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How fulfillment builds a better customer experience

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Bowen Smith is in the business of delivering the goods — literally.

As a senior vice president at PFC fulfillment, Smith is among those who work to get the growing number of ecommerce orders to their intended customers. It’s one of those behind-the-scenes jobs that you don’t hear much about unless something is going wrong.

Much of the buzz around ecommerce focuses on marketing and merchandising, using rapidly evolving technology to get the right product in front of the right customer at the right time.

But the work of Iowa-based PFC — taking orders, packing products and getting them to the right place quickly — has been undergoing a technological transformation as dramatic as the one that is reimagining the front end of ecommerce that most consumers are much more familiar with.

Talking with Smith, which I did recently at 2017, is a reminder of how involved the process of buying online is. While there is little doubt that the advances in personalization, site search and behavioral analytics has been a key to ecommerce’s growing prominence, they represent only the start of creating a memorable customer experience.

When a consumer hits the buy button, it triggers an intricate chain of events that moves money, assesses the potential for fraud, locates inventory and sees to it that the right product gets to the right customer.

When any part of that chain breaks, or if any of the processes that the chain represents are slowed down, customers become frustrated and less likely to visit that particular ecommerce retailer again — no matter who was at fault.

More and more, merchants are realizing that building a great customer experience requires paying as much attention to the back end of ecommerce as they do to the front-end efforts to attract customers to their sites and products in the first place.

Arik Levy, CEO of Luxer One, who was also at in Los Angeles, has noticed the same trend that Smith talked to me about.

“Retailers are spending millions and millions of dollars on improving their ecommerce websites and that experience — ‘how  do we do retargeting and customize the experience? And how do we make the online experience fantastic?’” said Levy, whose Sacramento, Calif., company provides public-access package lockers for ecommerce deliveries.

But they often lose focus “when it comes to actually getting the package into the consumer’s hands,” he added.

Forward-thinking merchants are turning to technology to help them speed up and scale up their operations at a time when consumers’ expectations are rising and online competition from the likes of Amazon, Walmart and innovative online pure plays is increasing.

Bowen Smith and many of PFC’s competitors understand that they need to evolve quickly to keep pace with customers’ increasingly high standards. And many are turning to machine learning and other technology tools to help them keep up.

For those merchants, more than most, every day is a race against time.

Photo: iStock

Mike Cassidy is Signifyd’s storyteller. Contact him at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].