There’s nothing that says the holidays are upon us like long return lines at a major retail outlet such as Walmart. I recently found my son’s bike with a flat tire. Since there are no bike shops in our town, I, reluctantly, headed over to Walmart to buy a couple of items to fix it. I knew in the end, I would only use one of them, but bought extra just in case. As I sat there pulling multiple items off of the rack, I was already dreading the Walmart return experience. So much so, that the thing sat for two full weeks in my house before I attempted to return them.
One day I remembered that I had the Walmart App downloaded on my phone. So, I opened the app in an exploratory mode to see what I could do to start the return online. That is when Walmart exceeded my expectations. Under “Services” was a tiny icon labeled “start a return.” I scanned the barcode with my phone, selected the item to return, and that was it. All I had to do was walk into Walmart, go to the Mobile Express area, scan the QR code, and hand over my return. The whole experience took all of 3 minutes. I left pleasantly surprised, and couldn’t help but draw parallels to automotive retailing today. Here’s why:
- Negative perception limits repeat business
Like car dealers, Walmart contends with negative sentiment. While our recent customer experience survey gives Walmart top ranks for their efforts to connect the online and in-store experiences, their traditional business puts them in the negative Net Promoter Score zone. The majority of customers generally expect a hassle.
- A massive opportunity for technology in-store
The return line was still long when I came back in. The technology-enabled Walmart to provide me with an expedited return experience from home. However, there was no technology for people who just went into the store without using the mobile app initially. The same thing happens in car dealerships every day. For everything I can do online to expedite my in-store experience, I cannot accelerate it once I get there. Worse, I am often made to re-enter the information that I supplied online when I get to the store.
- Don’t keep new capabilities under wraps
Having technology is half the battle, but it will not get used if people don’t know about it. Everyone knows Walmart has the lowest prices. Why are the ads still talking about that and not mentioning their omnichannel experience? How many more customers would do business there if they knew about it? Many car dealers are fixated on old value propositions like family-owned, or largest inventory. Why aren’t we folding in more messaging about saving time and promoting the capabilities that enable that?
- Delivering on your promise is key
Had I been made to wait and not receive the benefit of Mobile Express, my negative sentiment would have been made worse, not better. Whether you offer your customers an ePrice or an omnichannel experience, you MUST deliver on that promise.
- Employees can benefit from technology too
The return line was one person shorter, and the Mobile Express process was much easier for the employee staffing that experience. If more customers used the app, employees would be able to process more returns per hour. In most dealerships, 7-10 people touch every deal, and salespeople spend an hour, sometimes more waiting for managers to help move the customer forward in the process. Technology can help streamline the dealership personnel experience in similar ways. Customers that start the process online (credit applications, trade valuations, etc.) reduce the amount of work for the employee in the store. If technology can streamline the process by reducing wait times, each salesperson can handle more customers in a given day.
- Competing on price is no longer a valid strategy
This is the most essential point. We are in the era of customer-centric retail. Walmart has leveraged buying power and supply-chain savings to offer the lowest price for decades. Today, that’s not enough. A competitive price is expected. Customers, as well as shareholders, want a modern business to find new and innovative ways to reduce the cost of goods sold and offer their customers a good deal. For dealers, how much a car sells for in their market is not a mystery. Car buyers don’t spend 6 to 11 hours online to answer the price questions anymore. Ease of doing business is more important. However, telling them it’s easy is not enough; you must demonstrate it.
Did Walmart demonstrate it to me? Yes, they did. Not only did they prove that I no longer have to be afraid of the return line, but they left me enough time, and more importantly desire, to check out my son’s favorite new section of the store — the fishing equipment. That was when we bought my son’s first lure.