As retailers look to provide a credible response to the online-only threat of companies such as Amazon and eBay, the option for buying online and picking-up in store (BOPIS) is gaining traction. The initiative is part of a larger focus on providing customers with greater convenience, from speeding up delivery and reducing inefficiencies, to better leveraging the physical retail assets and driving more store traffic.
The rise of BOPIS and all of its consumer benefits also represents a cornerstone of the emerging retail omni-channel strategy and a key reason why the death of bricks-and-mortar has been greatly exaggerated. Not surprisingly, more than 70 percent of retailers view BOPIS as a competitive imperative and 38 percent credit BOPIS as a key to bringing shoppers into their store and making additional purchases. On the consumer side, 73 percent of respondents in a recent study said that they would choose BOPIS to avoid shipping fees.
While BOPIS promises to be a win-win for both retailers and consumers, there are still friction points in the process that need to be worked out. Leveraging a Bell and Howell study on the BOPIS state of the industry along with our own expertise, we have identified key factors in delivering an in-store pick-up experience that truly delivers differentiation.
Outside the Store Convenience and Awareness
Establishing designated parking for pick-up is important in driving customer use of a pick-up service. The study identified that overall wait time is reduced significantly when designated parking is available, and use of the service goes up by 7 percent. The secondary benefit of having well-signed parking spaces for a pick-up is allowing the retailer to promote their BOPIS service to all customers as they look for a place to park close to the store entrance. Adding to the study, we would recommend the use of digital signage that offers an expected wait time, similar to that of a dentist, as it would help reinforce the speed and convenience of this service right in the parking lot.
We would also recommend developing a strong brand identity for the BOPIS service, creating what we define as the Blink Factor–an emotional connection in the blink of an eye–and the ability to cut through the clutter through the use of a strong colour and shape. Offering 24-hour pick-up options at remote locations, similar to what some grocery stores have started doing, is another way to promote the BOPIS offering to the larger public while conveniently delivering products to consumers.
Inside the Store Ease of Access and Visibility
Having strong signage that identifies the pick-up area for when a customer enters your store is another critical aspect in driving frequency of usage and customer satisfaction, and is something that many BOPIS offerings currently lack. Along with speeding up the pick-up process for customers, interior signage can once again draw attention to the service for those that are not currently aware of it.
The location of the pick-up area within the store is also essential, and having it easily accessible at the front of the store will go a long way in validating their decision to try out your BOPIS service. Another option is to have lockers within your store, either in a separate pick-up area or near the entrance, that allows customers to pick-up their purchases quickly and securely. Amazon has turned this idea into the Amazon Locker Hub, but bricks-and-mortar retailers could learn from the 24-hour ATM service that most banks provide at their locations.
The Right Staff Service Choreography
The Bell and Howell study validated what we already know is a major friction point for customers: long wait times. Staffing levels is one of the key factors driving longer wait times at check-outs and the same principles apply for any BOPIS program. Having adequate staffing who are engaged with helping customers through speed of service and responsiveness will help support the fundamental benefits of the program.
A key factor well established in the fast-food drive-thru industry that should be considered in BOPIS programs is that any service longer than one minute has a significant negative impact on the service perception of customers. Offering quick service and having the purchased product readily available means the shopper is 24 percent more likely to buy something else on that trip and 17 percent more likely to both use the service again and recommend it to others.
Leveraging Automation and Digital Technology
While having staff help a customer with their in-store pick-up adds a personal element to the transaction, BOPIS also provides the perfect opportunity to implement the latest in automated and digital technology. Look at McDonald’s and the amount of people who elect to use the self-ordering kiosk instead of going to a cashier, and you can see that when given the choice, many customers will opt for an automated experience.
Automating the BOPIS experience not only allows for the previously outlined after-hours pick-up lockers and locations, but can also help speed up the back-of-house process of packaging and sorting orders. The growth of robotics within the retail industry is ever increasing, and while concerns about job loss are valid and important, there is certainly a way in which technology can be used to increase productivity and help staff.
Ultimately, shoppers are looking for convenience, customer service and personalization, and it is critical that retailers meet their expectations or risk becoming irrelevant. BOPIS has become a pillar to help drive growth for retailers and ensure their bricks-and-mortar investments remain relevant well into the future. However, like so many new services or shopping platforms, a weak link in the value-creating experience can go a long way in reducing customer loyalty and driving sales to online-only retailers.
In-store pick-up of online orders is just the tip of an omni-channel iceberg that grows larger every year. As this new channel continues to evolve, expect to see future iterations through robotics and AI machine learning that will not only ensure the order is filled properly but also provide recommendations on products the customer may have not thought to order.