These days customers have choices like never before. They can choose when to shop, where to shop, and how to shop. They have the freedom and flexibility to compare all available products and pricing – on demand – in their quest for the very best deal. 

Retail has certainly changed. Consumers can simply use a mobile app to browse various product categories and pay online. However, many customers still prefer the traditional “touch and feel” of shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. Keeping that in mind, retailers are integrating their virtual and physical inventory to provide a unique experience. Put simply, online retailers are moving offline and offline retailers are moving online.

To provide customers more freedom when it comes to shopping, “differentiated self-service” is emerging as a new trend. It is not a drastically different concept from self-service, but it’s an improved one. The typical self-service shopping portrays an image where customers stroll and fill a grocery basket, and a store employee follows them around. Such assistance is more crucial for high-end products like clothing rather than day-to-day items.

Differentiated Self-service: How has it Evolved

As the name suggests, offering self-service to customers should have some unique elements to differentiate it from the traditional method. It needs to be an experience that goes beyond in-store or online shopping — for example, interaction with large screens, kiosks, and physical products in digital spaces, where consumers can use their mobile phone as a remote control.

As online and store retailing should become more in sync, they need to provide a similar experience, so consumers perceive them equally rather than as some sort of compromise, one over the other. Differentiated self-service can provide a proper blend of virtual and physical shopping environments by offering advanced tools and information to consumers.

In e-commerce, companies like Amazon have been doing cross-channel selling from books to barbecue grills. Besides their huge inventory of products, Amazon and other e-commerce players have gained an edge by offering the convenience of home delivery. Even though brick-and-mortar retailing is still alive and kicking, e-commerce has differentiated itself for easy shopping, comfort, and low price. Now, by incorporating omnichannel retailing, both types of retail businesses are now opting for cross-channel retailing. Other than sustaining in the market, retailers are keen to offer self-service to reduce payroll and logistics costs.

Differentiated Self-service Retailing is More than Just Finding Products

There are various differentiators, such as pricing, assortment, convenience, and delivery, that create the complete customer experience. Retail giants Wal-Mart and Amazon realized it long ago and focused on each factor to attract and retain customers. Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers don’t stand a chance to win the race if they only compete on price or product range.

Companies like Apple are redefining retailing by carefully focusing on the following differentiators to create value when it comes to consumer experience:

Building open space stores where consumers can check out products in a relaxed way
Simplifying a clean and innovative merchandising design
Hiring staff with a different profile & training them on how to interact with & engage consumers
Updating the products in store with various unique contents & making them available on the virtual platform so that consumers can access them.

The purpose of focusing on the differentiators is to create a unique experience for consumers, intangible values that are hard to copy. Companies that are used to hard selling may find it difficult to fathom, but this is the way forward if they wish to prosper. Understanding consumers’ buying habits will go a long way for them, rather than treating buyers as mere selling targets.

Integrating Self-service Delivery for Differentiated Last Mile Experience

An increasing number of omnichannel and e-commerce companies are differentiating by integrating innovative technologies, adding services, and creating more opportunities for consumers to explore. Some of the ways retailers are doing that are:

Using self check-in and check-out technology to find consumers in specific areas
Differentiating through engaging & improving consumers with new levels of personalization
Implementing the self-service options for smaller items, as customers will find them more convenient
Integrating CRMs at stores to follow up, personalize, and create opportunities for repeat purchase

So, from big box retailing where low pricing and volume have always been the differentiators, businesses are gaining insights into the consumer psyche to get their attention. Also, differentiated self-service gives customers more control to make an informed buying decision.

Now, in the case of e-commerce purchases, even though consumers use self-service through their mobile devices for browsing, choosing a product, and checking out, they don’t often have control over the last mile delivery. Customers have to wait for home delivery and even have to coordinate with the courier personnel.

By installing technologies like American Locker’s electronic parcel lockers, retailers and logistics companies can make customers’ lives easier. Once customers choose a parcel locker terminal while checking out, and the item gets delivered there, they can pick it up anytime using a secure passcode. This self-service streamlines the last mile delivery, saves substantial logistics costs for retailers, and ensures maximum customer convenience.

Discovering innovative ways like electronic parcel lockers will give retailers better control and attract more customers. And in today’s competitive retail space, finding more customers and serving them cost-effectively is the key to success. That’s American Ingenuity. That’s American Locker.