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Experience vs. Vision: Finding Retail’s Sweet Spot

A retailer’s three-step process to better managing fulfillment

Louis DeJianne | UPS

The term “legacy company” may call to mind an institution with a proud tradition, grounded and established, with experience burnished over time.

Or, it could conjure the image of a stodgy, slow-moving enterprise, too steeped in its old practices to meet new and rapidly changing consumer demands. 

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E-commerce has leveled the playing field for retailers of all stripes.

That’s not a company primed to compete with nimble, young, entrepreneurial startups.

New companies, while unimpeded by legacy systems, have a different set of daunting challenges.

Unbridled enthusiasm and heady ideas are bound by time and financial resources. And they are learning as they go.

[Also on Longitudes: The Consumer-led Revolution]

Opportunities and challenges

Of course, the reality is more complex than big versus small or experienced versus visionary.

And e-commerce has leveled the playing field for retailers of all stripes.

The shifting landscape creates both opportunities and challenges for companies large and small.

Some legacy companies adapt, unraveling decades of once-state-of-the-art systems and processes to execute new technologies – and new thinking – to stay competitive and thrive.

Others struggle to free themselves from their old ways.

In some ways, all retailers are in the same boat.

To compete, and best serve their customers and shareholders or investors, retailers can’t rely on long-held assumptions or guesswork.

They need to have a clear vision by identifying: What they know for sure, what success looks like and how their business needs to anticipate and evolve to attain that success.

Here’s a good place to start.

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Become aware of your biases

The tried and true approach to product development, technology and customer service won’t always sustain your business.

Look at how telephones evolved from analog handsets (remember getting twisted up in cords?) to mobile devices. Many people don’t have landlines in their homes anymore.

Companies, including UPS, which started as a bike messenger service, have always had to evolve along with the pace of technology to fulfill customer demand.

Retailers are meeting consumer needs more quickly and efficiently than many people could have imagined just a few short years ago.

The biggest challenge is not identifying what consumers want or which technology will best serve them. The challenge – and first step – is to figure out if you are standing in your own way.

Don’t let institutional beliefs or practices keep you from getting the most from your supply chain and customer experience.

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Discover what you don’t know

Today, we’re swimming in an ocean of information about industry trends, technologies, strategies and consumer buying behavior.

Retailers have to be discerning.

You can call on industry consultants, market research firms or try your luck with good-old-fashioned trial-and-error.

But have you considered tapping the expertise of professionals from other industries?

Or reverse-mentoring, in which senior management learns from the company’s younger employees?

Millennial employees may offer compelling insights from on-the-ground.

Get to know new technologies and approaches to serving businesses and consumers by building relationships with other companies and potential partners who have the expertise you want.

UPS, through its Strategic Enterprise Fund, invests in cutting-edge companies to explore new approaches.

For example, we invested in Deliv, a frontrunner in same-day delivery, to gain additional insights into the same-day delivery market.

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Plan ahead – and adjust as needed

Finding the sweet spot between what consumers say they want and what they are willing to pay for is hard enough.

Once you have a firm understanding of your market, you need to prioritize human, financial and operational resources.

Modeling can illustrate how different approaches can impact your bottom line.

Use modeling technology to make virtual adjustments to your supply chain mapping and customer experience journeys.

Ask the tough “what if” questions. They could inspire a more efficient or broader reaching supply chain – or both. 

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The omnichannel shopping experience will be the norm for retailers.

Finally, invite your vendors to the table.

[Also on Longitudes: Delivery on Demand]

Future of retail

Share your vision and challenge them to help make it a reality. Uncover new ideas from these relationships.

E-commerce, m-commerce and cross-border e-commerce are all projected to experience strong growth for the foreseeable future.

The omnichannel shopping experience will be the norm for retailers.

Whether you are a legacy company or a startup, it’s important to strike that balance between experience and vision.

Question what you know. Investigate new tools and opportunities. Define what success looks like for you.

And go after it with confidence. goldbrown2

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Louis DeJianne is the director of consumer goods, apparel and retail for UPS.

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Reprinted with permission of Longitudes, the UPS blog devoted to the trends shaping the global economy.

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