February 9th, 2018

How Apparel E-tailers Can Embrace In-Store Pickup

Originally published on Signifyd.com

We can pretty much stipulate that buy-online-pickup-in-store is on the list of buzz-worthy ongoing retail trends.

It was on the lips of many at last month’s NRF Big Show. Consumers are all in, with half of consumers telling pollsters they’ve used in-store pickup. And retailers are either knee-deep in the offering or are working hurriedly to build an effective system.

And it’s only a matter of time before we all figure out what the short-hand for the feature is — BOPUS, BOPIS, click-and-collect O2O (online-to-offline), etc.

In some ways, though, in-store pickup is one of those things that is a beautiful idea that can spur a somewhat ugly reality. Consider an apparel retailer, for instance, confronted with thousands of garments in multiple sizes and colors and combinations of those different attributes. An online shopper sees them all and expects to be able to pick up a specific article of clothing at a local store, unless the store’s site is able to tell the customer otherwise.

I talked with Dean Frew, of the SML Group, about this very thing at NRF’s annual trade show last month. As CTO of SML, Frew works regularly with apparel retailers, helping them deploy RFID (radio frequency identification) systems to help their operations run more smoothly. In the video below, he talks about some of the challenges and potential solutions involved in offering buy-online-pickup in store.

The work that Frew is talking about amounts to the heavy lifting of retail. It’s the behind-the-scenes excellence that multi-channel retailers strive for while trying to never let customers see them sweat. Consumers today simply expect things to work. If they order a shirt, dress, pair of slacks, shoes, purse or belt online and the site says they can pick it up in an hour, they expect it to be at the store waiting for them.

It turns out that reality is a serious struggle for many retailers. NTT Data Services, a consultancy and IT provider, recently released a survey that looked at 15 of the largest multi-channel retailers in the United States. It found that only a third were able to have an order ready for pickup within an hour of the order being place. Half of the retailers could not fulfill an order the same day it was placed, NTT’s “Retail Study: Buy Online, Pickup in Store” report concluded.

OrderDynamics, meanwhile, found that only 29.1 percent of U.S. retailers offer a buy-online-pick-up-in-store-option. The figure is 37 percent worldwide, with the United Kingdom leading the pack with 67 percent of retailers offering the service.

Roughly half of consumers, on the other hand, would like to have the option of ordering digitally and picking up their orders physically. NTT and the JDA Voice of the Consumer survey found that 49 and 50 percent respectively of shoppers surveyed said they’d used buy-online-pick-up-in-store services.

The mismatch provides a great opportunity for retailers who can catch up with consumer habits. Allowing for in-store pickup of online orders gives apparel merchants a way to differentiate themselves from Amazon, which doesn’t have physical clothing stores. And the service brings shoppers into brick-and-mortar stores where large percentages of shoppers buy items beyond what they came in to pick up.

The question now is whether retailers will be able to get to a place where the reality of in-store pickup matches the buzz.