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The Rapid Rise of BOPIS Shopping

Customers have more buying options than ever

A few early pioneers offered customers the opportunity to buy online and pickup in store (BOPIS), or it’s closely related cousin, curbside pickup. The concept was not catching much momentum, with only 4% of the largest 500 U.S. retailers offering curbside pickup in 2019. 

Then COVID-19 hit. 

With Americans staying home, major brands did an almost overnight shift to online retailing. Curbside pickup immediately swelled, with 58% of major outlets offering the service within the first few months. Top chains, like Walmart, launched 2-hour home delivery in major markets. Companies that previously focused on brick-and-mortar shopping over online sales, like Costco, did an abrupt retooling and online store expansion. Amazon, already online-based, saw profits increase 200% during COVID-19.

The consumer viewpoint
This rapid transformation leaves a couple of lingering questions. How do consumers feel about the shift to online shopping for things they previously bought in-store? According to consumer research firm Incisiv, apparently pretty good. About 80% of consumers expect to increase buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup use over the next six months, and 90% said they prefer home delivery compared to in-store visits 

While consumer safety and health concerns remain high, what will happen to BOPIS once COVID-19 risks subside? About 91% of consumers said they miss shopping in stores. You used to pick out your own fresh produce, now a stranger is doing it for you. If you have an unusual shape for clothes or shoes, ordering online and returning items is not as convenient as store shopping.

Consumers expect online shopping, BOPIS and curbside pickup to be executed well. Some stores are just not prepared to do a great job shifting from the self-service nature of in-store shopping, to timely and accurate online fulfillment. In the past few months, I have tried quite a few different online/pickup shopping experiences. Early on, I decided I could skip going into Petco, and get dog food and biscuits through BOPIS. Unfortunately, on all three online shopping occasions, the inventory listed online did not match store inventory, which meant going in the store, selecting different products or waiting in line to secure a refund. 

Woman making an online purchase on her phone

Conversely, the biggest retailers seem to get it right. Walmart is fast, efficient and cost effective. We now order all of our pet items through Walmart, which has a vastly larger selection online than in store, usually with free UPS delivery. But my personal favorite is Amazon-owned Whole Foods. Shopping on the Whole Foods website will eventually land you on a special Amazon page, where Prime discounts are applied for members. I can choose if I want my personal shopper to substitute if an item is out of stock, or not, then pick a one-hour window of time to show up. 

Whole Foods/Amazon has a great communication platform, letting me know when my shopper is working on my order. I let them know when I am 10 minutes away. Pulling up to the store, there is special designated parking. I let the store know through the app which numbered stall I am in, and they let me know when my order is coming out. I lift the tailgate, my shopper places the bags in and our touchless transaction is done. Whole Foods separates frozen, chilled and shelf stable foods into separate, well packed bags, which make it so convenient to transfer cold and chilled items into my cooler bag, and then again arrange in the fridge back home. The produce selections have always been good at Whole Foods, and so far no substitutions have been necessary which is a good sign of inventory control. 

Guilt over not buying local
Amazon and Walmart might provide a vast array of products quickly and cheaply, but they won’t personally greet you as you enter their online stores. Little boutiques, specialty stores and mom and pop shops are the heart of communities. It has been very sad to watch many close during the course of the pandemic. 

We all can be more intentional about our purchasing. For example, while our family bought more online this year than ever before, we intentionally purchased most of our holiday gifts that we were not mailing at small stores close to home. 

Open air and farmer’s markets are still my favorite place to buy fruits and veggies. It’s not as stressful as going in a crowded store, and we support the local agricultural community. We also swap a lot of produce grown in our yard for other fresh items neighbors grew through NextDoor, or donate excess to the local foodbank.

Costs to incorporate an online store into a website have gone down significantly over the past few years. Small businesses can and should include at least a modest online shopping presence on their website to remain competitive in today’s market, and consider BOPIS to also encourage in-store visits.

We need to take care of businesses that make up the fabric of our neighborhoods and towns, so they will be there for us when we need them.

As an Amazon Associate, Arvig earns from qualifying purchases.

Will retail changes stick post COVID-19?
In times of crisis, those retailers that can learn and adapt quickly will have a distinct advantage.  However, there is a downside to encouraging your customers to shop online- they may price compare and buy items elsewhere, and will also avoid impulse-buys that occur in-store. BOPIS provides an advantage here over curbside pickup, keeping customers connected to the physical store. Since customers still go inside, there is an opportunity they may add to their purchase with last minute needs or impulse buys. Companies that offer free shipping will save costs when items are picked up. BOPIS also does not have the high overhead of curbside pickup and home delivery, which both incorporate more labor costs.

BOPIS is good for customers too. They can research products online, pick up at their convenience, avoid shipping charges and product errors.

Whether buying online and shipping to home or using BOPIS, savvy retailers are effectively using digital coupons and lead incentives, a much more efficient and inexpensive marketing strategy for customer acquisition and loyalty than traditional methods. For example, physical coupons, with printing, insertion and distribution, are much more costly. Digital coupons can be incorporated into a website or sent by text or email. 

Just prior to the pandemic, Harvard Business Review analyzed 49 million online and in-store transactions from a national retail chain before and after a competitor launched a BOPIS service. The surveyed company’s sales dropped by 4.7% online and 1.8% in-store, with the decline of in-store sales being greater when a store was to one of the competitor’s BOPIS sites. Data suggests BOPIS not only captured some of their competitor’s online business, but also lured away in-store traffic. 

Gaurav Pant, chief insights officer for Incisiv, says today’s customer wants safety, speed and convenience. “We recommend retailers make it easier to find store inventory online, simplify the in-store pick-up experience, and help their store associates build stronger relationships with customers digitally,” Pant said.

Preparing for future growth
Online shopping is the preferred method to acquire goods as we battle COVID-19 globally. If a purchase can’t be completed entirely online, touchless curbside pickup is preferred, which has grown 44% during the pandemic according to the Global Digital Shopping Index. However, for the future of retailing, BOPIS is a good, mutually beneficial compromise, where consumers can spend less time in stores, while stores still have an opportunity for last minute and impulse buys in-store. 

Both sides potentially save money on delivery through BOPIS. So, this relatively new retail concept of BOPIS may be a key business strategy to stay relevant and up to date while meeting customers’ needs for convenience and safety.

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