The rise of the self-service customer

  • The rise of the self-service customer: Why retailers need to give their customers greater freedom of choice

    January 2020

    Consumers now want the freedom to shop their way. They want the power to reach into the retailers’ full inventory to choose the SKU they want, whether it is in a remote warehouse or store or even deeper in the retailer’s supply chain. They also expect a wider range of choices when it comes to such things as payment and fulfilment. One rigid set of options will simply no longer satisfy. This extended freedom to choose is the new industry differentiator and those retailers who fail to deliver risk being at a significant competitive disadvantage compared to their peers.

    A real-time, single view is essential when it comes to turning this level of customer self-service into a reality. Retailers need a highly accurate cloud-based record of SKU locations, and also the ability to share this information in real-time with customers.

    The most advanced retailers are now able to keep track of SKUs while those products are still deep in the supply chain, and also their location if they are in the process of being returned by a customer. This holistic approach to stock management avoids value being tied up while stock sits idly in a shipping container or a warehouse and it ensures profitability is maximised wherever stock may be.

    Consumers expect to have this comprehensive ability to delve inside a retailer’s inventory whether the customer is online (using a simple product search) or in-store (through a store assistant’s tablet or a self-service kiosk) and the only reason customers care about SKU location is the extent to which it impacts on delivery time.

    Delivering a full range of fulfilment options

    Fulfilment is another aspect of retail that shoppers expect to have greater control over – and this expectation isn’t just isolated to ecommerce. Whether they’re buying in-store or online, consumers want to choose the fulfilment method that will dovetail effortlessly with their busy lifestyles at any one point in time.

    For this reason, retailers need to consider as wide a range of fulfilment methods as possible, while still remaining profitable over the long term. This full list can be extremely granular ranging from in-store click-and-collect to same-day delivery, right through to enabling shoppers to choose the most environmentally friendly delivery methods and the ability to select the courier of their choice. Shoppers also expect similar levels of choice around product returns with the emphasis on ease of drop-off and the speed at which funds will be reimbursed to their bank accounts.

    It almost goes without saying that both delivery and returns should fit within consumers omnichannel journey, with online shoppers able to pick-up in-store and store shoppers able to select delivery to their home address or a convenient collection locker.

    It pays to offer a wide range of payment options

    Payment is another aspect of shopping over which people expect increasingly high levels of choice and freedom. For example, a recent RetailEXPO report revealed that a quarter of UK shoppers would like retailers to accept digital currencies such as BitCoin, or other mobile wallet payment options. The immediate impact is that retailers need to diversify and reimagine the traditional, static point of sale. More than half of shoppers (53%) hate queues and long lines are a major cause of in-store basket abandonment. Because of this, forward-thing retailers are increasingly adopting mobile Epos solutions enabling shop assistants to take a wide range of card and device payments anywhere on the shop floor, using tablets and smartphones.

    The natural evolution of this is the self-service scan-and-go technology used in cutting-edge stores such as AmazonGo and piloted by supermarket chains such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco, with retailers lining up to be the first to fully embed this tech in their UK stores.

    Shoppers want to choose the payment method that sits best within their own perceived security comfort zone, while also offering the greatest convenience. They also increasingly expect innovative consumer credit solutions at the point of sale. Just like fulfilment and payment, this new generation of credit is frictionless and hassle-free, requiring the minimum amount of data entry and offering options such as buy now, pay later and payment in instalments. The RetailEXPO report showed 16% of UK consumers wanted the kind of in-store credit solutions offered by companies like Klarna and Clearpay.

    Online shoppers expect, and will only buy from, retailers with the most frictionless payment solutions – solutions which store payment data securely to speed up future transactions. Amazon has blazed a trail in this department with its pioneering ‘one-click’ purchase button.

    Making sense of choice and freedom

    There are levels of risk when delivering a customer experience that is loaded with choice. If execution is poor, consumers can feel overburdened by choice and confused by which is the best option to take. This is where technology can help curate a personalised hierarchy of options for individual customers, using data analytics and artificial intelligence and based on previous shopping behaviour. This level of personalisation helps to guide the consumer through their shopping journey, nurturing them to the point of purchase no matter what mix of sales channels and options they prefer.


    Retailers across the sector are realising that delivering greater consumer freedom and choice is a critical step in achieving customer-centricity in 2020. Retailers are best advised to listen to what shoppers want and then deliver these freedoms using the best solutions in the most frictionless way possible. This is a sure-fire way for retailers to increase market share in 2020 – bake-in customer-centricity by empowering shoppers to create their own ‘perfect’ customer experience with the minimum of fuss or effort.