Buy Online Pickup In Store: Retail in Evolution

Yet, the store remains a core focus of the buying experience. That’s how it should be. The in-store customer is typically more loyal and tends to buy more than the online shopper.

A robust strategy for “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store,” or BOPIS, can offer the best of both worlds. BOPIS expands a retailer’s online exposure while preserving and deepening the in-store experience. In fact, retailers find that is common for shoppers to buy more product once they arrive at the store to retrieve their online orders. 

A well-designed BOPIS retail program also helps reduce delivery costs because the customer is going to the product, not vice-versa. Consumers prize the ease and convenience of the transaction, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic has made contactless interactions more of the rule than the exception.

Responding to a New Retail Landscape

For retailers with limited resources and insufficient time spent mastering alternate fulfillment methods, the real world suddenly became a very different place in 2020. Many have been challenged to adjust to an unfamiliar “fractured fulfillment” model where products are ordered, fulfilled, and distributed from anywhere to anywhere. It is difficult for retailers to strike the right balance of inventory levels that satisfy in-store shoppers and ensure product availability to support online channel growth.

Retailers often over-order store inventory to avoid the risk of stock-outs. This raises carrying costs, and shrinks inventory  available to allocate to online channels. 

Moving ahead with an ill-vetted BOPIS strategy can make things worse. Customers assured of a product’s in-stock status on a retailer’s website will be displeased if they take time to visit the store only to find the item isn’t available. This could damage a brand’s reputation, especially if word spreads quickly on social media.

Visibility is the pain point. Many retailers lack proper visibility into the inventory flow from their partners to effectively plan and execute an error-proof BOPIS strategy. Without visibility, retailers will continue to prioritize avoidance in-store stock-out scenarios, and will continue to absorb excess and costly inventory.

A strong 3PL provider arms retailers with superior, actionable data that improves inventory visibility without forcing them to increase levels of safety stock. The endgame is to manage appropriate safety stock thresholds for both in-store and BOPIS experiences so the customer is satisfied in either scenario. 

Personalized Solutions Require Visibility

Each retailer is unique, and each shipper-retailer partnership is unique. Working with good data, an experienced 3PL partner creates customized plans to achieve optimal results. Progress and outcomes are constantly measured and refined so fill rates achieve acceptable thresholds. Changes to the plan can be implemented quickly should circumstances change – and they often do. 

For example, a plan could require the partners to issue electronic order acknowledgements indicating changes to item quantities and arrival dates within a specified time of receiving an order. It could call for transmission of advance ship notices within two hours of a shipment’s departure so visibility is optimized. Fully leveraging distribution center connections to stores optimizes shipping flexibility to react quickly to customer behavior. 

It is still most profitable for stores when customers pick up their orders in-store, but the busy holiday season could make it difficult for consumers to get to the store. Data generated by zip codes can identify areas of strong online ordering and in-store activity. This offers retailers insight into how to best position inventory for timely and accurate distribution.

For example, a retailer wants to offer one- to two-day deliveries but its transportation providers are challenged to consistently hit those targets. It may be more feasible to ship that order out from a store versus a fulfillment center. This could require shippers to invest in a drop-shipping strategy to support an e-commerce strategy where goods are brought directly to the store level. All this strategy is grounded in visibility.

This holiday season will be like no other. In-store buying will still be prevalent. However, more consumers have adopted online ordering after being required to do so in the early days of the pandemic. BOPIS utilization will be strong this holiday, but it will continue long after peak season and even after the virus passes. Consumers want options. It is critical for retailers to comply, but to do so efficiently.

Master Your BOPIS Revolution

The last mile is the most complex part of e-commerce fulfillment. It is also the most important. The last mile makes or breaks everything that came before it. That final delivery is the moment your customer will remember your brand most. How well do you finish?

A BOPIS strategy is just one of several last-mile offerings that shippers and retailers are expected to deliver. Done right, it reaps brand loyalty, lower costs and profitable opportunities for new market share. However, it requires a specialized level of resources and knowledge. It also requires skills and vigilance to ensure flawless execution.

We created The BOPIS Revolution: Navigating the New Never Normal to highlight some of the things you need to keep in mind when approaching – or modifying – your BOPIS strategy. Watch our SME Roundtable for a deeper dive into the ways we drive top line revenue results through personalized solutions driven by technology and expertise.

To continue the conversation, reach out to one of our supply chain experts. Let’s talk about how we can help you evolve solutions that support final delivery strategies to control cost and consistently wow your customers.

BOPIS: What Does It Mean for Shippers?

Linearity is on the way out. So is the shipper’s control of the supply chain. E-commerce has spawned the “omni-channel fulfillment” model where orders, distribution and deliveries occur from anywhere, anyone, and at any time. The traditional supply-push scenario with shippers calling the shots is giving way to a demand-pull approach with consumers in control of the transaction.

The “Buy Online, Pick Up In Store” (BOPIS) concept has become a key part of the asymmetrical, demand-pull world we live and work in. Who ever imagined a consumer ordering an item on an electronic device, having a retailer immediately pick and pack the product at one of multiple locations, and having it ready for the consumer’s arrival at a pre-arranged time, typically within a few hours and sometimes under an hour? 

Experience Depends on BOPIS Excellence

The COVID-19 pandemic is driving BOPIS toward mainstream adoption. Contactless interactions remain the order of the day – especially during the holiday season as health-conscious consumers continue to minimize time spent shopping in confined spaces. But BOPIS and other alternate fulfillment practices will outlast the pandemic. They will become permanent additions to the logistics landscape.

To execute an effective BOPIS strategy, shippers must understand retailers’ two overarching objectives: 

  • Ensure a seamless customer experience regardless of the order touchpoint.
  • Maintain adequate in-store inventory while expanding digital buying opportunities.

It is essential for retailers to have the right goods always available, and at the right place at the right time for the consumer. The “right time” could involve shipping to a residence or to another physical location. It could mean an in-person brick-and-mortar sale. It could mean BOPIS, or its first cousin, “Buy Online Pick Up at Curbside” (BOPAC). It could be a drop-shipping model where the shipper delivers directly to the store, thus minimizing the need to hold inventory in a space-constrained facility.

Striking the correct balance between in-store and digital inventory is just as critical. In-store customers are typically more loyal and buy more per visit than online customers. Retailers are loath to broaden their digital channels if doing so threatens to siphon off in-store activity.

Allowing both scenarios to thrive requires elevating visibility and analytics tools to new heights. A clear line of sight across the ecosystem allows shippers to align production with the retailer’s current replenishment needs. Analytics like Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence also provide shippers with vital clues about consumers’ future buying habits so they and their retailer partners can stay a step ahead.

Technology is only as productive as the knowledge of the people managing it. Seasoned third-party logistics specialists understand how to design and implement a consistently successful BOPIS program that leverages cost-effective automation. They have worked extensively with all stakeholders, and can quickly adjust the go-to-market processes to optimize outcomes and avoid costly missteps.

Final Delivery Drives Loyalty or Brand Damage

Online fulfillment is a fast-paced, often-unforgiving business. You are only as good as your last delivery. The margin for error narrows still further in a BOPIS transaction. Failing to execute an order after the consumer was assured the product was in stock and went out of their way to retrieve it is a breach of the “trust covenant” between the stakeholders. A BOPIS-related stock-out can seriously damage both brands, especially if a negative review spreads on social media.

The good news for shippers is that mastering this intense pivot point should result in enduring brand loyalty from consumer and retailer alike. Consumers prize convenience, and will favor retailers who make the BOPIS experience as easy as “pulling up and popping the trunk.” This goodwill extends to the products they pick up and take home.

Retailers, meanwhile, know how complicated it is to make life easy for today’s consumer.  Shippers who consistently execute will become sticky to the retailer. Product quality is obviously important. However, consumers often cannot discern between the nuances of multiple products of similar craftsmanship. What they do know, and will remember, is how, when and where they received their product. Or why they didn’t. That is how your brand will be remembered. In today’s world, logistics, more than any part of a shipper’s business, is becoming the competitive differentiator.

Navigate the New “Never Normal”

Planned properly, the BOPIS fulfillment model is a valuable tool in the highly competitive e-commerce space. 

The devil is in the execution.

Transportation Insight specializes in designing and executing supply chain strategy adjustments that empower you to provide the final mile delivery options required to wow end customers.

We created “The BOPIS Revolution: Navigating the New Never Normal” to offer insight into the many variables involved in meeting consumers’ evolving demands for service. Read it today to understand the strategies that we can help you leverage to enhance customer service, grow market share and increase competitive advantage.

Lean Supply Chain Perspective Required for New Normal

Meanwhile, the pressure is on lean-focused supply chain experts expected to examine internal processes and accommodate supply chain shortfalls. Their perspective is integral not just to the continuous improvement of in-house activities, but, importantly, to the network adjustments that come with the re-shoring of supply production.

Unfortunately, just as COVID-19 disrupted manufacturing networks, it also created new challenges for keeping lean supply chain teams engaged. Workforce reductions and remote operating environments create hurdles for maintaining the close awareness required to identify wasteful activity and efficiency improvement opportunities.

As manufacturers focus on a new normal, a lean perspective supports supply chain corrections, and the timeline for turnaround does not need to be limited by social distancing and remote environments. An expert partner can help you identify and execute the most effective supply network strategy, so you can keep focus on advancing your business.

New Manufacturing Normal Begins to Emerge

Midway through a year of disruption, we are hearing common refrains among manufacturers across diverse industries. It seems that, regardless of the supply chain network, the comments are very similar:

  • Manufacturing is moving toward reshoring to reduce supply chain disruption and distance.
  • Constant supply chain focus is needed to eliminate current and future supply chain disruptions.
  • Supply chain failure is the No. 1 reason a company is having issues in start-up or restart activities.
  • Adjusting product mix and production set-up is a struggle.
  • Lean training and learning is difficult outside the facility “Gemba”

Focused on cost, some companies furloughed or laid off their lean teams. This leads to significant impact across the organization, often requiring executive attention to resolve emerging network problems. Losing the process visibility provided by these experts can lead to costly misalignment across your existing network and in any future supply chain adjustments.

Problem Solving for Inventory Management, Network Changes 

Looking deeper at these trends, some of the specific emerging problems can be resolved through the total supply network awareness your lean expert maintains. 

Inventory management drives the biggest questions manufacturers encounter as they reset to serve a new normal. Common inventory problems in our assessments of  manufacturers include:

  • Too much of it, not balanced or not accurate.
  • Too much of the wrong inventory for the manufacturing product family mix.
  • Not enough of the correct inventory to manufacture replacement parts and service clients.
  • Never adjusted parts inventories for major equipment repairs.
  • Single sourcing from Asia, Europe, etc.

Losing the visibility of your supply chain expert can quickly impact your transportation cost, especially in a volatile environment following a significant disruption.

Organizations that scaled back their lean team during COVID-19 experienced common outcomes:

  • Quickly lost awareness to inbound ocean transportation and ensuing TL freight moves
  • Unprepared for spike in air freight costs for productions and parts inventory
  • Increased costs such as detention fees resulting from misaligned lead times and production planning
  • Reduced capacity for problem solving 

In the “old” normal environment, while your lean resources maintained process awareness required to exert continuous improvement, ongoing training also offered perspective for global practices that are applicable within your organization. Losing access to those resources – usually provided on-site – impedes your ability to evolve your processes.

Leverage a Master Partner to Evolve Processes

There is no doubt that a loss of process monitoring inside the operational environment leads to reduced visibility. Lean operators need to be in the Gemba to be most effective.

In a quarantine or remote environment, it is not always possible to have that consistent on-site presence – but, you don’t always need it. Some organizations have achieved success with lean supply chain teams of two that maintain social distance and COVID-19 protocols. While this has slowed Kaizen work, there has been success, it just takes longer than planned. As a positive outcome, lean leaders have executed administrative items for each Kaizen, a process that can be carried forward.

A problem solver’s mentality supports these types of in-the-trenches adjustments, and they are vital not only to your disruption response, but to the ongoing evolution of your supply chain. We offer our clients access to that mentality on an ongoing basis, using supply chain data analysis to provide awareness of emerging improvement opportunities.

At the same time, we offer organizations the ability to develop their own internal lean expertise. While protocols of a contact-conscious environment can limit on-site activity, the power of modern technology not only supports classroom-like digital learning, it also grants virtual visibility on par with physical presence.

For more information about invigorating your organization’s supply chain capabilities to support reshoring or other new practices for a new normal, schedule your lean supply chain consultation today. Whether you want to bolster the expertise of your internal resources or plan and design a supply chain network suitable for serving your customers tomorrow, we apply our mastery to help you establish efficient processes that control cost and improve service.

Post-Pandemic Tactics for E-Commerce Logistics Advantage

Before COVID-19, businesses looking to build an e-commerce presence were hamstrung by the lack of speed in developing their current labor pool with the skills required for e-commerce, as well as fulfillment automation capability. Others dabbled in a web storefront strategy. These companies typically lacked the sophisticated technology, generally a good Warehouse Management System (WMS), needed to pick multiple orders to a cart and then have them quickly and accurately auto-sorted through a RF or mobile device. The result was unsustainable inefficiencies. We saw that e-fulfillment costs in some cases exceeded 25 percent of sales.

In the meantime, Amazon.com, which controlled about half of all U.S. e-commerce going into the crisis, kicked into high gear during it. At one point during the crisis Amazon customers spent as much as $11,000 a second on its products and services. By contrast, nearly 1 million traditional retail workers were furloughed in one week, and more than 250,000 stores had shut down. Many stores may never reopen, or may look very different going forward. The same goes for fulfillment centers. Many have and will continue to be physically modified to ensure worker safety. The flow of operations may need to be modified as well.

For many e-tailers, the “new normal” of e-commerce will be challenging and may seem insurmountable, but getting to the other side is doable. 

E-Commerce Logistics Strategy for the New Normal

Understand what current state looks like in the new normal − starting with your cost per-order. 

Are your costs segmented by freight, management and supervision, labor, facilities and shipping supplies?

Then understand what and how these costs can be managed, optimized and reduced. Typically, freight costs exceed the sum of the other components. Reducing freight dollars spent per revenue dollars created should be an immediate focus. 

The questions to ask from this point are critical to the next step. 

  • Is your network aligned to best serve the customer? 
  • Are your shipping lanes optimized? 
  • Are you using the best shipping partners to meet your strategic goals? 

Stay on top of your rates. Evaluate them frequently, and renegotiate them when appropriate. 

This is where collaborating with a seasoned logistics expert adds enormous value to you e-commerce platform. Our long and deep relationships with carriers, our data analytics and information mining expertise and our proprietary audit technology platform give you end-to-end visibility to answer those key questions.

Align Your Operations and Your Network

Once your network is optimized, it is time to consider how your operations play into that. What questions can quickly be addressed?

By asking these questions and making some quick, deployable solutions, you can improve your profitability profile in short order.  

Benchmark your service-level performance with best-in-class metrics. How does your fulfillment center operation compare with leaders in the field? 

Focus strongly on the efficiency of your picking and packing operations, which can account for more than half the cost of your order outside of outbound shipping. A thorough analysis of your fulfillment center process will yield changes to improve operations and reduce costs.

Apply technologies where it makes financial sense and where it fits your growth plans. Many legacy WMS applications were designed to manage fulfillment orders in pre-determined waves. They were not optimized to manage the unpredictable flows of e-commerce traffic. Today’s technology is built to allow orders to be picked for store and e-commerce simultaneously. This enables businesses to leverage inventory buys to achieve economies of scale.

Also, consider a multi-fulfillment center strategy, including BOPIS strategies. These can expedite orders to consumers quicker and reduce shipping costs. Facilities expansion can carry with it significant operating expense. An expert partner with a robust portfolio of data, expertise and carrier relationships can support your decision-making on this critical issue. 

Improvement Focus Drives Customer Experience

Above all, be consistent with ongoing process improvements. Don’t consider e-commerce logistics just a project, it is a process that has to be constantly improving. Companies that dedicate full-time employees to process improvements are those that make the biggest strides. 

Analyze your facility space requirements, and how labor is being utilized. Be open to suggestions on how to improve productivity and boost customer satisfaction. Make it a part of your corporate culture.

According to a recent study, millennial consumers who account for about $1.2 trillion in U.S. retail sales say they value the “experience” that accompanies an online order as much as the product itself. The “Generation Z” group coming up behind the Millennials shares those sentiments. 

At the core of that experience is fast, timely delivery supported by in-transit visibility across multiple digital platforms. Succeed in executing on that final step, and you will achieve favorable word of mouth that can help build a brand. Fail, and that brand may not get a second bite.

Those attitudes were in place well before Covid-19. And they are unlikely to diminish. It is both an enormous opportunity, and daunting challenge. Is your e-commerce strategy ready?

Master Logistics, Power Competitive Advantage

You invest a lot of money in your logistics network. But are you maximizing its value? Do you feel like your logistics operation is more of a cost center than a tool of competitive advantage?

It doesn’t have to be. In fact, with the right strategy and execution, logistics can drive the success of your enterprise. Companies like Amazon, Walmart, Target and Dell made logistics a priority, with spectacular results. There is no reason you can’t do the same!

To master your logistics strategy, read “Moving to the Front of the Line: Making Logistics a Competitive Advantage.”

The Service Merchandise Experience: Omnichannel in the ‘80s

Standalone brick-and-mortar structures with expansive parking lots — most of which were packed with cars during business hours — Service Merchandise stores were where people went, catalog in hand, to look at product displays and check off their selections on order forms – or in a computer terminal. A few minutes later, their goods appeared on a conveyor straight out of the onsite stockroom.

Let’s explore Service Merchandise’s roots, dig into its retail strategy, and see how its strategies for customer experience can apply in today’s omnichannel retail environment. 

Customer Experience Innovator

Headquartered in Brentwood, TN, Service Merchandise was built on an innovative business. The company broke new ground in a handful of retail landscapes. In fact, many of its competitive moves were well ahead of their time, leading us to believe that Service Merchandise may have actually mastered “omnichannel retail” decades before the term was even coined.  model. Initially a variety store opened in 1934, it went from being a chain of dime stores to a catalog business. Operating from warehouses in Tennessee, that business eventually morphed into the showroom concept that made Service Merchandise famous. 

  • 1980 – Allowed customers to place orders via specially equipped TV sets.
  • 1981 – Developed a computer program that used demographics and a specific location’s characteristics to predict the market.
  • 1982 – Installed a cash register that allowed customers to check on product availability and order merchandise right on the sales floor. 

Three years later, it implemented a computerized inventory replenishment system that helped it reduce inventory carrying costs while also reducing its out-of-stocks. In 1986 it opened an automated, 752,000-square-foot warehouse in New York.

Convenient Fulfillment Options

For retailers, having the right inventory at the right place and at the right time has become table stakes. Service Merchandise served multiple channels efficiently from its brick-and-mortar locations. It had walk-in business, for example, and it also had a successful catalog component. Really, the latter is no different than today’s online environment, where “order online-pickup in store” is the newest dynamic that retailers are trying to harness. 

“The catalog was not for people to order from,” says Raymond Zimmerman, CEO of Service Merchandise. “It was an advertising tool – people could pick what they want and come into the store. If that customer drove three blocks to come into our store, they expected to get it. We had to be in stock every day, on every item.”

Service Merchandise also leveraged brick and mortar locations to meet retail customers where they were. Inspired by UK-based retailer Argos’ fulfillment model that allowed freight deliveries to a secured inventory room without store access, Service Merchandise tested a warehouse-only model. 

In Metro Atlanta, a handful of 13,000 square-foot suburban stores opened with the catalog as the main attraction along with a few display items. Customers could access Service Merchandise inventory in the warehouse and have it shipped to the catalog store for next-day pick-up.

Everything was in stock, but very little was on display. 

“All the online guys are opening brick-and-stores or they are creating places where you can pick up merchandise in the existing stores,” Zimmerman says. “That’s where we were going – to have all those 10-15,000-square foot stores, so we could open hundreds of them close to the customer. … In the ‘80s and ‘90s, we were where everybody is trying to get to now. It was the implementation that was our failure.”

The retailer developed inventory management systems that, if one location was out of stock, store staff could identify the five closest stores with the item on site. The customer could pick it up there or have it shipped to their home by UPS. 

“We took that system and expanded it so that you could go to a store in Columbus, Ohio, pay for something and send it down the conveyor belt in the Tuscaloosa, Alabama store,” Zimmernan says. “At the time, customers couldn’t go online and order and then pick up in the store.”

Customers Want to Experience their Purchases

Service Merchandise knew that its customers really wanted to experience a product before buying it. They like to go into the stores to look at and touch products. Stores didn’t really need to have all of their inventory visible and stacked to the ceiling when those customers walked in the door. 

But they did need to make sure items promoted in the catalog were available in local store inventory.

“The hottest item that wasn’t in the catalog was less important than the worst item in that catalog,” Zimmerman says. “The customer that comes in has pre-shopped and they knew what they want.” 

So the question becomes, is there really a need for high levels of inventory on the retail floor, if all customers want to do is experience the product versus walk out the door with it? 

Ultimately, customer experience was enhanced by the Service Merchandise strategy of separating the sales floor from order fulfillment in the warehouse.

Many retailers trying to fulfill multiple channels from physical stores often threaten their in-store success. Likely earmarked for in-store or curbside pick-up, those orders consume labor and get in the way of a pleasant shipping experience for customers. The sales floor isn’t very welcoming when aisles are congested with big carts and harried fulfillment individuals trying to quickly fill carts.

Omnichannel Fulfillment Jeopardizes Performance

We’re in an era where higher fulfillment costs continue to erode retail margins. It’s time for stores to think harder about how to fulfill orders across all channels while also factoring in parcel transportation costs and how to package in a way that minimizes dimensional charges.

Knowing the struggles that retailers face as they navigate the complexities of omnichannel fulfillment, reflecting on how Service Merchandise approached the customer experience could give companies a clear advantage in the marketplace. 

To help retailers understand how to protect customer experience while balancing the cost of service, we created “Prime Before Its Time: The Service Merchandise Experience.”

Download the guide to learn how the retail innovations of yesterday can help you deliver a prime performance today.