Reports show online shopper sentiment mixed on in-store pickup option

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 239 views 

Early reports suggest retail efforts to combine e-commerce orders with in-store pickup have yet to create systems to best capture what could be a lucrative and competitive edge in the dynamic challenge to monetize changing consumer trends.

Retail analysts have repeatedly said retailers who figure out how to best bridge e-commerce orders with brick and mortar operations for heightened consumer convenience will be a clear winner in the next generation of retail. While hoards of retailers offer site-to-store pickup options for reduced or free shipping of online orders, recent research indicates the convenience and time savings for consumers is questionable.

According to a study by StellaService site-to store pickups among 11 retailers (including Wal-Mart and Best Buy) takes an average of 5.4 minutes before entering the store and checking out. This was less than three minutes of time savings compared to the 7 minutes spent on average locating the item in the store and checking out, according to the study.

StellaService said it visited two stores from each of the 11 retailers during the week of Oct. 27. Walk-in and e-commerce shoppers picking up their orders in store entered the retailer at the same time for the purpose of this study.

The study found e-commerce shoppers spent the least amount of time (2 minutes) in Office Depot, while Home Depot and Macy’s logged the longest time at 8.5 minutes each. The study also found there was typically a brief time savings for the shoppers picking up their online orders among the majority of the retailers. The exceptions were Home Depot, Macy’s and Nordstrom, who each posted a faster in-store shopping time versus the pickup.

MIXED SENTIMENT
An informal survey by The City Wire found consumers were mixed on the site-to-store option. Kathy Campanirio of Taunton, Mass., used the site-to-store option offered at Walmart which she found to be efficient and there were no shipping costs.

Jami Dennis of southwest Missouri did not have a pleasant experience at the retail giant. Dennis, a Walmart fan, said there was a major snafu with her Walmart.com order during the pre-Black Friday sales. She ordered items on special and was told she could pick them up at a Walmart by noon the following day. Her credit card was charged for the purchases and she got a confirmation email.

“I was so excited to get some awesome deals. My husband drove 25 miles to the Walmart that had our order only to be told that they sold them all by accident and that they would refund our money within 10 days. Although the manager was very kind and apologetic for the issue, he said that the system was not fast enough to notify the stores to hold goods that may have been purchased online for site to store,” Dennis said.

Dennis said the moral to her story is that special deals should be purchased in-store or shipped directly to the home when ordered online, because she ended up empty-handed and had to wait nearly two weeks for a refund.

StellaService said retailers did a good job sending confirmations as items were available for pickup in just over an hour on average. Macy’s logged the longest wait time for the availability confirmation at 2 hours and 26 minutes, slightly longer than Sears at 2 hours 20 minutes. Best Buy and Lowe’s posted the shortest time for availability confirmation at just 10 minutes after the order was placed. Home Depot was the only retailer that allowed shoppers to schedule a pickup time.

Carlos Collier of Tulsa, Okla., told The City Wire that he also took advantage of an online deal for television at Best Buy, which was to be picked-up in-store two weeks after the order was placed.

“I was fine with the wait, for the price” Collier said. “When the time came to pickup, we were prompted by an email to schedule a pickup location by calling a toll free number, which was a nightmare.”

Collier said the random call center was oblivious to Best Buy’s operations.

“Nonetheless, we called a store location and they told us to come pick it up. When we got to the store we were told it had to be picked up across town. We drove to that store only to be told it was at the store we have just left so we had to literally drive back across town. They knocked $100 off the price for our trouble, so I suppose it was worth it, but it was not a good experience,” Collier said.

CHECKOUT CONCERNS
StellaService noted in their study that the checkout process for in-store pickup varies across the retail spectrum. Wal-Mart is testing lockers in Northwest Arkansas and a few other markets. This locker system is designed to speed up the collection process and is for items ordered online and paid for online. There is no check-out process needed in this instance. The locker code is contained in the email confirmation that is sent to the purchaser.

Wal-Mart told The City Wire it does not ship e-commerce orders to the stores unless payment is already received. The only wait time incurred by shoppers picking up their online orders in-store is at the Walmart.com counter located at the back of the store at most supercenters, but upfront in the new Neighborhood Market formats.

StellaService found that Best Buy, Lowe’s and Target each had dedicated pickup areas in the front of their stores. Nordstrom allows shoppers to pickup online orders at any service desk. The bulk of time spent by the online shoppers was at the checkout desk or pickup center as these stations can be thinly staffed. The average time spent at checkout among the 11 retailers was 3.1 minutes, according to StellaService.

Fayetteville resident Anna Shultz said in November ordered sandals for a special occasion online at Payless.com. She opted for in-store pickup to save the shipping costs. A few days later, she got a confirmation text and phone call from the store that the shoes were ready for pickup. When Shultz went to the store the following day the clerk could not find them. She waited for more than 20 minutes while the clerk searched for the order in the back of the store. Shultz said she ordered the sandals online because they were out of season at the time.

EFFICIENCY, STAFF TRAINING ISSUES
Kevon Hills, research analyst with StellaService, said there is work to be done by retailers to speed up the in-store pickup process. 

"If in-store pickup proves popular with consumers, you can expect retailers to continue to invest in a more efficient process,” Hills said.

The Walmart Supercenter in Bentonville is constructing an additional holding room for online orders to be picked up in-store, according to store manager Scott Swenson. The structure is located in the parking lot adjacent to the pharmacy drive-through lanes. Swenson told The City Wire that more storage was needed for online orders routed to the supercenter.

David Dorf, senior director of technology strategy at Oracle Retail, said in-store pickup options may not save that much time when the item is in stock, but it only takes one wasted trip to frustrate and possibly lose a customer.

Critics of the StellaService study said the report misses the point on some level because many times the main objective with in-store pick-up is to save the shipping costs or eliminate boxes being left unattended on at their front door during the day.

Toni Fenton of Rogers said she might consider site-to-store pickups if there was a drive-through option, but she doesn’t want to deal with sales clerks who don’t understand the process.

Kevin Graff, president of Graff Retail, writes that the in-store pickup experiences of his own have been satisfying and frustrating at times.

“The technology worked great every time with ease. However, the in-store pickup was less than smooth. Lines were sometimes this issue, but the biggest frustration came because staff were unprepared for the pickups and time was wasted as they had to sort things out,” Graff said. 

He said a bigger frustration is from the retailer's side. 

“Not once did anyone attempt to sell me anything else at the point of pick up. Isn't the point of getting me to come to the store to get me to buy something else?”

He said retailers will need to do a better job of training their staff and implementing systems that streamline the pick up, and at the same time increase add-on sales.