5 Ways to Perfect Your In-Store Pickup Program

It's no simple effort transitioning a purchasing experience from a legacy single channel journey to an omnichannel one. Retail organizations have made it their mission to expand omnichannel capabilities to enrich the customer experience. Omnichannel has traditionally focused on the customer experience and sales. But here is one key component that has gone unnoticed: Retailers could be losing out on sales because of missed opportunities on the back end, specifically with in-store pickup experiences.

Without streamlined back-end processes, an omnichannel strategy can go to waste. A best-in-class user interface and superb hand-off between channels cannot make up for poor back-end processes—and this is especially the case with the process that follows when a customer buys online and decides to pick up in-store.

At first glance, this journey is simple. Locate the product, select "pick up in store," and pick it up. Unfortunately, in practice, it can be considerably less so. Retailers are generating incremental calls, losing sales, and diminishing customer loyalty by not getting it right. Here are five steps to perfecting in-store pickup.

Understand that this customer persona is demanding. Customer personas are a useful tool for gauging how process gaps are impacting the customer journey, by helping to humanize the experience and understand the worldview of the customer. Pick-up-in-store customer personas are different from an online-only or in-store-only customer personas in one important way: They are very demanding. They can't or don’t want to wait for shipping. They have spent time on researching the purchase, in their own environment. They know the product, and they want it now. You shouldn’t leave anything to chance with this group.

Go over carefully the messaging of service notifications, whether emails, text messages, etc. The product was found online, and the Web site stated it was in stock. But then many retailers confuse consumers with a poorly worded notification: "We will notify you when your purchase is ready for pickup." Organizations spend an exhaustive amount of time focusing on marketing messaging and copy; leveraging a fraction of this time on service messaging would have a considerable return. Customers who've already done their research don’t like guessing. Composing your messages in plain English keeps things simple. "We've received your order at store XYZ. We have an associate combing our aisles. You'll hear from us when your item is at the order desk." Ambiguous messaging will leave customers stressed, resulting in store or contact center calls. What was thought of as a clean omnichannel experience has now increased the retailer's expenses.

Keep the turnaround time for communicating order status to an absolute minimum. Making your turnaround times as short as possible is critical. In my own, frustrating experience, I once waited two days to receive a confirmation that an order was ready. A long turnaround time like that one leaves a large window of opportunity for the customer to move their purchase over to the competition. And this particular customer persona, which we know is a demanding one, will abandon the order out of frustration. Thus, the opportunity for an ongoing relationship with that customer is gone.

Make the pickup purchase process fast and easy—for customers and employees. A customer's perceived value of in-store pickup will disappear if they could find the item on the floor just as fast; it's counterproductive if, for example, a retailer has two forms associates must fill out to complete a sale. Retailers have made online shopping easier for consumers, so a similar effort is needed for the systems that employees use to process sales.

Putting this type of burden on employees opens the door for poor interactions. Employees are conditioned to follow the rules. Customers are conditioned for quick and easy. Tension is created when employees follow rules that result in cumbersome interactions. Both sides are frustrated, and the bottom line will show it.

Allow customers to have control over their experience. Finally, back-end processes aside, retailers need to give customers some freedom once they are in the store. Some retailers allow payment for online purchases only at the pickup desk. In one scenario when I challenged this practice, I was informed, "It's our process." Maybe so, but any process that is overly restrictive of customer behavior needs to be re-evaluated. After all, when customers browse a store, unplanned purchases happen. Restricting payments for online purchases to a single area of the store could prevent unplanned ones.


Nicholas Klisht is a contact center and customer experience consultant with more than a decade of experience leading customer service operations teams, including as senior manager of contact center capabilities at TD Canada Trust and as vice president of alternate channels at Citi Retail Services. Klisht has demonstrated expertise in building forward-looking strategic road maps, improving customer experience, and driving operational efficiencies.

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