The “buy online, pickup in store” (BOPIS) option has gained traction in recent years, largely thanks to customers who don’t want to wait for or pay for shipping. But social distancing in response to COVID-19 has led to a spike in customers opting for BOPIS, with a 62% year-over-year increase in BOPIS usage in March 2020.

This surge may subside a bit as businesses reopen, but COVID-19 has accelerated many of the changes going on in the retail industry—and customers are likely to retain some of the shopping habits they’ve adopted.

Whether you’re looking to implement a new “click and collect” option or improve your current one, here are some steps you can take to optimize your BOPIS program in the near term and years to come.

 

Prioritize the customer experience

Most ecommerce platforms make toggling to in-store pickups as easy as clicking a check box, but a successful BOPIS program demands more consideration than flipping a switch. A poorly planned BOPIS program is worse than none if it results in a bad customer experience, so take every step possible to make picking up orders as seamless as possible.

One of the primary motivators for BOPIS purchases is the convenience factor. It shouldn’t take longer to pick up an already purchased item than it would to make a traditional purchase. Customers don’t want to wait in line behind people making returns at a service desk or walk to the end of a store for their purchase—especially if they’re trying to practice social distancing.

Even though a recent study showed 37% of consumers using BOPIS make an additional, unplanned purchase while in-store, resist the temptation to funnel customers through your store—satisfaction with the experience is more important than the modest revenue boost of selling something like a candy bar. There hasn’t been any indication that moving pickup locations closer to the front of stores has decreased impulse buys.

Even if you lack the resources or floorspace for a designated BOPIS counter or pickup lockers, you can create a special line for pickups or prioritize BOPIS customers at your sales counter. If at all possible, appeal to customers mindful of social distancing practices by offering curbside pickup with a dedicated BOPIS number so employees can respond quickly.

Another option that can increase customer satisfaction and also bring in foot traffic is to allow online purchases to be returned to brick-and-mortar locations, called “buy online, return in store” (BORIS). BORIS also allows you to resell bulky or heavy items that aren’t worth shipping back to a warehouse. This option depends on your order management and inventory solutions, but most of the processes you implement to drive BOPIS success apply reflexively to BORIS.

 

Train employees on BOPIS processes

Store employees are usually hired and trained for traditional in-store functions, and BOPIS isn’t always a consideration in that process. They’ll need new workflow training to account for selecting items and packaging them for customers, as well as checking customers in.

Customers are most likely to use BOPIS again if the turnaround is less than two hours. Before the customer arrives, meeting that expectation requires employees moving quickly to find the item, get it to the counter and alert the customer that it’s ready.

Once the customer gets to the store, that means making sure an employee is available at the pickup location and can check them in and verify their identity quickly. Even if they don’t typically have a hand in the day-to-day operations, all employees should have training on how your BOPIS process works so customers don’t arrive and have to stand around while someone tracks down an employee who does.

What works best depends upon your business and staff, but you should determine which department will be responsible. Is it front-of-house, back-of-house, customer service or a mix? Whichever path you take, make sure that team owns and prioritizes the process.

Depending on your back-of-house systems, store managers may be taking on additional responsibilities for sales that don’t factor into their in-store sales—BOPIS sales may even be “cannibalizing” their own sales. Set expectations for managers and allow for additional staff as needed, making sure to outline the potential for customers to make additional purchases when they enter the store.

Beyond your store employees, you can expect to receive increased calls to customer service lines asking about the service and inquiring about orders. Train them to be able to look up order information and explain the process.

 

Bridge the online and in-store gap with email and SMS

Once you’ve gone through the steps to set up your BOPIS program, you’ll want customers to be aware of its existence. In addition to in-store signage, marked parking spaces and website banners, email marketing is a powerful tool to spread awareness.

An easy first step is to simply insert a mention of your BOPIS option in your transactional emails. You can also create a message for your welcome series and regular promotional emails, describing the steps your business is taking to protect consumers during the COVID crisis. If it’s an option, take advantage of your email service provider’s geolocation feature to share the closest brick-and-mortar location with subscribers — if there isn’t one within range, you can opt to exclude those subscribers.

Set a transactional email to trigger when customers choose the BOPIS option at checkout, sending detailed instructions for how they should pick up their purchases to make the process easier for them — you should also reinforce expectations for the pickup timeline and remind them to bring identification.

Finally, set an email to trigger when a pickup is ready. This email allows for additional personalization before the customer arrives at the store by sending texts and emails about related in-store products the customer might want to buy, encouraging additional purchases.

Learn more about the  importance of Unifying Financials and Inventory for Retail Companies.