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Q&A: An Insider’s Look at a Company Leading E-Commerce Logistics

Chris Miller, vice president of logistics at Narvar Inc., is at the nexus of the e-commerce revolution, leading logistics for one of key companies crafting the technology behind the phenomenon.

Founded 2012 by Amit Sharma, a retail veteran with deep expertise in omnichannel experiences and supply chain management, Narvar has served more than 200 million consumers worldwide across 3.1 billion interactions, 36 countries and 45 languages from its offices in San Francisco, London and Bangalore, India.

The company estimates that about 70 percent of U.S. adults have experienced better retail through Narvar, which provides order tracking, timely notifications, seamless returns and customer care, powering billions of interactions across touchpoints such as online, mobile, e-mail, Facebook Messenger, Google Assistant and Voice.

Miller talked to Sourcing Journal about how Narvar brings expertise in e-commerce, supply chain management, customer care and machine learning to help retailers deliver top-flight customer experiences through a comprehensive, turnkey and scaleable platform. He also discussed logistics and fulfillment issues effecting the e-commerce.

Sourcing Journal: Tell us about the scope of Narvar’s business.

Chris Miller: What we’ve done is build out a platform that basically allows a retailer to engage with and drive loyalty with the end consumer after the purchase has taken place. We have a series of products where we offer various types of communications and visibility functionalities associated with what the end consumer wants to see– whether it’s the ability to track your package, get proactive notifications through whatever social media platform you want. Also to be able to encompass all the different things going on in the logistics industry and the final-mile industry where you get something from the USPS on a six-day basis or on a next-day basis, it all has that same look and feel and communications capabilities that is basically on that retailer’s experience.

We want the consumer to feel the warm embrace of their favorite retailer throughout the purchase process. We also want to allow the retailer to drive consumer loyalty from the delivery process all the way through returns. It not only gives them the opportunity to generate additional revenue, but to retain that client in a way that they heretofore had been unable to do.

You have probably been on a Narvar experience and not even known it if you’ve bought anything online with someone not named Amazon.

SJ: What function does Narvar perform in last-mile delivery and where do see that issue right now?

CM: What we see is this huge change that’s going on in terms of customer expectations. A lot of it is driven by Amazon, but a lot of it is technology driven, and also by some companies that are really innovative in the way they are delivering services. What we see is this huge opportunity for customer choice that the logistics industry is delivering for retailers to take advantage of, but you have to have some communications and visibility, and platform functionality that allows you to serve an omni-channel retailer. That’s true whether you’re shipping something from a centralized distribution center or forward-deployed inventory location or a store, and whether that’s going to an end consumer’s home or locker or a drop-off point.

SJ: How do you interact with major carriers like UPS, Fed-Ex and DHL?

CM: Everybody that is doing e-commerce delivery is somebody that we interact with. Underlying that customer visibility and that end-consumer communication are the hooks and the partnerships with everybody from UPS, USPS, FedEx, DHL and even to small operators. We have integrations from a data perspective with all of those underlying carriers, and we also spend time trying to understand what they are trying to do with their own e-commerce delivery capabilities and making sure we are servicing them within our platform in a way that allows retailers to take advantage of them.

SJ: What are your thoughts on Amazon’s place as an e-commerce service provider?

CM: Amazon is unquestionably a pioneer and set a standard from a service expectations perspective. They have always been willing to invest in things that may or may not turn out. They’ve pioneered the concept of forward-deployed inventory and what that means in terms of not only how fast product can be delivered, but also in terms of distribution center structure and network planning and all the things retailers are doing to compete have been Amazon innovations.

The cool thing about Amazon is that they’ll do long-shot stuff like drones. I personally don’t perceive any opportunity to have any ubiquitous or effective drone delivery, at least for e-commerce, but that doesn’t mean they don’t invest in it. They drive the industry in a lot of ways from an innovation perspective, as well as inventory management and the ability to deliver product. What I don’t think they’re necessarily very good at is curating the customer experience.

SJ: What’s the next frontier for Narvar and the e-commerce logistics industry?

CM: Consumer choice is driving everything in the logistic final-mile space right now, focusing on giving additional opportunities to the consumer when they want it, how they want it. A couple of examples are Amazon has rolled out the ability to deliverv to the trunk of a car or deliver to a house. DHL just launched in Germany the ability to schedule a package delivery in the evening when you’re there. FedEx rolled out the program where you can access your product at Walgreen’s.

All of these companies are enabling the consumer to provide information and change it while in transit. Consumers are more and more demanding, and with each new innovation, if its sticks, the rest of the industry has to lead, follow or get out of the way.

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