The process of online ordering being backed up with in-store pick-ups is improving as the idea becomes more popular with consumers, but multi-channel retailers still need to form stronger relationships to make it work well, according to research by The E-tailing Group Inc.
With a goal of understanding the multi-channel experience of making a purchase online and then picking up that product at a store (from both customer and systems integration perspectives), The E-tailing Group recently tested 15 merchants that offer this option in the USA.
Each merchant was shopped twice, testing the overall customer experience in large and small store formats for comparison and consistency. The study found that, although the buy online/in-store pick-up process is improving, few merchants are truly using the experience to either build relationships or garner incremental sales.
Lauren Freedman, president for The E-tailing Group, said: "Even if they are friendly and knowledgeable, store associates appear to be multi-tasking, assuming the role of the cashier more than the salesperson. We see a real opportunity to increase sales by using more suggestive selling techniques at this juncture."
During the testing process, five specific in-store merchant initiatives stood out in particular:
- Ritz Camera: The sales associate told the shopper about the store's Frequent Buyer Club.
- Borders: The sales associate asked if the shopper wanted to replace the item being returned.
- Payless Shoes: The sales associate gave a US$2 discount coupon, redeemable across channels, despite the shopper returning a product.
- Sears: The store made excellent use of a kiosk for pick-ups, repairs, and returns.
- Lowe's: Sales associates wore vests bearing cross-channel messaging, as well as the company's web site address.
Other notable findings from the study included:
- 90% of merchants provide free shipping to the store for pick-up (compared to 88% last year).
- 67% of the stores offer same day pick-up (compared to 63% last year).
- Operationally, the in-store experience went smoothly, although inconsistencies were apparent at different branches of the same merchant.
- Merchandise was ready and waiting 87% of the time (75% in 2004).
- Overall, the average wait time was only 3.5 minutes, consistent with 2004's 3.38 minutes.
- Even though only 30% of the merchants had designated pick-up counters, 73% of store associates were able to locate ordered products quickly.
- Beyond designated locations, other areas for pick-up included customer service counters (33%) and cashier's stations (37%).
- Sixty percent of the time the pick-up areas were easy to find, but The E-tailing Group recommends further improving signage from a store's multiple points of entry to the designated pick-up location.
Online, the store locator (present on all of the tested merchants' web sites) is a critical component of the in-store pick-up process. According to Freedman, its implementation should be comprehensive, including everything the customer needs to know in order to quickly and easily pick-up or return products. The study found that:
- The notification process is usually triggered by an e-mail (73%) or a phone call (27%), advising the customer that the product is ready for pick-up at the selected store, as well as pertinent information to complete the transaction.
- Store hours are critical to the pick-up process and, despite their low presence on the sites shopped (13%), they should be a standard element of the process.
- Only 33% of retailers stated the allotted time to pick up an order. Again, this information should (where necessary) be a standard component of the notification email or phone call.
- 70% allowed up to 8 days to collect the goods from the nominated store, while the remaining 30% allowed a more friendly 14 days. The longer this time period, the better.
The E-tailing Group has published a 10 point check-list to help multi-channel retailers improve their in-store pick-up process:
- Consistently send an email notification when merchandise is available for pick-up.
- Include detailed pick-up information in the e-mail notification, including the store's address, telephone number, and opening hours.
- Strive to have merchandise available for pick-up within 24 to 48 hours of the order being placed.
- Create a well-staffed area for in-store pick-ups to increase efficiency.
- Teach all store employees about in-store pick-ups, as well as the need for up-selling and cross-selling rather than just ringing up a sale.
- Have the merchandise available and ready.
- Designated pick-up counters should also be able to accommodate returns.
- Eliminate the need to re-ring the product in store to streamline the process.
- Allow at least 14 days for pick-ups, and provide flexibility if the customer is unable to meet the deadline.
- Take advantage of cross-marketing opportunities in-store.
The study's full report and guidance can be obtained directly from The E-tailing Group (US$495), including an overview of state of the multi-channel shopping, customer feedback from the EMC2 Survey, a review of the shop online/buy in-store survey process, 30+ benchmarks, best practices, top performers, and improvement recommendations.