Outlook on In-Store Pickup for Brands

7/14/2014
It's no secret that the apparel, accessory and lifestyle world has long led the way in driving digital innovation across the retail frontier. Considering early initiatives around the convergence of in-store and online channels, several apparel pioneers come to mind – Macy's, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Gap.

These retail winners blazed the trail for seamless cross-channel shopping experiences and paved the road for countless brands yet to come. To put it simply, their strategies are not only worth noting, but also replicating. One of the capabilities they've deployed to gain early mover advantage and customer mindshare is in-store pickup. But in-store pickup is not only effective for retailers, it has the potential to enhance revenue and brand equity.

The case for in-store pickup
Blending the best of online and offline shopping, in-store pickup gives shoppers the convenience and cost savings of picking up online purchases at a local store. Customers have the ability to research and buy products online, while enjoying the high-touch engagement of a brick-and-mortar facility. This solution solves for a host of potential impediments to sale, such as:  Will these running shoes really be comfortable? Are these designer jeans going to stretch? Can your in-house tailor alter my suit?

In-store pickup and its sister capability "reserve online, buy in-store" continue to surprise and delight by offering a host of innovative applications. High-end women's wear fashion brand Escada just this month launched a new version of its global site, Escada.com, for customers in countries that do not yet support online purchasing. The site displays the company's dresses, jackets, blouses, you-name-it; but instead of a "Buy" button, a shopper sees the product page and a store locator that tells her where she can find the item in real-time.

Fashion and apparel brands and retailers have already created a recipe for success. With more than 50 percent of stores projected to offer in-store pickup by 2015, according to Forrester, and 50 percent expecting this capability now, retailers that have not yet implemented this technology should be embracing the adage: imitation is the highest form of flattery.

Allying with brick and mortar
Today's fashion and apparel merchants must create immersive, seamless experiences to elevate their brands and drive traffic to their sales channels, including franchises and brick-and-mortar retail partners.

In fact, one could argue that it's even more critical for a manufacturing brand, without its own stores, to leverage its retail fulfillment network to capture more sales and enable shoppers to engage physically with their products in-store.

If the actions of successful online pure-plays have taught us anything, it's that they don't remain pure-plays for long. Warby Parky, Bonobos and Piperlime, to name a few, have strategically moved toward brick and mortar as a way to support online commerce. The trend supports what's been coined as "reverse showrooming," a rising trend among shoppers who research online and purchase in-store. PwCooper estimates that 83 percent of consumers research products online, often beginning with the brand's website, before purchasing at a retail store.

The industry must face the truth: brands and their brick-and-mortar counterparts are destined to be allied.

This approach has proven successful. Alibaba, China's answer to Amazon.com, recently agreed to invest more than $700 million dollars in Chinese department store operator Intime Retail, in an attempt to grow its offline presence. Alibaba officials are betting on deeper integration between brick-and-mortar stores and the internet in the future – expecting shoppers in China to buy merchandise online but pick up orders at physical shops.

We're betting on that, too: Branded manufacturers without their own stores need to implement the same winning strategies as successful retailers.

So, say you're a brand that wants to implement in-store pickup? No problem. Today and tomorrow's technologies will help you compete and win in the new retail landscape.

Today: emulating shared inventory
Today, enterprise brands are emulating traditionally retail-centric strategies like ship-from-store to capture and retain retail customers.

Ship-from-store is emerging as a significant competitive requirement and major margin driver in the retail sector, says Forrester: "Amazon's formidable supply chain investments continue to shrink the gap between order and fulfillment, but retailers are fighting back. They are using their stores for order fulfillment in a strategy that has the potential to beat Amazon at its own game. The local fulfillment boxing match is in full swing and offers new opportunities for retailers to thrive in a changing market."

Brands can join the boxing match, too. Advanced order-routing solutions afforded by new retail technologies lead them into the ring, transforming retail dealers into ship-from-store fulfillment centers.

Ship-from-store is the ideal predecessor to in-store pickup, giving brands an invaluable chance to iron out the kinks of store fulfillment, while providing shoppers with a frictionless shopping journey.

Tomorrow: achieving real-time inventory visibility
Soon, real-time inventory visibility will be as ubiquitous as searching on Google.

And it's easy to see why. As mentioned earlier, today's shoppers already research products online but prefer to purchase in a retail store. According to Forrester, half of consumers prefer to pick up orders in-store. Research also shows that 75 percent of shoppers want to see inventory availability before heading to the store. And if they can't? A third of these customers are unlikely to visit at all. Crunch the numbers and that means approximately 38 percent of your entire customer base is craving inventory lookup, if not demanding it.

To capture this group, top retailers have zeroed-in on conquering accurate product availability. Smart brands, like retailers, should be implementing inventory lookup to enable the shopping experiences today's customers want.

Replicating the real-time inventory visibility of a retailer may seem, at first blush, like a daunting challenge, but with 63 percent of customers beginning their search on a brand's website, it's an obstacle worth overcoming.

Creating a partnership with your brick-and-mortar retail partners is not that farfetched. After all, inventory lookup, like ship-from-store and in-store pickup, drives sales and foot traffic to stores. And data gathered from inventory lookup supports merchandising priorities to optimize retail forecasting, product marketing and in-store operations. The analytics behind inventory lookup gives retailers greater ability to segment their messaging efforts and product mix based on local customer preferences, improving stocking habits. Apparel and footwear brands, for instance, can implement size profiling to ensure that the right sizes reach the relevant regions.

Aggregating local, real-time inventory to exploit direct-to-consumer relationships is not a strategy exclusive to progressive retailers. All brands of the future will depend on the world of data uncovered by inventory lookup to guarantee a healthy fulfillment program, including ship-from-store and in-store pickup.

Eager for universal retail solutions
Though Amazon has gained traction across nearly all vertical markets, in the past few years it has intensified its focus on fashion, becoming its fastest-growing category to date. In fact, some analysts project that Amazon's apparel category will one day surpass its sales of books.

If you're a manufacturer, the critical defense should be to optimize capture of online sales while delivering the in-store shopping experience and fulfillment capabilities your customers want. Using your network of stores as fulfillment centers also gets you closer to your customers, potentially reaching them faster than Amazon can with only 40+ distribution centers to date.

In the new retail landscape, savvy brands will leverage technology to build out a collaborative relationship with their brick-and-mortar partners to compete and, more importantly, win.


Ed Stevens is founder and CEO of Shopatron, a provider of cloud-based e-commerce order management solutions.
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