shift in customer expectation when it comes to receiving their orders. First, we can look at how many people have signed up for Amazon Prime since its inception – its main claim being unlimited 2-Day fulfillment with no extra fees at checkout, just an annual membership fee:

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According to Business Insider, Amazon was about to tally around 57 million Prime subscribers at the advent of 2015. The lure of unlimited 2-day shipping began spiking in 2013, and now customer expectations are beginning to shift to what Amazon can provide instead of what the market at large is providing. Backing this claim is the gradual penetration of Prime users on other eCommerce platforms according to research done by Millward Brown Digital:

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In the graph above, you can see that almost 1 out of 10 shoppers on Walmart.com, ToysRUs.com, and HomeDepot.com are also Amazon Prime members. This statistic becomes even more stark when you see the rate of cross-shopping between all Prime members and these same stores:

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0.9% of all Prime members are willing to cross-shop between these same retailers on the same session. So even when Prime members make up 10% of shoppers on certain retailer’s sites, it seems Prime members shop almost exclusively with Amazon. The ease of use and convenience of Prime is a pretty compelling reason. Customers are now accustomed to receiving their packages in two days or less without paying extra at checkout.

Like it or not, this the new standard of fulfillment, because today’s customer will carry most of that expectation when shopping on other brands. It’s why many online stores are offering more expedited shipping options at reasonable rates, so that they can compete on equal ground.

Of course, it’s a vast undertaking to cobble together the logistics and scale to balance expedited and free shipping without eating into your profits. You can’t get one without sacrificing the other, not unless you invest truckloads of capital into developing your own nationwide fulfillment network (on top of that, that network has to integrate seamlessly with your store and inventory pieces).

When you’re a growing brand, it’s a daunting task to build the logistics on your own. Unless you’re backed by a ton of capital from investors, you’ll most likely have to find a provider or a partner that already has these logistics in place. So when looking for a partner, you should look for these key traits to see if they’ll do the job for you:

  1. The smarter network that’s truly “nationwide.”

Your logistics partner shouldn’t just have warehouses all over the country, they also need the analytics and tools necessary to ensure the fastest deliveries at the cheapest rates. If you want to offer 2-day shipping at an affordable rate to all of your customers, you need a partner capable of such things as inventory load balancing and delivery analyses to know which warehouses to stock in order to achieve affordable 2-day shipping to your customers. A vast network matters, but a smart network is even more important.

  1. Pricing matters

It’s an obvious thing to look out for, but it is an important factor. Whatever your fulfillment partner is charging you, you have to decide to pass on those costs to the customer or absorb them in order to offer discounted or free shipping. Also keep in mind, free shipping (the kind that stays free and doesn’t show up later in the subtotal) is a very powerful driver for successful checkouts. Reports say that 20% of consumers believe “free shipping” is the most compelling reason to shop with a specific retailer.

  1. Consider your brand

With some 3PL or Fulfillment-as-a-Service solutions, you won’t be able to maintain branding of your packaging. They either won’t support customized packaging, or they might insist on applying their own branding in lieu of yours. Remember the value of expressing your brand at the fulfillment stage of the customer experience. This is another important touchpoint you have with your customer, and it can be the tipping point that can convert customers from regular shoppers to brand loyalists.

Your customer’s loyalty and desire for your products is the lifeblood of your business, which makes it even more important to think of innovative and scalable ways to exceed their expectations. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your revenues to keep your customers happy, which is why choosing the right partner and making the right fulfillment decisions can be a make-or-break moment for your brand.

Going From Successful to Iconic: Gaining Customer Loyalty

Going From Successful to Iconic: Gaining Customer Loyalty

“You cannot buy loyalty; you cannot buy the devotion of hearts, minds, and souls. You have to earn these things.”

– Clarence Francis, Michigan Business Review, May 1956.

Your brand’s success is directly tied to the loyalty of your customers. It’s not just about convincing a customer on their first purchase, but convincing the customer that you’re worthy of a second, third, or fourth purchase. Everything you do as a brand – from production to marketing to logistics – should be focused on engendering loyalty. And the best way to cultivate loyalty is to provide an amazing shopping experience for your customer.

The good news is that you determine the value of your product and the core of your brand story. You’re already two-thirds of the way to providing a flawless experience, but that final third – where customers actually interface with your store to purchase your product – is where 80% of brands hit a wall.

For example, Your website is the core of your online presence, which makes it one of the most important pillars of your brand. For the most part, you’re bound by hardcoded templates to work around. You’re forced to fit your brand vision within the boundaries of the framework, when it should be the other way around. In order to faithfully deliver your brand – with your quality products and amazing story – you need to be satisfied with what kind of store you can build. How likely is that if you’re working within the boundaries of a template?

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The Experience Doesn’t Stop at Checkout.

In addition, your online store serves as major gateway between your customer and your brand. From page load through physical delivery, the experience is what drives loyalty. If your site isn’t totally in sync with your inventory and fulfillment workflows, you’re vulnerable to costly errors that erode customer trust. Packages can get misplaced or delayed, making customers more and more frustrated with each passing day they wait. Verified orders can get pushed back because of an unforeseen stockout, which happens when your inventory counts are inaccurate. When you can’t control the last third of your shopping experience, these things will inevitably happen. What’s worse, all of these events damage the trustworthiness of your brand, and loyalty can’t exist without trust.

And this is where many growing brands hit a wall. They’ve created amazing products and crafted engaging stories, but they fall short at the last mile. The patchwork systems that attempt to translate your brand during the various commerce experiences will fall short. If you can’t control your customer’s experience with your brand, you can’t control how your customer perceives your brand.

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We Put You Back in Control.

This is why Symphony exists, to return control from the limitations of today’s commerce technology back to its rightful owner: you.

You’ve already done the hard work of creating a valuable product and an engaging brand story. To navigate the pitfalls of the last mile requires a partner that allows you to make decisions based on reliable, consistent technology and gives you full control over your branding.

We’ve achieved this by developing an end-to-end commerce platform that backstops the entire shopping experience: faithfully translating your brand through a beautiful online store, elegantly managing orders with agile inventory controls, and exceeding customer expectation with a dependable nationwide fulfillment network. All three pieces are seamlessly integrated with each other, meaning they work together in sync and without any false notes. Most importantly, you are put back in the driver’s seat in the journey with your customers.

And when you can control your brand’s destiny, you can provide the kind of flawless shopping experience that earns a customer’s loyalty.

If you’d like to learn more about how Symphony can put you back in control of your customer experience, reach out to us here.

Cyber Criminals Don’t Take Holidays

Cyber Criminals Don’t Take Holidays

$3.5 billion. That’s how much online retailers lose every year to fraud. With ecommerce and mobile commerce on the rise through the holidays, credit card and data theft should be on every e-tailer’s mind.

  • Overall, merchants are reporting fraud loss as a percent of revenue at 0.68% this year compared to 0.51% in 2013.
  • Although the average value of a successful fraudulent transaction fell this year ($155 in 2013 vs. $114 in 2014), fraudsters are bombarding merchants with 61% more attempts at fraudulent transactions—only 55% of which are prevented.

There are two main ways that cyber criminals steal payment card data and personal identifiable information (PII). The most sophisticated hacking involves targeting an enterprise organization, usually a financial institution or large retailer like Target or Home Depot, to steal millions of customer records. Some 375 million data records had been confirmed stolen or lost worldwide.

The second way is to target individual consumers by capturing credit card information at POS payment processing, or creating elaborate ways to trick consumers into divulging personal information via fake online websites, phishing emails, or even fake charities!

So how can busy brands protect their profits from malicious cyber criminals, who are most active during the lucrative holiday season?

The keys are proactive planning supported by aggressive automation to reduce the manual oversight required to spot – and stop – potentially fraudulent orders.

According to a report by Cybersouce, online brands use over 20 dimensions to “flag” suspicious credit card orders by checking customer history, purchase device tracing, multi-merchant purchase history and validation services.

According to the survey respondents in the report, the most successful management tools are fraud-scoring models. The fraud management system evaluates each order at checkout and instantly assigns a fraud score. Brand owners set the fraud threshold based on unique business rules, so any order above the threshold is automatically halted for further review.

This is a huge time saver because the operations team now only reviews suspicious orders: they are not inundated trying to manually review every order. This also increases the efficiency of the operations team by allowing them to focus on fewer orders, so fewer mistakes slip through the cracks.

Stopping the order before shipping is the holy grail of fraud detection. Upon review, the ops team can push the order through to fulfillment, identify fake accounts or block bad customers. Catching the order before it ships avoids costly chargebacks that can harm your business.

The most successful businesses treat fraud prevention as an ongoing process. The most frustrating thing about fraud is that it evolves: if criminals get flagged for certain behaviors, they’ll simply think of new ways to beat the system. This is why your fraud prevention strategy needs to be just as flexible to minimize the impact of fraud on your bottom line. Many solutions can be adjusted to fit the fraudulent behaviors that you see most often. However, best-in-class solutions run on algorithms that improve and adapt to your unique use cases as well as the shifting fraud landscape.

In any case, as you continue to formulate a game plan to the holidays, it’s important to seriously consider an approach to fraud detection and prevention. You’ve worked too hard to let fraudsters put their hands in your pocket. Luckily, there are tools out there that can increase the odds in your favor.