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There is one simple way to describe modern shopping habits and expectations: I want it—now. So much so that the likes of Amazon have built their entire business model around the idea of instant gratification. Therefore, it’s no surprise that the experience being provided by Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, is proving to be a thorn in the side of many retailers as the expectation of “immediate” is almost certainly front and center.

And though I never like to give Amazon any credit whatsoever, in the case of fulfillment its game is most definitely on point. The question, therefore, is how and why are they on top? The answer is simple: logistics—they can deliver now.

On the flip side, think of the most frustrating retail scenarios that so many of us have experienced: the item not being in stock. I can’t count the number of times I’ve arrived at grocery stores, retail stores, and even restaurants, just to find out that the item being advertised isn’t available.

Of course, these are the situations that lead to the archaic idea of the so-called “rain check,” the voucher that says, “Sorry, we screwed up and don’t have the item in stock, but if you would like to spend your precious time driving all the way back here in a week or two you can still get the deal.” Sounds crazy when you hear it out loud, right?

But that’s not where the—“You had one job, where’s the item?”—frustration ends. Not knowing what’s in stock or available doesn’t just pertain to ads and specials; in fact, one of our famous Retail Fails tackled this exact situation.

One of our team members looking for a present for their significant other couldn’t find an item in-store in the right size, so asked a store clerk to check inventory / availability at another store. Needless to say, after waiting for 15 minutes while the clerk waited on the phone for people at another location to check, our team member simply opened their Amazon app and purchased it while standing there and then promptly left, never to return.

It’s safe to say that this is no longer an extreme reaction. As said, customer expectations are at an all-time high, and with so much competition all fighting for a customer’s loyalty, walking away is easier than ever with no loss to the customer at all.

So what does a retailer do? Again, it’s all about logistics. Knowing what is available in inventory and where it is, is a crucial step in ensuring good customer experiences.

Having a module that can plug into your customer engagement platform to deliver a 360 degree view of inventory and its availability—in-store, additional locations, or even the warehouse—is the cornerstone of success. It not only helps you to live up to customer expectations, but also when combined with your promotional efforts it will downright exceed them.

There’s a formula here that modern successful businesses abide by. First, unify the data, know where it resides in whatever fashion and consolidate it into one manageable and actionable system. Second, engage with the customer by leveraging their data, creating a single-user-profile that speaks to each person as an individual. And third, optimize your systems and data to know where everyone and everything is at all times. This means the ability to manage inventory in such a way that it’s part of your brand, and part of the overall experience.

This is going to sound blunt, and it’s meant to. We now live in a highly connected, modern world that revolves entirely around data. We all know it. More importantly, the customer knows it. There are far too many options out there to rely on old retail models where someone gets a rain check. A rain check is just another way of saying, “You have to wait.” In today’s climate of immediacy—when others can deliver now—that’s the equivalent of asking your customers to check out—for good.

The message here is: If you don’t want customers checking out, never offer them a rain check.

Andrew Armstrong

Andrew Armstrong

Chief Customer Officer

Andrew Armstrong is the Chief Customer Officer at omNovos – working globally with customers to design world-class customer engagement programs. He’s a prolific writer and speaker on topics including customer loyalty, personalization, and retail marketing technologies. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter - his open approach to all topics usually leads to a fun discussion and a few laughs.