Today’s Wall Street Journal has a story on the hassles of buying online and picking up in store (subscription required). The story includes experiences where the item isn’t available, orders are canceled and other inconveniences. It fairly accurately reflects my experience with in-store pickup.
It’s not an easy logistics challenge, which explains why few stores do it and the ones that do generally do it poorly. The keys are 1) having accurate inventory and 2) having enough staffing to pick orders.
Here’s a sampling of my experiences:
- Office Depot. Their in-store pickup is so useless that I don’t know why they bother. It’s a hassle for their store managers and a royal pain in the ass for customers. On several occasions, I’ve shown up at a store to find that they no longer had the item. (Someone had bought it in the store before the order had been picked by employees.) Employees and managers were generally clueless about the process. To make matters even worse, I was still charged for the items and then had to deal with their inept customer service to get a refund. Never again. They really ought to stop offering it until they can get the many kinks worked out.
- Comp USA. Similar issues with inventory synchronization. Got to the store to find that only item left was a floor model. After a bit of discussion the manager offered me a discount on the floor model. Comp USA does not process the online order to your credit card until you pick up the item. This means that if you pick it up a few days later, you might miss out on sale pricing and rebates.
- Best Buy. The biggest issue I’ve had here is long waits. You get stuck in line behind people returning items, applying for credit and other customer service tasks. In most cases, it’s faster to just pick up the item yourself and take it to the register.
- Circuit City. Easily the best and the easiest. Circuit City has dedicated parking spaces for in-store pickup as well as a dedicated counter (though not always staffed.) If your order isn’t ready 24 minutes after you placed it, you get a $24 gift card. This happened to me once and I got the gift card. (I did have to ask for it.) Circuit City’s point-of-sale system is smart enough to keep the store from selling items to in-store customers if they’ve been ordered online; they’re digitally erased from store inventory when they’re ordered online. Even if the in-store customer has it in hand, they won’t be allowed to buy it.
The ultimate question is “Does it save the customer time?” Except for Circuit City, today the answer is generally no. Without dedicated lines for in-store pickup, it generally doesn’t make sense.
I’d love to see a store with in-store pickup lockers. Similar to what you see at some airports, you’d have a bank of lockers of varying sizes. When you go to the store, you insert the credit card used for the purchase and the locker pops open. Grab your stuff and go. That’s real convenience – saves time for both the customer and the store.