Exploring Smart Home assistance options. Around 20% of smart speaker owners use them for shopping-related activities, whether that’s ordering products, creating a reminder, conducting research, or tracking deliveries. This figure is expected to jump to 52% within the next four years and retailers need to adjust their strategies accordingly.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tobias Buxhoidt, CEO and co-founder of parcelLab, a customer experience platform that helps retailers of all sizes optimize their operations so they can offer their customers the best possible shopping experience.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I grew up working in my family’s second generation logistics company and have always had an interest in logistics. This led me to a logistics consulting position after I graduated college. The problem I kept coming up against during my time working in this field was how bad the end-customer experience was across all the companies I was working with, both big and small. I was determined to fix this issue and that’s why I started my current company parcelLab, where we ensure that every customer has the best experience by helping companies implement or expand their customer experience and retention strategies.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There are always so many interesting stories that come up when starting a company, but the most interesting and surprising thing I’ve noticed is how the response to our product has changed over the past five years. When we started parcelLab, most people told us that our solution had no value since carriers such as UPS handled customer communication during the delivery process. Now, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, every retailer wants to control and improve their post-purchase customer experience and truly sees the value that our fully white-labelled platform delivers. As more retail companies are starting to focus on optimizing their e-commerce strategies, the need to reevaluate their post-purchase practices will become even more prevalent and lead to more interesting stories for us.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
As an entrepreneur, your journey of building a company will consist of many mistakes and even more learning opportunities. I’m sure many other founders can attest that trial and error often leads you to your best ideas. When we first started out, I wanted to design a logo for our company myself and experimented with Wordart and Clipart. I quickly learned that design was not within my skill set — my attempts were pretty funny and I still laugh about those initial sketches. I ended up hiring a designer and our logo turned out great! The lesson I learned was that you shouldn’t try to do everything yourself, even though many times you may be tempted to.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
As e-commerce continues to expand and shape the retail market, parcelLab has grown and evolved rapidly in the past five years. It’s been an exciting time and we’ve built a strong team of immensely talented people that have unique ideas, challenge the status-quo, and ensure that we’re at the forefront of the industry.
We’re currently working on our digital returns experience which helps retailers optimize their return process and benefits online shoppers in various ways. They get a consistent and seamless experience when returning items, know exactly where their package is, and receive updates via their preferred communication channels throughout the entire journey. The return process is not only faster and easier for consumers, but as it will be paperless, it’s also better for the environment.
We’re excited to see the impact this new experience will have on consumers and their shopping behaviour, how retailers think about the entire operations experience, and on the industry at large.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As a founder, you are always busy and more often than not you’re overworked and stressed. You’re investing everything you have in your company and work tirelessly to see it succeed. The key is to never let that pressure overtake you, remain in control, and remind yourself of your goals and what excites you about the work you do. I actually like working with high intensity at times and try not to focus on work-life balance which may seem counterintuitive. But my work is my life and I enjoy it — I don’t see it as a burden or something that can burn me out.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
It’s hard to name one particular person — there are so many people I’m grateful for that helped me grow and learn during the past five years. Many experienced entrepreneurs have shared their advice, lessons, and strategies with me on building and growing a successful business, hiring talented people, listening to your customers, and so much more. They have all been a big influence in my professional life and I wouldn’t be here without them.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Providing a platform for retailers of all sizes that enables them to improve their operations and retain and satisfy loyal customers has been the core of our mission. We want to not only help businesses succeed but also provide a better experience for consumers — it’s a win-win! When we first started parcelLab, people asked us why anyone would need our product and told us there was no value in it.
However, in the last five years, the industry has quickly caught up and now sees the need for our platform and how it brings comfort, ease, and enjoyment to consumers. The current pandemic has accelerated this evolution of the retail and e-commerce industry, further driving innovation to help companies all over the world succeed.
As parcelLab has been part of this evolution, we’ve grown from a team of three to a team of 100 in four different cities around the world. We’ve been able to create employment opportunities not only within our company but also within the retailers we work with, which today is over 500.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?
- Over-Communicating. Brands are communicating more with customers about extra delays in shipping and also internally with their customer service teams. A lot of warehouse operations and customer service call centers have been affected by the pandemic and retailers are making sure their customers are aware of any delays.
- Taking e-commerce more seriously. Before the pandemic, e-commerce often only made up 10–25% of a retailer’s overall revenue. With COVID-19 guidelines forcing the closure of physical stores, retailers have realized that their e-commerce business is keeping them afloat and are moving their focus to the digital side.
- Making the online experience reflect the in-store experience. As many retailers have closed their physical stores and/or are seeing in-store sales decline, they are looking for ways to offer a branded, unique experience online — from browsing through products to delivery and even returns or repairs.
- Paying attention to the post-purchase customer experience. Brands understand the need to communicate with their customers post-sales — improving the experience after the purchase increases revenue, customer engagement and loyalty, and reduces inquiries for customer support teams.
- Exploring Smart Home assistance options. Around 20% of smart speaker owners use them for shopping-related activities, whether that’s ordering products, creating a reminder, conducting research, or tracking deliveries. This figure is expected to jump to 52% within the next four years and retailers need to adjust their strategies accordingly.
In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?
Physical stores will continue to exist, although I see them moving more towards providing experiences. For example, you would still try out, touch, and see a TV in-store but it would be delivered to your house rather than you bringing it home yourself. I imagine more of a showroom scenario where the product inventory is not within the brick-and-mortar location, but available for delivery if you choose to buy it. This model would encourage companies to focus more of their efforts on providing high-quality service and making sure each customer has a great experience from shopping and ordering for delivery instead of placing so much importance on speed.
The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?
Invest in your customer experience. As more consumers are moving from brand loyalty to experience loyalty, retailers need to prioritize customer retention over marketing and customer acquisition. They need to offer a best-in-class experience that goes beyond brick-and-mortar to stay competitive.
Retailers should also experiment with more sustainable delivery options as the continued consumer demand for sustainable brands will extend beyond the product and packaging. While some brands are already offsetting the carbon footprint of their shipping, this can extend into alternative delivery carrier options, such as bicycle delivery for packages — think DoorDash food delivery but for purchases like apparel and other items.
Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?
It’s all about trust. Consumers need to trust you over other, potentially cheaper options. You need to build brand loyalty with your customers which goes beyond the lowest price. This includes frequent communication about online orders, such as shipping and/or delay notifications and discount codes, and providing an overall seamless and enjoyable experience for your customers.
D2C will be a big trend for 2021 and beyond. D2C commerce has exploded over the past few years, giving brands direct access to customers and profits while giving customers direct access to brands and often lower prices. If you associate D2C with cheap razor blades, affordable mattresses, and trending makeup, then prepare to have your mind changed. Customers are turning to luxury private label brands for superior products and experiences.
We’re currently working on a relevant U.S.-focused study around the D2C customer experience and how it impacts consumer purchasing habits — you’ll find it on our website in early 2021.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I wish I could create a movement around kindness, positivity, and understanding. As humans, we have so much capacity for joy and goodness and I wish we could all lean into this more. It saddens me deeply to see so much hatred, anger, and selfishness in the world these days.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!