Making BOPIS Better: Managers Are Key

Train and empower workers to give great customer service

By Kathleen Doheny February 14, 2020
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Making BOPIS Better: Managers Are Key

​The "buy online, pick up in store" (BOPIS) trend saves customers time, gives same-day access and eliminates shipping costs. More than 68 percent of U.S. consumers have shopped this way, according to Business Insider, citing 2019 data from Doddle, a London parcels collection and return firm.

"There are almost no retailers anymore who do not have some kind of ability to take an order online and fulfill it in-store, if they have a store," said James Tenser, principal at VSN Strategies, a B2B marketing advisory firm in Tucson, Ariz. Customer expectations about BOPIS have risen along with its growth, added Lee Peterson, executive vice president of thought leadership and marketing for WD Partners, a strategy, design and architectural firm in Columbus, Ohio.

But when BOPIS falls short—often due to inadequate technology, poor service or untrained staff—customers' reactions can turn ugly. Managers are key to making BOPIS a better experience. First, know what BOPIS customers expect—and then train staff to meet those expectations.

Doing BOPIS Right

Notifying the shopper quickly that the order is ready is crucial, according to a 2019 BOPIS State of the Industry report from Bell and Howell, OrderDynamics and the IHL Group. The report is based on ratings of 300 BOPIS secret shoppers at 10 top retailers.

The average time from online order completion to the "ready" notification was 5.9 hours. Some stores did much better—Bed Bath & Beyond averaged 2.1 hours, with 72 percent of its customers notified in less than an hour. Four hours was the tipping point; after that, customers became dissatisfied.

The in-store experience must be fast and convenient. If the pickup location is at the back of the store, many shoppers become irritated. The secret shoppers rated Home Depot highest for overall store pickup, in part because the pickup area is often less than 30 feet inside the store and accompanied by signage. For the top 10 retailers, the average time per transaction was about 5.5 minutes from when the customer entered the store to completion of pickup.

Even better than a fast in-store BOPIS transaction, according to a WD Partners white paper, Best of BOPIS, would be to deliver merchandise to the customers' vehicles.

Some stores use external collection sites, such as Parcel Pending's external lockers. A shopper punches his personal code into a keypad, goes to the locker that pops open, grabs his stuff and goes.

What Managers Can Do

Train workers that speed is essential, Peterson said. "Everybody [in-store] should be trained to fulfill those orders." The pickup location should be clearly marked and staffed at all times. All employees should know where BOPIS pickup is so they can inform lost shoppers.

When BOPIS goes wrong, shift to repair mode, Peterson said. "Offering a discount is a good strategy," he noted, but you may need approval from superiors. The procedure to handle BOPIS glitches can follow those for other retail sales missteps—such as assuring the customer you are trying to make it right and doing so quickly.

Remind employees of the competition, Tenser suggested. The first place disgruntled customers will go is to Amazon, he said, as they've often had good experiences there. Tenser's mantra: "The best service standards anywhere are instantly expected everywhere."

Managers, he said, "need to anticipate these kinds of hiccups [in the BOPIS system] and need to coach their team to, first of all, be patient." If the idea is supported in your workplace, tell employees they can come up with solutions on the fly for angry BOPIS customers, Tenser said, such as an incentive for the next purchase.

The Running Short Experiment

Employees who have had their own glitches with BOPIS might be easiest to train. Six years ago, Peterson did a field test. While he was at work, he ordered some running shorts online. When the retailer informed him that they were ready, he drove to the store—a discount department store—that was on his route home.

He found no parking nearby and no signs about BOPIS pickup. "I thought it was at customer service. I waited in back of three people, one of them angry. I gave the clerk my receipt." She gave him a puzzled look, then scurried around looking for the shorts. She had to consult a supervisor. Finally, she told him, "We don't have your size."

Peterson did what many disgruntled BOPIS customers faced with bad, slow service do. He drove home without making a purchase.

Kathleen Doheny is a freelance writer based in Burbank, Calif.

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