Click and collect and ship-from-store change associate job descriptions

Source: Target
Dec 01, 2016
George Anderson

The number of people coming into stores to shop for holiday gifts this year is down as more consumers go online to purchase what they need. That doesn’t mean, however, that store associates are any less busy this season. As retailing has changed, so have the roles of frontline workers who are now called on to fulfill orders placed online, whether that means assisting a customer who has come to the store to pick up a purchase or facilitating a shipment from the store to a customer’s home.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, 39 percent of all shoppers this holiday season will place an order online and go to a store to pick it up. That’s up from 32 percent last year. Eighty-three percent will make an additional purchase while in the store picking up their online order.

Earlier this year at the Internet Retailer Conference and Expo (IRCE), Karl Bracken, senior vice president of supply chain transformation at Target, explained how his company is using stores to fulfill online orders. He pointed to the chain’s experience during the 2015 holiday season when it rolled out ship-from-store to 450 of its locations across the U.S. These stores filled 30 percent of online orders in 2015.

“At peak, instead of having every product go through our fulfillment centers and trying to figure out how to manage that … and potentially dissatisfying a guest, we’ve been able to take that peak demand and shift some of it to stores so that we can get those orders fulfilled and out to guests faster,” Mr. Bracken told the audience at IRCE.

This year, Target has expanded ship-from-store to 460 locations to more than 1,000. The company expects it will triple the amount of volume through ship-to-store this holiday season. Speaking on the company’s third quarter earnings call last month, CEO Brian Cornell said ship-from-store has distinct benefits, including reducing pressure on fulfillment centers during periods of high demand, cutting shipping costs and delivering orders to customers more quickly.

“As a result of our efforts to optimize inbound processes, we expect to double the percentage of our holiday receipts that are processed within 24 hours of arrival,” Mr. Cornell told analysts (via Seeking Alpha). “This will enhance our store in stocks … freeing up meaningful space in our regional DC’s, further enhancing speed and efficiency.”

Toys “R” Us has also expanded its ship-from-store capabilities, according to a Wall Street Journal report. Nearly all of the chain’s 870 stores will be used to fulfill orders. The chain expects to more than double the amount of orders going out from stores compared to 2015.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How great a differentiator will click and collect and ship-from-store services be for retail chains this holiday season? What do you see as best practices for attending to customers who have come to the store to pick up online orders?

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19 Comments on "Click and collect and ship-from-store change associate job descriptions"

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Chris Petersen, PhD.

The best practice for click and collect stores is “customer-centricity” vs product fulfillment. The single greatest opportunity and challenge for click and collect stores is to make the customer experience outstanding. Yes, that starts with rapid fulfillment of the product ordered. But the customer came to the store for a reason … and that creates an amazing touchpoint opportunity for staff to interact and assist customers beyond processing orders.

The most successful retailers with click and collect are seeing this as a new opportunity to upgrade staff from “cashiers” to customer engagement staff who can create a face-to-face experience that can not be found online.

Martin Mehalchin

Well put, Chris. The key statistic in the article is that 83% of click and collect customers make an additional purchase at pick up; huge opportunity for the retailer. One best practice, especially in larger general merchandise stores, might be to give staff easy access to a product recommendation engine to aid selling suggestions at the point of pick-up.

Herb Sorensen

Absolutely right on!

Max Goldberg

Ship-from-store is great for consumers if retailers can properly manage inventories. No consumer wants to drive to a store in search of an item only to find that it’s out of stock. It’s bad for business. BOPIS orders should be filled promptly, with as little customer wait time as possible. Both ship from store and BOPIS can become nightmares if not managed properly.

Bob Phibbs

I can’t imagine a quicker way to say you are in a dead-end job than by making you a warehouse picker in a retail store. I think the divided loyalties between online and in-store plunge customer service levels at peak times. With an earlier RetailWire story reporting that abandonment issues on BOPIS are running upwards of 40 percent I have to ask how effectively this could be managed and I wonder how this will impact turnover rates.

Frank Poole
3 years 2 months ago

No need for past-tense here; locations I routinely visit are still hiring for the holiday, mostly because they can’t retain new hires for high-stress, low-control jobs as “pickers.” As a result, I frequently see store executives — and these are salaried people we’re talking about — pushing around pick carts, trying to boost their fulfillment stats.

Bob Amster

The implications of click and collect or ship-from-store for the store operations organizations are anything but trivial. There is additional technology to be installed, training to be done, packaging materials to be stocked, contracts with delivery or courier services to be negotiated and one or two things I may have left out inadvertently. As much as retailers are conceptually eager to provide this type of services, it will be disruptive until processes are streamlined and skills are honed. And — by the way — there is no free lunch, this will cost retailers in addition. Some businesses may have to dedicate part of a full-time equivalent to these functions in every store.

Roger Saunders

Bringing all portions of the organization into the omnichannel space engages added retail associates in the opportunity to service the customer and enjoy the satisfaction that retail brings to store associates.

Just as in each of our personal lives, retail associates will perform better if provided with objectives, those being — something to do, something to hope for and someone to love. In the support of ship-from-store services, the ideal time to demonstrate the love and appreciation of a customer is when they are directly in front of us.

Mark Ryski

Click and collect/ship-from-store is a logical extension of online selling and provides brick-and-mortar retailers with an advantage that pure-play online retailers don’t have — many physical distribution points. Offering these types of services will be increasingly important as consumers demand convenience and competitive pressure forces the issue, however effectively executing will be a challenge for many retailers. A poorly executed program could cause more harm than good. I believe that retailers who can effectively executive these programs will have a competitive advantage in the short-to-mid term.

While these programs are logical and perhaps even inevitable, what is certain is that when implemented, they will change the nature and intent of visits to brick-and-mortar stores. Store traffic and conversion rate analysis will become more nuanced and interpretation more challenging.

Charles Dimov

Although omnichannel purchases are rising, many retailers are still playing catch-up. There is a growing list of retailers providing inventory visibility to customers, but most still do not have robust enough systems to show it accurately and in real-time. Inventory visibility is just the starting point of omnichannel retail.

So will click and collect and ship-from-store be a differentiator this holiday season? I would say YES. Unlike the retailers mentioned above, many retailers are still not there. If you have it NOW is the time to REALLY tout your capabilities to your customers!

As for customers who come in-store for pickups, from last season ICSC estimated that 69 percent will purchase another item. So make sure to make the pickup quick and easy, and train all the service reps to suggest an add-on item to that sale. Chances are that those who suggest another item will have a pleased consumer who increases their purchase based on the suggestion. Happy selling!

Lee Kent

Click and collect can be a great differentiator and a great opportunity if done right. There must also be adequate staff with clear responsibilities to make it work. I have heard that there have been grumblings from store employees about becoming warehouse pickers and packers. The picking part is a bit of a whine since staff are constantly putting things back on the shelf and helping shoppers find what they are looking for, but I would agree that a person hired as store staff might not be the right person to handle packing.

Bottom-line though, in this world of ever increasing online shopping and delivery, a chance to actually connect with the consumer can make a huge difference. And faster home delivery service can do wonders for the reputation.

This is one retailers will need to get right, for my 2 cents!

Adrien Nussenbaum

It will be imperative for associates to know their own products extremely well. For example, a customer may buy a marketplace product (sold by a third-party seller) and then either pick it up or return it in the retailer’s store. If the customer has questions, it is an opportunity for the associate to sell a complementary product from the retailer’s own stock, or to replace the item with the retailer’s own product. Store associates will need to think with more of a customer mindset, understanding how products fit customer needs, and then have a way to sell it to the customer.

Lesley Everett

It comes down to the overall customer experience every single time. If it’s easy, quick and accurate with friendly service then it meets the expectation and will get talked about over and over again, building a consistent brand, driving loyalty and bringing in more customers to experience it. As for job descriptions, these are arguably THE most important employees for the business — make them feel like it by calling them customer experience associates or the like.

Tony Orlando
Although this doesn’t apply to my store, as we are not set up to do it right, BOPIS is not for everybody. You must commit to redoing your operations with some major capital expenses, and the consumer is not willing to pay more than the listed price in the store for what they want you to do. Is the front of your store safe enough to put in a special pick up lane without causing problems with the local fire departments, who enforce the safety clearances at your store entrance? This is an issue around here, and even Walmart is slowly getting up to speed, by investing in a safe area, specifically designed for BOPIS, without creating congestion at their entrances. Training the help to pull this off is a huge concern, as it has to be right the first time or you risk losing consumers — they have no patience for screw ups. If I was much younger, I would build a modern store from the ground up that actually is fully engaged with… Read more »
Peter Charness

The associate job description isn’t the only thing that changes, the entire retail distribution model changes with it. The half-full side says that retailers, particularly chain store retailers, have a physical plant close to the customer capable of displaying great products and getting them to the customer any way the customer wants to be served and delivered” rapidly and (in theory) cost effectively. The other news is that the physical plant isn’t set up to do the job it now needs to do. The store of the future is a traditional store, walk in mail box, and distribution center, with associates trained to do all of the jobs. Scary to some, reinvention of retail to others. It all changes now.

Herb Sorensen
This is an excellent subject to discuss, even if it is a gnarly problem. I don’t think the REAL fundamental problem has been addressed, nor the REAL fundamental opportunity seized, although I do appreciate the positive efforts forward, and the obvious progress. But this is NOT simple. Nonetheless, even weak, stumbling solutions are being made in the right direction. Note this from the report: “ship-from-store has distinct benefits . . .” There are 3 potential benefits listed, with varying degrees of meeting reality: 1. “Reducing pressure on fulfillment centers during periods of high demand.” This is vastly offset by the massive additional cost of fulfillment within the stores. Bear in mind that Brian Cornell is truly a merchant warehouseman accustomed to relying on unpaid stock-pickers, aka SHOPPERS, to pick the stock in the stores. Moving to decentralized PAID staff in a less than efficiently laid out store is a questionable method to compete with highly automated, partially robotic centralized warehousing. Whether Target’s distribution can approach Amazon’s is a whole ‘nuther matter. 2. “Cutting shipping costs.”… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson

This has already become “table stakes” in the retail biz in the U.S. Those that are making this work have a deep commitment at store level and ensure the staff put high priority on managing incoming online orders. I had a great experience at Target this week with such an order. Stress-free.

Shep Hyken

Convenience is a factor. If it is easy to go online and have a quick in-store pickup, savvy customers will use the service. And, as for best practices for attending to customers who do come into the store, just to pick up? Continue to deliver the same (hopefully high) levels of service you’ve always delivered. An in-store pickup is an opportunity to engage, even if it is minimal. Try to create a connection. It’s what will get the customer to come back next time.

Manish Chowdhary

This is a fascinating discussion, full of interesting points.

On the one hand, numerous companies and studies have shown sales increases of 20% – 30% from Buy Online Pickup In Store. Plus the elimination of shipping costs.

On the other hand, a consumer survey by Ivend showed that only 31.6% of Click & Collect customers found the pickup process to be “smooth.”

So the opportunities are there for the taking, so long as execution is impeccable. This slideshare about Buy Online Pickup In Store is a good primer for someone reading along who wants to get a clear view of the potential upside and the important execution issues to resolve before making the leap.

"The single greatest opportunity and challenge for click and collect stores is to make the customer experience outstanding."
"As for job descriptions, these are arguably THE most important employees for the business..."
"You must commit to redoing your operations with some major capital expenses, and the consumer is not willing to pay more than the listed price..."

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