BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In-Store) is much more than some over-hyped buzzword. A growing number of customers are shopping online, then picking up their order at a physical location—67% of U.S. shoppers have done this in the past six months. So it comes as no surprise that by 2021, an estimated 90% of retailers will offer this functionality.

But there isn’t a one-size-fits-all BOPIS approach. While some large retailers have supported BOPIS for years, many businesses are just starting to look into it. Before jumping in, there are several important questions retailers should ask themselves:

1. What’s the right balance of convenience and generating store traffic?

Major retailers are finding ways to make BOPIS even more convenient—and appealing—to customers. Target, for example, now offers curbside pickup so customers don’t need to park or go into the store to physically retrieve their items. That’s the extra layer of convenience that could convince customers to try BOPIS.

However, there is a potential downside. Retailers know that if they can get a customer into their store, there’s a high likelihood they’ll find something else to buy, even if they didn’t plan to make a purchase before walking in. There’s a reason some products are called “impulse items” and that the most popular items are often tucked away in a store. Grocery stores could put milk, bread, and eggs near the front, but they intentionally put them closer to the back to make you walk through the store, hoping you’ll find other things to buy along the way.

It's easy for industry analysts to insist on customer convenience, and that’s critical to long-term success. But every store should seriously think about the pros and cons of various BOPIS solutions to balance convenience with add-on revenue opportunities.

2. What human and physical obstacles should you consider?

Once you’ve decided you want to offer BOPIS, there are human and physical obstacles to consider.

On the human side, companies historically train sales associates to sell things to customers in the store. They are also likely trained to receive shipments from vendors (or distribution centers), tag them, fold/unfold them, maybe steam them and display them according to visual merchandising guidelines.

Occasionally, they’ll put an item on a brief hold or layaway for a customer and move it to a closet or shelf for “hold” items (unpaid). And they may retrieve items that were already paid for by customers and keep them in a Will Call section (paid). But this is still different than the processes needed to make BOPIS work, meaning store associates may need additional training.

On the physical side, most stores were not designed to be a mini-warehouse for online orders. Years ago, that wasn’t much of a consideration. Every retailer wants to maximize sales per square foot and minimize space that isn’t generating revenue, like storage, employee breakrooms and the manager’s office. In other words, most stores don’t have a few hundred idle square feet that can be used to support in-store fulfillment.

And think about stores that sell furniture, toys, luggage or outdoor gear, for example. If there is excess storage space, it is not always connected to the store; it might be a storage locker in a basement or a nearby parking garage if the store is in a mall. In other words, the extra storage space may not be readily accessible. So retailers may need to remodel stores to carve out more space for online orders that shoppers will pick up in-person or add a counter dedicated to order pickup.

3. How do BOPIS items get to the right place in the store?

Once you’ve overcome the challenge of finding space for BOPIS items, you must determine how to get the items to that location. Retailers have found creative ways to make this process more efficient.

Fashionistas who order online from apparel retailer Zara can show up at a store and punch in a code that directs robots in the back of the store to collect the order and put it in a dropbox where the customer grabs it. Beginning in 2017, Walmart put “pickup towers” in hundreds of stores where customers can quickly get their items without the help of an associate (though someone must put the products in the tower).

4. How should inventory shortages and lost inventory be handled?

Inventory management becomes more challenging with BOPIS, as well. As soon as a store employee pulls an item off the shelf for an online order, the inventory must update in real-time to keep another shopper from placing a BOPIS order when the product is actually out-of-stock. It may be best to show an item as out-of-stock at a store once the inventory count dips to two or lower since an in-store shopper could clear out the remaining inventory before an associate picks the order.

There are also instances when the store associate simply can’t find the item. The retailer should email and/or call the customer right away to alert them of the issue and follow up with updates. While the customer may still be frustrated, it prevents the additional hassle of her driving to the store only to find out the item she ordered is nowhere to be found.

5. How will BOPIS items arrive at the store?

It’s important to decide whether your company will support BOPIS for products that are not currently in stock and must be shipped from a warehouse or other stores. Less popular items may not be sold in stores or only in select locations, which makes this process more complex. So a company must draw up a protocol for separating these already-sold items from the rest of that truckload and then moving them to the right holding area.

6. What should the customer pickup policy be?

Determine how you would like to handle customer pickups. Consider whether the customer needs to provide a window during which they’ll be picking up their order or if the pickup process is more flexible. Also think about how quickly a shopper can pick up their order (many major retailers guarantee it will be ready within two hours). Think about proper store staffing that will allow an associate to be off the store floor for several minutes to retrieve BOPIS orders.

Bottom Line

Supporting buy online, pickup in-store is something even smaller retailers could launch in a relatively short period of time, and it can help attract more shoppers to the store at a time when more and more customers are moving online. However, businesses must remember they are also putting a handful of brand-new processes onto the plates of employees who are often already the most overworked. When building a plan for BOPIS, make sure to not only address the challenges outlined above, but avoid putting too much of a burden on store associates.