Jet.com President Simon Belsham has a clear focus for the online retailing business he took over earlier this year. He’s been tasked with integrating customer experiences with grocery and general merchandise for target Jet customers — affluent, urban consumers.
During a recent media briefing in Bentonville for Walmart shareholders week, Belsham said food is at the core of Jet’s plans because of its importance in building relationships with people. Belsham brings a wealth of grocery experience from the United Kingdom where he ran Tesco’s digital operations and more recently was CEO of a marketplace retailer notonthehighstreet.com, based in the U.K.
“Anywhere in the world when people gather food is often at the center of these experiences regardless of the culture. If you are going to have a relationship with customers you really need to be offering food,” Belsham said “No one is really doing online food that well in the U.S. With Jet being part of Walmart we have the ability to do something really different.”
He said that point of difference is what makes consumers turn to certain shops or type in the web address.
David Echegoyen, chief customer officer at Jet.com, said Jet’s initial focus was to compete with Walmart online, with a focus on scaling items, customers and taking market share from Amazon and Walmart. But after the $3.3 billion acquisition by Walmart, Jet is free to focus on urban affluent consumers in densely-populated metros like New York City. Echegoyen said urban, affluent shoppers represent about 30% of the U.S. demand and that’s a big opportunity for Jet.
“The beauty of Walmart and Jet no longer competing, we can work together to build out scale in two complementary markets urban for Jet and suburban and more rural for Walmart,” Echegoyen said.
The executives said there are three things they believe will set Jet.com apart from Walmart and Amazon: Tailored experience, unique assortment and personal service.
“In the past year Jet has really been focusing on the needs of the more affluent consumers in Northeast and west coast. More SKUS (items) are not necessarily better among the urban shoppers. … As we have focused on consumer relationships we realized having a vetted assortment is valued by affluent, busy consumers who don’t want to wade through a long list of possibilities when shopping online,” Echegoyen said.
Belsham said Jet is working to attract different brands and suppliers from its parent company. He said Apple now sells all of its Mac products on Jet.com, where Walmart may only carry a few. He said Jet is also going after more elusive, urban brands that can help set it apart. The Uniquely J private brand is also a focus as well as organic, non-GMO, natural, non-corrosive and other eco-friendly niche brands that resonant with it’s core customers.
Echegoyen said the plan is to curate a house of aspirational brands sought by its growing customer base. He said there will be times when a proprietary brand like Allswell — launched by Andy Dunn, founder of Bonobos — will be sold by Walmart and Jet. Allswell sells mattresses and upscale bedding online at Jet and Walmart and on its own site.
CONTROL OVER SPEED
Belsham said last mile fulfillment is critical for Jet which is why owning that service via Parcel, acquired in September of 2017 by Walmart, was necessary. He said because the service is owned it can be developed inline with the same-day proposition which is a big asset to Jet.
“Getting the final mile delivery experience right is critical for an online retailer because the delivery is the touch point between the customer and the retailer. We are excited about Parcel and this opportunity for fulfillment in the New York City metro area,” he added.
Echegoyen said while fast delivery has been much of the focus by online retailers, speed is not everything: control is. He said when delivering fresh grocery the focus has to be on the right timing, not the fastest delivery, particularly if there are perishables involved.
“Speed is also not that important when you order a couch from us and its get delivered a week earlier than you need it. You have to put your old one out on the curb and get fined for doing so. Speed is different in urban areas and understanding the unique customer needs of those living in densely populated metro areas is something Jet is focused on. These customers live by controlled time, they must catch a train on time, drop the kids off at a certain time, pick the kids up by a designated time and this represents opportunities for us to work deliveries into their time constraints,” Echegoyen said.
Belsham said the customer experience is the future of retail. He said Jet is re-humanizing online commerce because technology augments retail, it does not replace it. He said without relationships online retail is merely transactions. Relationships equal better customer experiences and for Jet humans are the center, he said.
Jet uses real human interactions in its chat box feature to help online shoppers who have questions. Belsham said the chat box is run out of Salt Lake City, Utah, and the digitally native e-tailer is not using chatbots like other competitors.
He said Jet is focused on having brands its customers want including staples, seasonal and aspirational trendy items but Jet will never sell everything.
“We don’t have to have everything for everybody and in online retail, especially general merchandise. It seems retailers who used to do much of the inventory curating and culling for customers who shopped in brick and mortar stores, now leave much of that work up to consumers to do themselves when they shop online. We think retail should be about the right curated assortment wanted by customers,” Belsham said.
Echegoyen said no one should ever have to sort through 567 vacuum cleaners when trying to buy one online. Jet’s mission is to do much o the work for the customers and offer a smaller number of items it believes customers will want to purchase. He said that is only possible because Jet seeks to understand the customer so product recommendations are personalized. For instance if a customers tells Jet they live in a one-bedroom apartment in New York, then every recommendation and product searches are geared to someone who lives in a small place, even down to the size of paper towels. He said customers are responding well to the curated inventory based on personal preferences and needs.
“This idea of re-humanizing retail allows for personalization at levels we have not yet seen in large scale ecommerce,” he added.
“That’s the direction you are going to see us taking the Jet business,” Belsham said.