Hey Retailers: Get Your “In-Store Pickup” Act Together


If shopping this holiday season has taught me one thing, it’s this: Omnichannel is still a complete mess.

Let’s not even get into the headaches I continue to encounter where retail stores and their online counterparts run completely separate and non-interchangeable promotions. (Yes, I’m looking at you Banana Republic.)

I’m talking the parts where multichannel retailers are actually promoting their supposed ability to make online and offline work together in a flawless symbiotic relationship: In-Store Pickup (aka buy online, pick up in-store).

Over the past few weeks I’ve utilized in-store pickup three times, and every one of those times was pretty much a disaster. Yes, I should have learned by now … but I try to be hopeful.

One of those experiences was at a Best Buy store. The other two were at Target … but the issues have been similar at most places I’ve shopped.

I Already Paid. I Should Be a Priority.

First – none of them had my order ready for me when I showed up. Yes, I know you are supposed to wait for the “your order is ready to pick up” email, but each of those stores had over an hour to prepare my order before I got there. That’s plenty of time to have someone go out to the floor and literally pick up an item and carry it back to the in-store pickup desk. The simple fact that I’ve already paid for the damn things should be enough to make preparing orders people are coming to pick up a top priority.

But it seems to me that stores are putting the actual paying customers to the back of the line in priority, perhaps feeling confident in the fact that they’ve already closed the sale. Or it could be a byproduct of that stupid tendency of retailers to fight over channel attribution that gets particularly nasty when it comes to online vs. brick and mortar.

Your Employees Could Help (If You’d Let Them)

What was worse though was that even though they didn’t have my order ready, they also couldn’t get the orders together for me. Apparently there is some kind of idiotic process that has been designed that cripples store employees from being able to be proactive and just go grab the order when you show up if it hasn’t already been picked. At Best Buy and Target I had orders that I made online then was literally forced to cancel in-store so they could re-ring up the purchase, since the people on the floor didn’t have the proper clearances to fulfill my online order. As far as I could surmise, the orders had to be picked and fulfilled by one group of people, then transferred to the people in charge of handing me the order.

Any break of that process was impossible.

For one order at Target, all I wanted was a WiFi USB adapter. I ordered online and showed up a few hours later. It wasn’t ready. No, they couldn’t have someone go to the back and get it for me and bring it up to fulfill the order. If I wanted that order I had to wait until I received my confirmation email. Their solution was to have me cancel the online order at the service desk, then go back to electronics to go grab one from the shelf and check out like a normal shopper. Kind of defeated the purpose of my online order.

What’s more, the items weren’t actually on the floor – so I had to track down a salesperson. He had no idea what a WiFi USB adapter was. So he needed to get assistance. They finally tracked it down in the back room and an hour later I was walking out the door.

I was not impressed.

On another trip to Target, they couldn’t find my items. Their “system was broken” so they couldn’t fulfill the order. Again, they weren’t allowed to go get the items for me – it had to go through the online pickup people, who supposedly were in the back room. They paged them. Turns out they weren’t the ones running in-store pickup fulfillment that day. Page another team. No answer. Six employees and an hour later, I decided to cancel the order. Then I just walked out to the floor and picked up the items myself.

My Best Buy experience? Well, what I wanted was locked “in the cage” so not only did they have to cancel my order, but it took literally four different trips to the lockup area (once he finally acquired keys) for him to bring back the right item. Tip: give employees access to paper and a pen so they can write down a sku.

Seriously, Fix It.

But I’m not trying to turn this into just a simple rant. (Although I’m pretty obviously still sore about these experiences). What I’m trying to say here is this: If you’re a retailer and you want to make things work right, stop having stupid processes that can’t be broken.

You need to empower your employees to just fix things. The people I was talking to weren’t idiots. But they had their hands tied (supposedly) and as much as it frustrated me, I could tell it frustrated them as well.

Seriously retailers, get your shit together. Start actually going through the processes of what you’ve put together – not as a thought exercise, but as an actual consumer. Every point where something seems wrong? Fix it. If you want to keep your space in the market (or <gasp> grow your market share) you have to get offline working as well as online, and the two of them working in a perfect symbiosis.

Omnichannel retailers have a distinct advantage in their very nature. They can offer the best of both worlds, and honestly give customers a better experience than any single channel … but only when they’re made to work together as one unit. And when those units don’t work right together? Give your employees to power to make smart decisions. Don’t cripple them by arcane processes or bad integrations.

Until this stuff is fixed, if I were a retailer I’d be very scared of Amazon’s move into physical stores. If they manage to do with the offline shopping experience what they did with online … and get them to work together, you’re in for a whole new reckoning.


Oh, and One More Thing…

Dear Barnes and Noble,

You are my favorite example of a bad convergence of online and offline. You’ve tried to get the two to work together with your “hold in store” option – and that’s kind of neat. But come on – there’s no reason you can’t let me purchase online and pick it up in the store. You’re not some mom and pop shop. You obviously can do it – you just choose not to.

What’s more, you force customers to pay the in-store price even when they reserve online. It’s bad enough you don’t match your online prices in your stores … but to not even let me know what the price is for the item I’ve already said I want to buy as long as you hold it for me?

That’s pretty ridiculous … and it’s one of the many reasons I usually end up shopping in your stores, only to order through my Amazon app before I walk out the door.

You should totally share this.

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