Innovate or Fail: The Importance of Exceeding Customer Expectations

We’ve all heard it over and over – retail shopping has changed forever. While many companies believe that online shopping has forced brick-and-mortar retailers to adapt or close their doors, there’s far more to it than that. It is true that we have become accustomed to the anytime-convenience and personalized experience online shopping provides. “Online vs in-store” debate aside, there are basically two types of retailers—those that sell for the lowest price and those that deliver experiences around their products.

You’ll never beat the local dollar-store on the price of detergent or last season’s discontinued items. That being said, there’s really nothing besides price to bring you back. Despite their popularity, you might say the same of online marketplaces where you can almost always find a lower price if you look long enough. The problem for low-price leaders, especially big box stores, is their low margins. If they can’t make it up in sheer volume, they too are likely to fade away.

On the other hand, retailers that deliver true experiences their customers crave don’t have to worry about charging a bit more than bargain-basement prices to build deep customer loyalty. Retailers today risk failure, ultimately, if they don’t innovate to deliver on customer expectations beyond price.

Table stakes: The minimum a retailer must deliver to stay competitive

If a retailer plans on being around to see 2030, they had better be digitally enabled and be able to deliver their goods to customers. These are the table stakes in today’s retail economy, something the e-commerce giants like Amazon have down to a science. If a retailer does not have an effective digital experience, they simply can’t stay competitive anymore.

Being digitally enabled means having a comprehensive online presence, even if a retailer still has a sizable in-store audience. Customers need and expect to see product descriptions and images—perhaps even videos, when they visit a website. They expect to see recommendations based on their preferences or previous visits. They want to know which stores their social “friends” follow and prefer.

Shoppers expect a frictionless way to purchase and receive their items. While simple, hassle-free online ordering is part of this, it isn’t the whole picture. Customers may just want to know the closest store that has a particular item in inventory so they can go see it, pick it up, and take it home. Customers expect purchases to be in stock and readily available, via a selection of methods including same-day or next-day delivery, store pickup, or curbside pickup.

As customer expectations grow over time, so does the list of features and experiences that retailers must provide. These include the following:

E-commerce 101 – The very basics

  • Pictures
  • Video (if applicable)
  • Description, details, specifications
  • Reviews
  • Pages are speedy
  • Easy signup flow or guest checkout
  • Save users items in shopping cart for later
  • Flexible payment (Credit/debit cards, PayPal, Apple Pay, and others)
  • Returns policy, About Us page

Shopper help/assistance

  • Product recommendations
  • Product comparisons / “Help me choose” flows
  • Contact options (Chatbots, Live chat, Phone call)

Item availability

  • Show inventory available (real-time)
  • Show when item can ship
  • Prominently display stock status: “In-Stock—Ships Today!”
  • Notify user when an item is back in stock

Pickup and delivery options

  • Show local store(s) alternatives for pickup (“Also available at 123 N Main Street for Pickup Today!”)
  • Allow for multiple pickup locations on one order
  • Provide multiple shipping options (free, fast, fastest)
  • Show when the item will ship (and when it actually does)
  • Communicate status and tracking information for shipment and delivery

Price matching

  • Remove “low price” as a barrier
  • Provide matching guarantee even if customers rarely or never use it

Seamless curbside pickup (a growing expectation given recent health concerns)

  • Easy to see where inventory is available at the store
  • Show the store hours
  • Notify when the order is ready for pickup
  • Make it easy for user to notify store that they are there
  • Employee tools should be easy to use and frustration free

Innovate and exceed customer expectations - or risk failure

The retail landscape is littered with recent examples of companies that simply haven’t made the leap - mattress outlets, shoe stores, and boutique clothing franchises to name a few. Plenty of others have met these table stakes, yet they still struggle to build and maintain a loyal customer following. How do you exceed basic customer expectations to really stand out and create true customer loyalty? Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Everyone knows that electronics and appliance retailers are hard-pressed to compete with all the online sellers. To stay competitive, Best Buy’s e-commerce site allows shoppers to find and price far more products than a typical local showroom could display. It offers free shipping, reward points, birthday gifts, and members-only specials. And to satisfy those looking for the lowest price, it offers a price match guarantee. This is what customers expect from their favorite electronics store, right?

Best Buy also provides an experience that online-only retailers cannot and most of its competitors simply do not. With its infamous Geek Squad, the company can send home theater, appliances, networking, and other experts right into a customer’s home. Those experts talk them through their goals, what they need to purchase, and how to install it for the best results. More than just a retailer where you order or pick up stuff, Best Buy has created a rare and much-desired personal experience for shoppers.

When was the last time you thought, “Aw man, I forgot to buy dog food last weekend!” (Or, given the recent lockdowns, maybe you forgot to order dog food.) It sounds simple, but it’s a dilemma when you’re short on time and your dog’s chow is running low. Even if running to the store was an option, what if they don’t have Fido’s special brand of food in stock? Even if you order it, you have no idea how quickly it will ship or arrive at your door. Poor Fido.

Petco, a North American pet supply retailer and a JBS Custom Software Solutions’ success story, wanted to go beyond what pet parents have come to expect. As part of the e-commerce solutions JBS built for Petco.com, we integrated the company’s inventory management and e-commerce systems. Now, not only does Petco know where its inventory is – so does the shopper. They know up front if Fido’s favorite is in stock, at which location, and when it will ship and arrive. All this allows Petco’s online shoppers to make more informed decisions on how and when they will take delivery of their purchases – unlike the sites of its top competitors. It also explains why Petco’s e-commerce revenues doubled in recent months and repeat customers have soared.

Does your retail e-commerce solution rise above the rest to exceed the minimum expectations of today’s shoppers in order to gain their loyalty? JBS Solutions has years of experience implementing efficient, full-featured solutions for multi-billion-dollar retail environments. Contact us for a free half-day assessment to find out how we can help deliver on your business goals while greatly reducing your time to market.

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