It wasn't long before companies worked out how to put their transactions online – mail order catalogues were replicated online and secure credit card processing turned the internet into an always-on home-shopping channel. Pizza Hut went online in 1994, and Amazon and eBay arrived in 1995. Other companies soon followed suit.
Unfortunately that was almost two decades ago, and many businesses just stopped when they reached online shopping, if they even reached that point in the first place.
In the 21st century, businesses need to offer more to remain competitive. Online purchasing is the minimum customers now expect. Real value to customers – and therefore competitive edge – comes from thinking more broadly about the online shopping experience; a shopping cart and a buy now button is not enough. Businesses need to be thinking about the journeys their customers (and prospectives) are taking offline, and how these can be enhanced with digital technology. They need to be thinking about space, location, time and context, and what happens before, during, and after purchases take place. And, alongside all that, businesses must consider how different digital devices act as touch points that facilitate different, complementary interactions.
When smart phones first became commonplace and we started to browse the internet on the go, analysts exclaimed that the days of the PC were numbered, and that smart phones (and then tablets) would soon rule the world. While smart phone sales are now outnumbering PC sales, I believe that for now we still have to consider that most people will access the web on more than one device. I personally use a laptop at work, my smart phone or tablet on the go, my tablet at home, my wife's laptop if it's closer, or my desktop PC. Pretty soon, I'm hoping to add my TV to this list. Now, I might be a reasonably tech-savvy example, but my point is that even if PCs go away, something else will probably replace them. And, even if smart phones make up the majority of our access, they won't necessarily be the only way we get online. We use, and are going to keep using, a myriad of devices in a myriad of times and places, with several different interfaces available. These devices must form part of a coherent ecosystem when it comes to interacting with businesses online.
Designing your digital ecosystem (with pizza, because it’s tasty)
So what do we need to do? Yes, we need to make sure our content is available everywhere. But I'm thinking specifically about our transactions. The interactions that businesses and consumers have that enable us both to get what we want – an enjoyable good, service or experience for consumers, and revenue for businesses.
Now you might be thinking: "I get it – I run a national pizza chain (for example), and my customers want to be able to order pizza from their phones, as well as from their laptops." Well yes, that's true. But I’m going to play the customer here and suggest that I don't want to have to enter my details each time I order a pizza – I want you to remember me, and what I like to eat. I'm going to be a bit greedy, and going to go further than this; I also want you to know how far away I am so that you can keep my pizza warm until I'm there to pick it up, even if that means you don't make it just yet, because rush-hour traffic is pretty bad tonight. This also means you know where my closest store is - or at least the one that's most convenient on my way home from work.
Suddenly we’ve factored time and location into a transaction to add value to it. Let’s take it further.
I don’t carry cash, and I don’t really want to have to pull out my EFTPOS or credit card when I get there to pick up my pizza, either – in my experience it’s just time the pizza spends getting cold on the bench while the transaction is processed. It would be fantastic to be able to use the NFC chip in my phone to pay, or perhaps a QR code like I use to check into at the airport. Or, even more convenient, have the pizza app on my phone talk directly to the banking app and charge my credit card before I even get there. Now we’re saving time, too.
How else can we enhance the transaction? Perhaps I'm a loyal customer. The app would know this because I use it heaps. So tonight it's rewarding me with a free drink on the side. Or perhaps I'm not picking my order up – perhaps this is a delivery. It would be fantastic to be able to track my order in real time, so I know where it is and what kind of ETA to expect.
The customer journey doesn't stop once the pizza has arrived, either. Was it still hot when it arrived? Was the order correct? Was the delivery person nice? Consider building a feedback loop into that app. If customers have a bad experience they’re going to write about it on Facebook or Twitter anyway, so businesses might as well facilitate that within the app because this increases the chances of them also sharing good news ("OMG this pizza is AMAZING") – and you want as many people to know about positive experiences, too (which should be the norm, right?). The app could even prompt customers to give feedback and share their thoughts twenty minutes or so after the order is delivered, now that their hunger has been satisfied. Or maybe three minutes, if we want them to Instagram the experience as well.
Okay. Pizza. Arguably a pretty beige example, if at least a tasty one. But already I hope you can see the range of additional activities that can be introduced when even one platform additional to the desktop is introduced.
What if we consider other emerging devices, such as smart TVs or sat-navs.
During the commercial break: "That looks good; let’s order one now."
Or on the road: "Hungry? You're not far from one of our stores. Order now and have it ready for drive through or dine in when you get here."
"Dine in? Okay, we've booked you a table. Enjoy the free wi-fi."
Even still, we're only looking at a simple purchase-and-consume system. On the other side of the coin, staff need to know what to make and when to start preparing it, and delivery drivers need to know where to go, any special instructions, and how to ensure they get each pizza delivered in the 30 minute timeframe while minimising travel and petrol costs – so route planning becomes essential. Maybe we could look at tagging each physical pizza so we know when it goes in and out of the system. Sure you've got systems that have all this information already, but are they freely available for your drivers on their personal cell phones? Are they as integrated as they really should be?
Further still, consider a scenario such as international travel where research, planning, booking, transport, accommodation and sight-seeing all come into the equation. And even customers managing their spending along the way, or getting help with language issues, if the ecosystem is really diverse. "Welcome to Paris CDG - here's how to find the railway station," or in Germany, "Follow the AUSGANG signs to station's exit." "Travel emergency? Hang on while we get one of our travel consultants in your country to call you and make new arrangements. It's a good thing you bought insurance!"
When we cast our gaze beyond the simple paradigm of selecting a product, paying for it, and getting it delivered, we start to see the numerous opportunities where digital technology can build an ecosystem that enhances the experience for customers and staff involved in the journey; adding personal touches, efficiencies and pleasant nice-to-haves. These all come together to create good customer experiences. And good experiences – getting that hot, tasty pizza delivered to my door on-time and without hassle – make happy customers; and happy customers ensure repeat business.
Brad Gallen is a Digital Strategist in Intergen’s Web and Digital Strategy team. When he’s not thinking about pizza, he’s helping businesses to be bold and brave in their adoption of digital strategies.