Macy's, Follett discuss meeting buy online, pick up in-store expectations

CHICAGO—Meeting customer expectations and being prepared are two ingredients to making Macy's (NYSE:M) buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) program a success. At IRCE 2015, Kevin Gardiner, Macy's director of store operations, said one of the most important aspects of the BOPIS purchase option is having the item ready when the customer walks into the physical store.

"If the customer comes early and it takes more than 15 minutes to get the merchandise ready, you can lose a customer," Gardiner said, noting the importance of being honest with the customer about necessary prep time—whether it be two hours or four hours—to set expectations, because the end result could throw off the store's productivity or a customer's loyalty.

For this reason, Gardiner said Macy's often has the merchandise ready long before the timeframe given to the customer expires.  

"You've got to figure out who is going to pick out your merchandise, whether it be support associates or your sales associates, if they can do it efficiently and without disturbing the customer flow," he said.

BOPIS is a growing trend among retailers as consumer demand increases. It seems that even with the option of digital purchasing and delivery, 52 percent of respondents still prefer in-store shopping to online because of their unwillingness to wait for shipping. Therefore, in response, as many as 45 percent of retailers want to invest in a BOPIS program, according to and Forrester Research's "State of Retailing Online 2015" report.

Roe McFarlane is the senior VP for e-commerce product development and strategic marketing at Follett Higher Education Group, the largest retailer of collegiate education materials in America. The company partners with 940 campus stores and, due to its familiarity with working with millennials, is constantly being pushed to further its BOPIS program.

In fact, 93 percent of the stores Follett works with have a BOPIS program. McFarlane boasted that the company has a 7 to 8 percent conversion rate during rush periods on college campuses and a 3 to 4 percent conversion rate during non-rush periods for online buyers.

While McFarlane agreed that timing was important, he said another crucial step in the process is inventory management. "We are focused on real-time inventory," he said, adding that actually having a product available when it is listed online or seen on a rack in brick-and-mortar stores speaks to the integrity of the retailer.

"It is a challenging experience if the item is not actually there," McFarlane said. "In-store and online sync is super important."

McFarlane also underscored the importance of labor planning and said that teaching employees how to stock in a way that lends itself to easy packing can save a lot of time.

What's in the future? Macy's is gearing up for the holiday season. Last year, BOPIS orders were three times as large immediately before the holidays, and the company is preparing for a similar spike this year.

Meanwhile, Follett is working on micro delivery, the next request from consumers. "Customers are pushing us further," McFarlane said. "Can you take the store out of the store? In other words, customers want to know: 'Can you come to me?'"

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