The Post-Purchase Brand Experience: More Important Than You Realize

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In preparation for Christmas, my wife recently placed a multi-item online order with a big box retailer that uses our eCommerce and omni-channel order management solutions.  So, I was curious to see how well the process would work.

Because of the flexibility of the order management software, my wife was able to select different fulfillment methods for different items in the same order.  She had some shipped to our house.  She chose to pick up one of the items at a nearby location.  And, for one of the items that was temporarily out of stock, she was able to purchase it with a future availability promise date for in-store pickup.  [This was made possible because the backend order management software had visibility into on-order and in-transit items and could predict when the item would be available for shipping or pickup.]  The system even allowed her to specify a second authorized pickup person—because, of course, she wasn’t going go to the store to pick up the items.  That was going to be my job.

After she finalized her purchase, we began receiving the typical stream of e-mails keeping us informed about the status of each portion of the order.  The retailer confirmed the receipt of our order.  They notified us when the items to be shipped had left their warehouse.  And, they sent us a notice that the first in-store item was ready for us (me) to pick up.  The notice provided very straightforward instructions:  print the e-mail; take it to the special Internet Order Pickup location in the store; show the printed receipt and a picture ID; and receive your item.  Unfortunately, it was at the store that the pristine brand experience that we’d had up until that point began to unravel.

As I entered the store with receipt in hand, I looked around for either (a) a sign that would give me some sort of clue where the Internet Order Pickup location might be (remember this was a large big box retailer with plenty of square footage in which to hide said pickup area) or (b) an employee I could ask about the pickup area.  I couldn’t find either—unless I wanted to interrupt a cashier struggling to keep up with the swelling checkout lines and ask them to divulge the secret location for Internet pickups.

I went to the Customer Service desk, hoping that it was doubling as the .com pickup location.  But, alas, Internet orders didn’t appear to be part of their domain, and I wasn’t willing to stand in line to ask someone behind the desk where they’d hidden the Internet pickup.  But, I knew that many retailers who offer buy online, pick up in store place the pickup location in the back of the store (because they want you to be exposed to as much merchandise as possible).  So, I walked to the back of the store hoping to see a sign signaling Internet Order Pickup…but no such luck.

Finally, I spied an employee in the electronics department, waited for him to finish up with a customer, and asked him where I needed to go to pick up my online purchase.  He pointed to a large sign that said “Restrooms” and told me that I’d find the Internet Order Pickup just inside that doorway.

Nearing the restroom portal, I saw two fairly long lines—neither of which seemed to be waiting to use the restrooms.  Near the front between the two lines was a pole with two pieces of paper haphazardly taped on either side of the pole.  Each had some words printed in a font that was too small to be discernable from the back of the line.  So, I walked to the front of the line to see what the signs said.  I got to the signs and saw that one said “Layaway Payments and Pickup” with a hand-drawn arrow pointing to the left.  The sign on the right (with its own hand-drawn arrow) said Internet Order Pickup.

I returned to the back of the correct line and, eventually, made it up to the counter.  The associate took my receipt on which our order management software had included a bar code with the order number to be scanned at checkout.  But, either the associate’s scanner was not working or she didn’t have one, so she had to key enter the lengthy order number.

After several fat-fingered attempts at entering the correct order number (which brought back not-so-fond memories of pre-bar-code retail checkout nightmares), she was finally able to bring up the order and see from the item’s status in the backend order management software that the item had not yet been picked up.  She disappeared into the back room and several minutes later emerged with my item.  Order management printed a receipt and a receiving confirmation for me to sign, and I was finally on my way. And, like 50% of consumers who use in-store pickup who say they’re likely to very likely to buy additional merchandise while in a store picking up their online order, I purchased a couple packs of recyclable batteries before I left the store.

The moral of this story is that the results we just got back from our recent Smarter Commerce Consumer Advocacy Study were proven out in this experience.  In the study, consumers identified the post-purchase phase of the brand experience as having the greatest potential to damage the brand relationship (more than the pre-purchase or the purchase experience).  And, when asked whether the pre-purchase or post-purchase experience was more important in forming the lasting impression of a retailer, respondents overwhelming chose the post-purchase experience over pre-purchase nearly two to one.

And, so it was with my experience with this retailer.  The pre-purchase and purchase experiences were terrific.  Their Website was well organized and very responsive.  We were able to get to the information we needed quickly and easily.  And, the checkout process was nearly effortless.  Even their updates about the status of all the items in the order were prompt and informative.  Unfortunately, it was in the store, where it all broke down.  And, because they failed to consider the entire brand experience for an online customer picking up their order in the store, they left a sour taste in my mouth…one that’ll make me think twice if I have the option to buy from another retailer the next time I want to pick up an online order in a store.

I suppose that it just goes to show that for all the marvelous technology that you can put on the back end, it can execute flawlessly but still be undermined by poorly-planned and executed manual processes on the front end.

NOTE:  For those attending NRF 2013 who are interested in hearing more results from the Smarter Commerce Consumer Advocacy Study, you’ll want to join us in our Big !deas Session at NRF 2013 on Tuesday, January 15, 1:15-2:15 p.m. ET [Room 3D05 EXPO Hall, Level 3].  There, we’ll be unveiling the results of the study and discussing those findings with panelists made up of some of the most successful retailers in the industry.  Hear how consumer preferences have evolved.  And, get a glimpse into the expectations of the next generation of consumers.  In a world where consumers trust recommendations from other consumers seven times more than they trust recommendations from a retailer, these insights have never been more important.

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