Black Friday has come and gone, but retailers can’t afford to rest on their laurels: seven of the year’s busiest shopping days are still ahead, according to data from ShopperTrak. Last-minute shoppers provide retailers with a bevy of opportunities — provided they can rise to the occasion and deliver a great shopping experience all the way through Christmas Eve.
One of this year’s key offerings is buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), which saw a spike in adoption during Thanksgiving Weekend and will remain important through the remainder of the season. This offering blurs the lines between e-Commerce and physical shopping, letting shoppers purchase items on their terms rather than conform to busy sale days or inconvenient delivery windows.
“Your shoppers are your shoppers regardless of whether they’re purchasing online, through their phone or in the store,” said Brian Field Senior Director, Retail Consulting Practice at ShopperTrak. “It’s entirely within their control, and they’re very agnostic in terms of how they’re shopping. They’re not thinking ‘I’m shopping on my phone,’ they’re thinking ‘I’m shopping at this retailer.’ They’re still thinking in terms of where they’re shopping and deals they’re getting, but now they have options of how they want to do it, whether they want to have it delivered, if they want to come into the store to pick it up when it’s convenient for them, or some combination thereof.”
Understanding this perspective is particularly important during the final days leading up to Christmas, when the latest of the last-minute shoppers demand assurance that their gifts will arrive in the nick of time. Guaranteeing pre-Christmas delivery becomes expensive, and eventually impossible, as the season advances — but encouraging e-Commerce shoppers to choose BOPIS as their delivery method can protect the bottom line without weighing down the shopping experience.
Multiple Busy Channels Make Inventory Management Paramount
One of retailers’ largest challenges with any BOPIS program, particularly during this busy time of the year, is maintaining inventory levels. E-Commerce, BOPIS and traditional in-store purchases can all quickly drain the back room of important items, and staying on top of moment-to-moment inventory can prove a difficult task when multiple channels are involved.
“To ensure BOPIS works correctly, retailers should update inventory more frequently than at end of day/overnight,” said Ken Morris, Principal at Boston Retail Partners. “The big secret in retail is that nothing is real time, and retailers create safety stock or shadow stock to compensate for this fatal flaw. Stores, mobile and e-Commerce systems do not synchronize inventory in real time because these systems are islands of automation that are decentralized. In almost every case the inventory you see displayed in BOPIS is as of yesterday. If safety stock is two for an item, then to show one is available for sale the retailer needs to have three on hand. This is a fatal flaw that leads to bad customer moments, markdowns and lost opportunity.”
One potential approach to maintaining in-store inventory is, counterintuitively, to temporarily take a step back from using stores as warehouses for online orders. While this provides a cost-efficient way of offering hyperlocal delivery options, it also can cause unexpected out-of-stocks due to elevated traffic coming from both in-store and online channels.
“A good practice during holiday season would be to give store managers the authority to segment inventory under his/her control for online fulfillment,” said Rafay Ishfaq, Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business at Auburn University. “Once customers are in the store they are likely to shop more than just one item, so service them first. This means that during holiday season it may be a good idea to lean a bit more on distribution centers and direct-to-customer fulfillment facilities to service online orders and ease off stores.”
Scheduling Must Reflect Traffic — And Associates’ Capabilities
Offering BOPIS is just part of the equation, and retailers still need to deliver a great experience, even during the hectic days before Christmas. Morris noted that you need to give shoppers a memorable transaction whether they’re coming in to pick up a purchase or simply looking around for inspiration. He advised making it easy for them to find what they need, particularly add-ons like batteries, to ensure they go home with a complete purchase. Achieving this goal means placing both temporary and permanent workers where each can excel.
“If you look at the staffing in stores at this time of year, 30% to 50% of the associates are new hires or seasonal staff — people who don’t work in the store the rest of the year,” said Steve Osburn, Managing Director at Kurt Salmon, a part of Accenture Strategy. “The more retailers can limit what is needed from those employees, the better off they’ll be on delivering the full customer experience. A lot of retailers will have very focused divisions within their store, where you’ll have somebody whose job is to sit in one department, make sure the inventory is in place and answer customer questions on specific items, versus the person at the BOPIS kiosk who may be more trained in all the aspects of the store.”
The other key is proper scheduling: giving every customer the attention they need without exacerbating queues or leaving other shoppers waiting requires having all hands on deck. Keeping staffed during peak hours requires a deep understanding of traffic patterns — one that goes beyond recognizing the busiest days to understanding the busiest hours.
“A schedule is not just based on ‘I gotta have you there on Saturday,’” said Field. “It’s based on ‘I gotta have you there on Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm,’ and this is based on when peak traffic is going to occur. It’s critical that retailers are familiar with the traffic patterns in the store. That includes considering things like when you’re going to give people a break. It’s probably not a great idea to give them a break at the traditional lunchtime, because that’s when the drivers are coming in themselves.”
Last-Minute Shoppers Can Be Turned Into Repeat Customers
The final ingredient to a successful wind-up of the holiday season is converting one-time gift buyers into recurring customers. The search for last-minute gifts often brings shoppers into stores they wouldn’t usually frequent, and going above and beyond in the customer service department can convince them to return again in the future — generating far more sales over time than simple upselling or cross-selling tactics.
“Service, service and service is the way to convert these customers to brand enthusiasts,” said Morris. “Give them a deal, sign them up for a loyalty program, pay them for their email address or phone number and create a theatrical experience. A customer journey that they won’t soon forget should be the aim. A glass of cider, a cup of cappuccino, hot chocolate or some small gift will create a cherished customer journey and a lifelong relationship.”
Retailers that can offer a unified shopper journey, maintain their inventory levels and provide excellent employee interactions will be well-positioned to capture the wave of holiday sales that have yet to come. The season doesn’t start to fade until midnight on December 24 — and the most successful retailers will be making sales right up to that moment.
“In the next two weeks leading to Christmas, the retailers that have invested in BOPIS and deliver that capability seamlessly to customers are the retailers that are really going to push the envelope,” said Osburn. “I would also bet that at 10 or 11 o’clock at night on Christmas Eve you’ll be able to go to a couple different retailers and find some gifts to put under the tree.”