Kathryn Swynenberg

In an age where access to information is unprecedented and retail behemoth, Amazon, floats above the retail-o-sphere like an all-powerful god, brands of all sizes are finding ways to navigate toward the digital future while maintaining their brick-and-mortar presence. You could call it a microcosm of the challenge we all face: remaining human in an ever-digitizing world.

Like it or not, we find ourselves in a consumption-driven society. Social media has skyrocketed our collective concern over what we have, how much of it we have, its cost, quality, how fast we can get it and how it compares to other options. Within this space, Amazon has raised expectations exponentially, offering nearly limitless product assortment alongside the convenience of rapid shipping. On the surface, we might find concern for the future of a diverse retail marketplace. However, brands have become nimble in competing with Amazon’s value propositions, namely through the practice of Buy-Online-Pick-Up-In-Store (BOPIS) and subsequent future-focused practices.

What is BOPIS?

BOPIS is exactly what it sounds like. It offers a customer the ability to browse and purchase a product online and pick it up quickly at a store nearby. It initially grew out of the need to compete with the rapid shipping Amazon began offering, but the full scope of pros and cons is more nuanced.

For brands, BOPIS decreases last mile shipping costs, attracts more customers to the store – where 82% say they will likely make additional purchases – and promotes full utilization of inventory. On the other hand, challenges such as training in-store staff, streamlining the customer’s checkout (and potential return) experience, customer PII security and consolidating digital and physical inventory records are all factors that brands must plan for when tying their ecommerce and in-store programs together.

For customers, BOPIS offers convenience and assurance. Consumers can see their purchase in person before taking it home and can even return it on the spot if needed. They, like brands, save time and money with regards to shipping. In fact, cheaper or free shipping is the primary counterattack to Amazon services and is the reason that 65% of shoppers utilize BOPIS.

Trends in Retail + BOPIS

We are beginning to see more digitally native brands utilizing customer data to strategically launch physical storefronts, and BOPIS goes hand-in-hand with that model. For perspective, 86% of retailers agree that BOPIS will be the default shipping method within the next few years. Specifically, BOPIS has been the key competitive advantage for big retail names like Target and Walmart, giving renewed purpose to their numerous physical storefronts. For example, Target increased their curbside pickup order preparation five times over this holiday season compared to 2018, showing demand for increased commitment to BOPIS from both brands and customers.

Various counterparts and extensions of BOPIS are hitting the marketplace as well. Buy-Online-Ship-to-Store (BOSS) extends the advantages of BOPIS even when items are out of stock in local stores while keeping the shopper experience consistent. Buy-Online-Pick-Up-in-Locker (BOPIL) is another approach, allowing brands to make a small investment in secure storage space, essentially consolidating the addresses of customers who live in a general area.

These trends focus on logistically competitive advantages for brands, but where are merchants, and subsequently our shopping habits, headed when it comes to digital transformation?

The Future of Shopping

BOPIS has implications beyond supply chain and customer convenience. Looking at the retail world holistically, it represents a new shift: one where brands begin to bring digital to retail instead of the other way around.

Amidst expediency and affordable shipping, customers are now looking for the next level of digital engagement with the brands they love: a true integration into daily life. Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR, respectively) will feature heavily in the new wave of retail practices, enhancing in-store and online shopping experiences and elevating BOPIS.

A few definitive cases of AR in retail show how the digital future of retail is industry agnostic and closely tied to consumers’ lives outside of retail. For example, Australian company, Treasury Wines Estates, utilized AR in their bottle labels. A custom app showed the history of the vineyard and details about the wine as part of the tasting experience. Walmart, which arguably reigns king in BOPIS, sponsored Jurassic World’s AR game, to engage customers visiting a Walmart store with virtual items players could not get elsewhere.

The theme we see across trends is that retailers want to nail customer satisfaction on the first try – not only for the sake of the customer, but also to bolster their bottom lines (think reducing return rates). They will do whatever it takes, technologically and logistically, to make that happen. Customers who can try on outfits virtually or test drive a car without the paperwork will end up further down the funnel in fewer steps.

Impacts to Ecommerce and Why BOPIS Continues to Matter

As the next digital shift makes its way through the retail industry, brands will become more accountable to the evolving tide of customer expectations than ever. Digital trends like VR and social shopping will only serve to increase customers’ desire for immediate gratification – whether it’s through accessing information online or knowing they can collect their order as quickly as possible.

Brands need to be more efficient and cohesive than ever, starting with coordinating every channel touch point in the buying experience: ecommerce, storefronts, social media, logistics, and so on. We see a future where BOPIS continues to be a competitive advantage for omnichannel brands large and small. What constitutes best-in-class BOPIS capabilities, however, will continue to evolve, driven by technological advancements and changes in and consumer preference. So brands will need to continually fine-tune and evolve their BOPIS offerings in order to stay ahead of the curve.