How logistics apps (we don’t use) shape the e-commerce experience
Sometimes, the most important apps are the ones we never use. And when it comes to e-commerce, our customer journeys may be more influenced by apps other people use to fulfill and deliver our orders than the apps we use to buy things.
As consumers — especially during this pandemic — we’re accustomed to tapping a few buttons on our phone or tablet apps and having a universe of goods and services conveniently available to us. From grocery shopping and food delivery to anything and everything we need at Amazon or any other site, a few taps and stuff just shows up on our doorsteps. And leading up to delivery, we can magically see the status of our orders, anytime and in real-time.
But it’s not magic. Every purchase we make triggers a series of events that we take for granted — in other words, logistics. And more often than not, logistic apps used by various people enable those magical consumer experiences. These apps are part of a bigger trend of companies investing in e-commerce logistics. In 2020, investment in logistics increased 30% globally as e-commerce continues to explode.
Amazon excels at logistics. So much so that we now expect this kind of always-knowing experience when we buy goods through other apps or websites. We don’t just buy products — we’re buying experiences. And when those other shopping experiences fall short, it’s frustrating. Like my recent experience in buying a dishwasher online.
Amazon’s lovable buying experience is powered by logistics apps
After I buy something at Amazon, at any moment I can see where my order is and the expected delivery time. I get notifications when it’s shipped from a warehouse. And with Amazon Map Tracking, I can see the location of the delivery vehicle. And when a package is delivered, I get another notification and a picture of the item on my doorstep.
All along this path, Amazon employees, drivers, and the company’s partners are using various logistics apps, scanning barcodes, and logging data to help track the items. These apps serve Amazon well — they create a record of each item in case support agents need it for customer inquiries. And collectively, Amazon uses the data to optimize its logistics and improve the customer experience.
As the customer, I don’t see all this behind-the-scenes activity. But I can check my Amazon app, anytime, and see what’s happening with my order. Knowing when things are supposed to arrive is arguably as important as the experience of using those things. As Harvard Business Review dubbed it, we’re living in “The Experience Economy.” Our customer journeys extend well beyond — before and after — the unboxing and use of a product.
And that’s why my recent experience with Costco, one of my favorite stores, was massively disappointing.
My Costco dishwasher is awesome. But my customer experience was a #fail
I love Costco. I have ultimate trust that when Costco buyers choose the products and food to sell in-store, they will be high quality. And, on the rare occasion the goods aren’t up to snuff, Costco’s customer service is fantastic. Almost without exception, you can return anything that doesn’t live up to your expectations and get a full refund.
So, when our old dishwasher broke and we saw that Costco’s online store was carrying one we liked, buying it there was a no-brainer.
An added bonus, however, turned out to be an issue. Costco provides installation services with the purchase of many appliances. However, Costco doesn’t actually fulfill those installation services — the company contracts with a third party.
One recent morning, I was delighted when the delivery of my dishwasher was on time. The installer was supposed to follow sometime that day. But I never heard from anyone. So I called Costco customer service that evening, and the agent had no idea why the installer hadn’t shown up. Nothing in her system showed a status. They put me on hold to call the third-party installation company. Moments later, the Costco representative informed me that the company had closed for the day. They said I would have to wait until the morning to reschedule an installation appointment.
That’s when I thought about how amazing the Amazon experience is — contrasted by how frustrating it was that I didn’t have a clue when the installer might show up. I called customer service again the next morning, the agent called the installer, and told me they would be coming to my house later that afternoon.
TL;DR, three missed installation time slots, more calls to customer service, and a week later, the big brown box containing my shiny new dishwasher remained unopened in my kitchen. It was there for so long that we started using the box as an extension to our kitchen island. Adding corrugated counter space, however, wasn’t what we’d signed up for.
While my dishwasher was in limbo, I also received this automated email asking how my delivery and installation went: ?
Fuming from all the missteps, I called Costco customer service one last time to cancel the installation. A customer service agent was kind enough to issue me a credit to hire a local installer.
But you know what else might have helped?
Better logistics tracking. An app that the installer could use to provide estimated time slots — and communicate updates if they were running late or needed to reschedule — would have drastically improved my customer experience. Much of my angst came from making sure I was home for four-hour time slots and not knowing when they would show up. It blew up my week. (Turns out, an installer did show up once — when no one was home, despite the fact that I told customer service NOT to come during that time period.)
Logistics apps benefit everyone
During my final call with the Costco customer service agent, I suggested they could improve their service by fixing their logistics “stack.” And not just because it would have made my experience better.
Better logistics, including an app their installers could use, would help create more accountability with Costco’s partners. Company leaders would know when installers miss a lot of appointments. And Costco (like Amazon does) could use that data to optimize their services. At a bare minimum, a logistics tracking app integrated with Costco customer service would allow agents to see the status of installations/orders so when customers like me call in, they would know what’s happening. Without putting me on hold to make a separate phone call.
Ultimately, to be competitive with e-commerce, Costco will have to invest more in logistics. As much as I love Costco’s in-store experience, I’ll think twice before I buy more goods on Costco.com. And it’s very unlikely I’ll be buying another major appliance with Costco. At least not until I know they’ve addressed their logistics and installation issues.
After all, we’re living in the experience economy. Amazon and others consistently give us delightful e-commerce purchase and delivery experiences. Why would we accept anything less?
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