Confidence may be the key to capturing consumers’ attention in 2021 — and forming the bond that keeps shoppers coming back happens behind the scenes, according to retail solution firm Narvar.
Narvar was founded in 2012 during a simpler time for retail, but years later, the foundation for a swift and seamless shopping journey remains the same. As creator of the “post-purchase” category in e-commerce, Narvar’s raison d’être was to streamline the shopping journey itself.
Amit Sharma, founder and chief executive officer of Narvar, told WWD that “When it came to building the solution, we focused on the consumer side of things — how we could instill confidence in their e-commerce interactions and simplify the overall experience around shipment tracking, order updates, and online returns process.”
And while many brands still embody the phrase that the journey is the destination, Sharma explained that consumers’ changing needs may lead to “a renewed focus on logistics due to how consumer expectation is shifting towards more options, convenience and personalized service.”
Here, Sharma talks to WWD about the post-purchase market dynamics, changes in consumer behavior and winning strategies in retail.
WWD: Tell me about Narvar. What problem was identified, and how did Narvar solve it?
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Amit Sharma: Overall, I have been fortunate to work for some of the most amazing companies in the world — Williams-Sonoma, Walmart, Apple. They’re all very customer-obsessed, and invested a lot of time, energy, and money in the digital space to build their online businesses in the early days of e-commerce. However, I found the experience after the purchase is often overlooked, or massively underinvested. I thought this is an interesting problem to solve and could be a big opportunity down the line, to create an environment or ecosystem so that everybody, not just the biggest companies with the most resources, is able to provide a world-class post-purchase experience. And that gave me the idea that, “Hey, this is something worth exploring.”
When it came to building the solution, we focused on the consumer side of things — how we could instill confidence in their e-commerce interactions and simplify the overall experience around shipment tracking, order updates and online returns process.
WWD: Narvar is a leader in the “post-purchase” category. How is Narvar differentiated in the market and what are some of its most unique features?
A.S.: Since we created the post-purchase category and work with more than 800 retailers around the world ranging from the largest enterprise companies to emerging d-to-c brands, Narvar has set the industry standard for branded order tracking and messaging, which consumers have become accustomed to at many of the retailers they frequent. Across our platform, including returns and exchanges, we touch hundreds of millions of customers a year.
Amit Sharma, the founder and CEO of Narvar.
In addition to managing returns and exchanges of online purchases, Narvar also supports online returns of in-store purchases, which has been particularly handy during this pandemic, and in general will help retailers provide a truly channel-agnostic experience to their customers. We’re the only platform that offers printerless returns with all three major carriers in the U.S., which our latest research has shown a rising demand for among consumers. We provide an extensive network of convenient return locations including more than 8,000 Walgreens which we launched in spring of 2019, and more recently expanded to include Simon Malls and boxless returns with UPS.
WWD: From your perspective, what trends or issues are retailers seeing right now?
A.S.: Due in part to the accelerated shift toward e-commerce, returns will continue to be an important area of focus. Besides being a pain point, it is also an area of great opportunity. Strategically, retailers need to think about almost two separate tracks: very transactional commerce, which could be easily operationalized, versus emotional, “retail therapy” experiences, and we expect to see innovation on both fronts.
I also foresee a renewed focus on logistics due to how consumer expectation is shifting toward more options, convenience and personalized service. We need to increase efficiencies and reduce costs across the board, as well as finding better last-mile options (or first-mile when it comes to returns). Forward-deployed inventory — how we get products closer to the consumer to reduce travel time, cost, and environmental impact — is one key piece of infrastructure that I know many retailers are trying to address.
WWD: It’s been a very tough year for retail. What advice would you give to retailers/brands in distress?
A.S.: It’s important to focus on the fundamentals and try not to have heavy promotional discounts. We’ve long known that competing on price is a race to the bottom and a short-term mind-set. Instead of chasing lower prices and higher acquisition costs, focus instead on retaining and building relationships with customers and doubling down on your brand’s uniqueness.
It’s hard in these times not to panic and default to a mind-set of “revenue at any cost,” but if it’s at all possible to survive while making a radical shift toward cultivating existing customer relationships, that strategy will win out in the long run.
WWD: What will Narvar tackle next?
A.S.: In the near term, we’ll continue to enhance capabilities around omnichannel, location services and local/last mile. There is that seamless transition between the physical world and digital world. How do you look at the daily lives of consumers and then simplify those experiences in a meaningful fashion? Those are the areas we’ll continue to expand.
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