Toys"R"Us Payments About As Far From Seamless As Possible

Toys"R"Us is now following Walmart's lead and offering an online cash program, where shoppers can purchase something online and offer to pay for it with cash in a local store. The shopper then has 48 hours to get to that store and cough up the moolah. But these programs are taking an interesting twist. They have little to do with the unbanked, nor are they offering a more comfortable way for consumers who are still nervous about typing in their payment-card data—although both are factors.

No, this program has everything to do with getting E-tail shoppers into stores. And, along the way, it has become the exact opposite of the original idea of merged-channel programs, where shoppers were encouraged to shop in whatever way was easiest and most efficient for their situation and the purchase's particulars.

Use this opportunity to show these shoppers all of the in-store-only benefits. That's the true value of this type of program. But the way they are being deployed now, it's dual-disruptive. The shopper is already online and, at payment, the process is disrupted because the shopper is sent to the store. Once in the store and having paid, the action is disrupted a second time, when no product is received and the shopper has to wait days for home delivery.

Indeed, these programs—which we will expect to be quickly adopted well beyond Walmart and Toys"R"Us—are more about hardening the walls between channels than breaking them down. Consider what happens when the shopper arrives to consummate the purchase. If the product he or she wants happens to be in stock at that store, there is nothing in the system to flag that fact. Indeed, the system is designed to be difficult to void out that online purchase and replace it with an in-store one.

The easiest route is for the customer to find out if the product exists on the shelf first. If it's there, he or she should just buy it and pretend the online order never happened. What's the benefit to the store of that? Why not integrate the two options? The answer is that this is considered an online purchase—for commission and incentive and credit purposes—and that mingling the two is bad.

Let's go further. Once the product is paid for, it is then mailed, so the customer has the joy of both driving to the store and standing in line to pay and waiting days for the item to be delivered.

These programs are designed to leverage the existence of stores, but they are not crafted to work in the way that would be helpful to either shoppers or, candidly, the chain. Digging down, it's one of the most anti-merged channel programs around today.

When Walmart first launched its program, it was intended to reduce the number of people who abandoned their carts at the time of payment. The chain thought that if even a small percentage of those people didn't have payment cards—or were hesitant to type in that information online—this approach would be a good way to salvage those sales. It was a good thought.

But Walmart's post-launch analysis showed that some 40 percent of these cash customers ended up not paying with cash.

When Toys"R"Us and Babies"R"Us announced the brands' Pay In Store program on October 31, the chain issued a statement quoting VP for E-Commerce Customer Experience Milton Pappas saying that the new program "is yet another way we are integrating our store and online businesses, creating a seamless shopping experience for our customers." Ironic, n'est pas? It's a lot of nice things, but seamless it's not. It's more disruptive than seamless.

This isn't limited to payment cards, cash and checks; Toys"R"Us has added a giftcard option. If seamless was the goal, why not make online acceptance of these payment types easier? For example, for shoppers living near the border, why ban Canadian Toys"R"Us and Babies"R"Us giftcards from the site? Why limit the number of giftcards that can be used to five? Here's a critical one: Why not accept paper Toys"R"Us gift certificates—purchased at the chain's own stores—on its sites?

Related Story: Target's Giftcard Digital Strategy Works Well, Unless You Want To Actually Use The Card

Many sites (banks, overwhelmingly) allow checks to be submitted via a mobile app's camera. If you want to make check acceptance so easy, why not support it online?

So a merged-channel advancement? Not so much. But there is, indeed, a powerful opportunity here to push your in-store experience. Once in-store, experience, ambiance and practical reality—shoppers have already gotten themselves into the store, so they might as well look around—can play a role. What if the Pay In Store effort offered, not required, an appointment? In exchange for an appointment, shoppers get zero wait. More importantly, they will be greeted by an associate who has had a chance to review their online history. That associate first checks to see if it's possible to actually get that product ordered online into the store by the time the shopper comes in to pay, thereby giving that shopper instant gratification (which is unexpected, thereby exceeding expectations). The associate can also have accessories and anything else related to the original product right there.

If you're going to disrupt the customer's experience twice, you might as well make the in-store part of that disruption as pleasant as possible.