Marrying the Digital and Physical Shopping Experiences: Buy Online and Pick Up In-Store

As more and more consumers opt for a digital shopping experience, businesses with a brick-and-mortar presence are faced with a critical question: how do they maintain the relevance of their physical stores while managing to compete with their online competitors? Increasingly, retailers with a foot in both worlds are experimenting with a creating a shopping experience that blends the two realms, and finding that what was previously seen as an either/or proposition might be most effective as a both/and one.

Buy online, pick up in-store, or BOPIS, relies on a deceptively simple premise. What if a customer could make their purchase online, but skip the often pricey and time-consuming shipping step by picking up their items at a physical retail outlet? By increasing choice and convenience for customers, retailers can grow their eCommerce business without hurting their physical stores. In fact, Walmart attributes part of its 40% growth in online sales in 2019 to expanded grocery pickup, showing that when executed properly, BOPIS is a best-of-both-worlds opportunity.

However, as with all things eCommerce, the devil’s in the details. If your business is considering a BOPIS initiative, read on to make sure you understand what it takes to make a blended shopping experience is a success.

Why BOPIS?

First, let’s start with a deeper dive on some of the reasons BOPIS is becoming so ubiquitous for retailers with both an online and brick and mortar presence. There are benefits for both retailers and customers, and recognizing the depth of these benefits is useful if you’re considering making a jump of your own.

Customer Benefits

Simply put, customers are coming to expect peak efficiency from their shopping experiences. BOPIS offers a more efficient experience in a world where consumers are always on the go. Additionally, specific benefits include:

  • Cost – Many customers choose BOPIS to save on shipping costs, up to 73%, in fact, according to Invesp.
  • Immediacy – Oftentimes, BOPIS can save on shipping times, if the purchased item is in stock at the local store. Even if it’s not, delivery from distributors or other store locations may be faster to a retail outlet than it would be to the buyer’s home address.
  • Convenience – Many businesses have introduced real-time updates alongside their BOPIS service, so that customers know as soon as their purchase is ready for pickup. This cuts down on time in the store (or eliminates it, if curbside pickup is available), and creates a high-end experience for every customer.
  • Extended Selection – If a business has several locations in a general region, BOPIS can extend the inventory of each store by allowing each to tap into the inventory of the others. This will provide greater selection to customers without sacrificing the convenience of shopping at their closest store.
  • Privacy – If a customer is buying gifts for the family around the holidays, BOPIS combined with free gift-wrapping service is a great way to keep the contents a secret, and avoid having a branded box delivered to the customer’s house.

Retailer Benefits

From a retailer’s perspective, BOPIS isn’t just about improving the customer experience and boosting online sales. In fact, BOPIS also offers tangible secondary benefits that can allow both sides of your business to operate more efficiently. Consider these ancillary benefits, for example:

  • In-Store Sales – Even if a customer has already made a purchase, that doesn’t mean they’re done shopping. Every time a customer enters your store you have the opportunity to sell them something, and often enough, that’s exactly what happens. Research by Invesp found that over 63% of shoppers made an additional purchase while picking up another item, with 59% of them saying they do so at least some of the time.
  • Loyalty/Incentive Programs – Beyond the chance of a customer finding something else to purchase while they pick up their previous order, the additional in-store touchpoint offers retailers another opportunity to present loyalty or incentive programs to their customers. Just as it’s easier to say no to a telemarketer than it is to someone knocking on your front door, the same is true of online offers.
  • Improved Returns – Anyone running an online businesses knows how much of a cost-suck returns can be. In addition to tracking and processing the return, you may have to repackage it, send it back to a distribution center, and issue a refund. But when a customer has a chance to inspect or even try on their item in the store before heading home, you can avoid much of this hassle, and improve the likelihood that they’ll swap their purchase for another item rather than request a refund.
  • Reduced Inventory Overhead – The flip side of using physical locations to extend the selection available to customers is that also reduces the amount of inventory that’s required to be held. You can source from nearby stores, warehouses, or vendors, and easily incorporate online orders into your normal course of business. You can potentially even use your physical locations as de facto distribution centers, saving the cost of setting up an entirely separate warehouse.
  • Reduce Shipping Costs – Shipping costs are a major issue for consumers, and can often be the difference between a purchase and an abandoned cart. With BOPIS, however, you can offer free shipping without eating the full cost yourself by folding fulfillment into your normal supply chain logistics.

Getting BOPIS Right

If BOPIS seems like a no-brainer, well, it kind of is. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Quality BOPIS implementation is excellent in theory, but getting it right in practice is no walk in the park. There are numerous technical and logistical challenges you’ll need to solve to make the initiative a success. We have experience implementing BOPIS for major retailers in the past, and here are some of the key pieces of advice we provide our clients at the start of any initiative.

Avoid the urge to rush a solution to market

Yes, customers want this. Yes, you’re missing out on sales that won’t happen without it. And yes, if your competitors don’t already offer BOPIS, they will soon.

But don’t let this feeling of urgency pressure you into cutting corners and releasing a half-baked BOPIS feature. Failing to get the technology and process right the first time can kill your reputation, and possibly even the long-term success of the feature altogether.

Be careful not to miss the big picture with enabling technology

Remember, the reality of BOPIS is that it will touch nearly every facet of your business. From your commerce platform to your inventory system to your payment solution, there are more moving parts than you might at first realize.

If you don’t have one already, we’d strongly recommend using an Order Management System (OMS) to help. It doesn’t have to be robust, but having an OMS that enables a single view of orders and inventory is crucial to supporting alignment between web and store channels. Selling products you don’t have will lose every customer, so make sure that if lead time is required, you know how long it will take to provide accurate details.

Make sure you identify any technologies that diverge between your online store and physical locations. If different payment processors present a challenge for returns/swaps/cancellations, make sure you have a way to resolve these problems. If a customer goes to pick up their item, decides they don’t want it, and can only be offered store credit, not only will you risk losing a customer for life, but you risk creating a major headache for the store employees who are powerless to resolve the situation.

Gain alignment between online and in-store teams before launching functionality

Finally, don’t overlook the non-technical components of a successful BOPIS rollout. Getting the in-store experience right is key to building trust and continued usage, so consider what it will take to create a seamless handoff from your online store to physical locations. If store employees don’t know what a customer is talking about upon arrival, or need to scramble to find the order, confidence will drop, and it may reduce the likelihood of the customer using the feature again in the future. Make sure customers receive the right information at the right time—where, when, and how to pickup—and configure your stores to make the process smooth from submission to fulfillment. Also, consider how volume will impact employees’ other responsibilities—understanding required staffing support will be key to gaining the planned upon efficiency benefits.

Conclusion

If you’re a retailer looking for a way to stimulate both your online and brick and mortar businesses, BOPIS might be exactly the type of feature that you need. However, as we’ve discussed, it’s critical to nail the key technology hurdles and operational requirements if you want BOPIS to be a success. We recommend starting small, proving the concept, then rolling out further once you’ve ironed out any difficulties.

Having an experienced partner to guide you through the process can be a big help. Avatria has rolled out BOPIS functionality on behalf of major retailers, and is prepared for the complications and hurdles that will arise. Contact us today to learn how we can help you make your BOPIS initiative a success.

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