Offering customers the ability to buy online, pick up in-store became essential during the pandemic, and its technological sophistication continues to evolve

– By Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Client Experiences, iQmetrix

Of all the retail trends that became essential during the coronavirus pandemic, the Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store (BOPIS) customer journey is arguably the one that will continue to be expected by shoppers. Prompted by changing consumer behavior in 2020, we at iQmetrix saw a 400% year-over-year increase in BOPIS-powered sales. Previously considered a “nice-to-have” in many verticals, offering BOPIS to improve the customer experience is now table stakes across the retail sector. Customers will continue to expect a seamless omnichannel retail experience going forward, along with other convenient elements such as curbside pickup.

Personalizing Pickup Interaction Levels

Integrations that allow for customers to select the level of sales associate interaction during their pick-up experience are an example of the evolving technological features. Instead of simply selecting the delivery option to pick up in-store, customers can now choose whether they are willing to talk to a sales associate during pick-up, whether they want no interaction or upselling, or whether they want the item brought out to a curbside pick-up point.

It’s a strategy that has been used in ride-share apps such as Uber, where a customer booking a ride can decide if they want to chat with the driver or have a quiet ride. Within wireless retail, it’s not merely about choosing that human interaction, but also electronically acknowledging whether you want to be upsold or not. That way, when the customer walks in and the retailer pulls up their profile, the associate knows not to try to upsell this customer, just give them their purchase. This requires adaptability by the store associates, who have to tailor the service they are giving, person by person.

The pick-up experience is also an essential consideration

In turn, this means retailers must train their staff differently, and find ways to get more creative with the customers who don’t want to be upsold, to engage with them so that they will be a repeat customer in the future while respecting their comfort levels. One way around this is suggestive selling during the online purchase process, providing complementary items to a shopper that would be a good match for items in their cart. Fulfillment solutions provide insights into a customer’s purchasing trends, meaning retailers can always offer the most desired products.

The trend for a contactless BOPIS pickup experience is also having an impact on the physical store. For customers who want to pick up their product with no associate interaction, many stores are providing a dedicated area for pickup that skips the regular line. That also requires some type of signage in the store, or even an associate working as a greeter, similar to what you’d see in an Apple store, to guide BOPIS customers to the right place. This also extends further to fulfilling curbside pickups if that is part of the fulfillment offering.

Impact on Inventory Management

Changing systems for physical inventory management is another effect of the BOPIS strategy. This is about how retailers are physically separating inventory to define what is product available for sale and what is reserved for BOPIS, and whether the latter is ready for pickup. This means the store layout is not the only area to change; the back-of-house inventory storage also has to physically change to accommodate these needs.

In addition to the physical inventory management side, the technology behind inventory management for BOPIS is a crucial element of this strategy. Having a system that logs the serial number for the product purchased via BOPIS is crucial, so that the product is highlighted on the network as already sold, so it can’t be sold to anyone else in store—the serial number is locked.

If that’s the case, even if your physical inventory separation fails, any store associate is still unable to sell the product to somebody else.

Complications Within Wireless Retail

Furthermore, in the wireless retail sector, all these steps must be integrated with the carrier, which adds a significant complication to the process. Customers are often reserving on a carrier’s e-commerce website but could be picking up in an authorized retailer’s store.

When selecting BOPIS on the website, the customer enters a zip code, it shows the stores nearby where the product is available, which includes all the authorized retailer and corporate stores. Then the customer selects the store for pickup and pays for the item online. When the payment goes through, a sales order is created, and it goes through to that location’s database and notifies the store that they have a pickup order. The sales associate will see that, get the product, and update the sales order with the item’s serial number. This locks the product against other sales, and notifies the carrier that the order is prepared and they can tell the customer it is ready. The customer gets a notification and they pick up their order at their convenience. The store associate, pending the customer’s selection online for the in-store pickup experience, could have an opportunity to assist with activation or upsell the customer while they are in-store.

There are many potential complications within wireless retail

Another added complication is that authorized retailers operate independently from the carriers, and have autonomy over how many items of a certain product they want to keep in store for walk-in customers. The retailer needs to have the option, for example if they have 10 items in stock, to have three of them available to be sold online because they want to keep seven for in-store customers who can more easily be upsold with accessories and screen protectors, which have a higher profit margin. These retailers may have contracts in place with the carriers that their inventory levels remain undisclosed to the carrier. It’s important that the technology allows for the carrier’s e-commerce website to show the customer what products are available for a BOPIS order at their nearby store, without revealing the retailer’s inventory levels or choices to the carrier.

Of course, all these digital technologies are not a replacement for the expertise of a sales associates, and 65% of shoppers are still satisfied with an in-store shopping experience, according to the UPS report. What digital technologies such as BOPIS can do is ensure the customer is still getting the great experience they would expect from a store, with the convenience of online shopping and a seamless completion of the retail journey.