The personal, digital touch

From the June 2019 print edition

Michael Power is editor of Supply Professional magazine.

Some years ago, my wife ordered running shoes online from Nike. It seemed novel at the time, but she could customize them in ways she couldn’t shopping in a store. She could choose details for the shoes by clicking various options.

My wife is a huge fan of bright, bold colour, and the shoes she designed had no shortage of them. She was even able to have her nickname stitched on the side of the heel.

This personalization meant that no one would ever have shoes exactly like hers, despite being manufactured by one of the biggest athletic apparel companies on the planet. Of course, other companies now offer similar services.

Adidas even offers shoes with a 3D-printed sole for a custom fit.
Technology, digitization and e-commerce have sparked many things, not the least of which is personal solutions to customer needs. At one time, if you wanted a pair of shoes, you had limited options. Your shopping experience was also the same as everyone else’s—you went to the store and chose from whatever options were there.

No one complained, or even noticed, that options were limited. But today’s unlimited choice has a way of making one forget the way things once were.
Take Pillpack, an Amazon company that bills itself on its website as “the pharmacy of the future”. The company is an online pharmacy “designed around your life” that sorts clients’ medications by date and time, then delivers them to those clients each month.

The service includes not only prescription medications but non-prescription supplements, like vitamin D or fish oil. It’s personalization in a bottle, almost literally.

At the Supply Chain Management Association’s 100th-anniversary conference in Montreal recently, keynote speaker and Walmart senior vice-president Ramesh Chikkala noted that, whatever business you’re in, you’re still in the people business. Start with the customer in mind.

He makes an excellent point. Even online, shoppers want a nice, personal experience. Not only through the product itself, but also the delivery and unboxing of digitally purchased products are expected to be a good experience.
The shopping experience now includes a combination of online and offline, as Chikkala also pointed out. People are looking for and getting things in traditional brick-and-mortar stores, but also in front of their computers or, more frequently, smart devices.

Although online shopping is by definition a remote experience, companies must remain connected to customers, lest they lose that personal touch. Perhaps ironically, technologies like AI and the Internet of Things will likely increase the personal feeling of dealing with technology.

Supply chain people, like everyone else in business, will work to keep that human touch—not just with customers but internal clients, colleagues and others. Just ask Indigo’s Jon Rosemberg, our profile subject this issue. On page 14, he explains how treating people well and fostering relationships is one of the most valuable lessons he’s learned during his career.

And cutting-edge, futuristic technology will help to foster those relationships.