February 4, 2014, 8:12 AM

Sears makes it easier to pick up online orders at stores

A shopper can pull up in her car, notify Sears she’s arrived via a mobile phone app, and wait in her vehicle while an employee brings her purchase. Sears guarantees a wait of no more than five minutes for its In-Vehicle Pickup service.

Lead Photo

Leena Munjal

All that's missing is roller skates.

Sears Holdings Corp. is now carrying items ordered online out to shoppers that drive up to one of its department stores and wait in a designated curbside space. The retailer guarantees a shopper will not wait more than five minutes after arriving for the personal delivery from a store associate.

Called In-Vehicle Pickup, the service quietly launched as a new option in the retailer's e-commerce checkout several weeks ago, says Leena Munjal, senior vice president of customer experience and integrated retail.  Customers had already been selecting buy-online, pick-up-in-store for many web orders from Sears, and many left feedback requesting a more convenient pickup option, she says.

For instance, a shopper with small children might benefit because it would take much longer than five minutes to find parking, unload the kids into a stroller and get in and out to pick up a pre-purchased item. Or, as a customer wrote in recently, Munjal says, In-Vehicle Pickup was useful after an injury put him in crutches.

When a shopper chooses In-Vehicle Pickup, the site prompts him to join Sears' free Shop Your Way loyalty program and download the Shop Your Way mobile app, which a shopper needs to complete the pickup service at a store, Munjal says. Starting in March, customers will be able to shop from the app and request In-Vehicle Pickup, too, she says. Sears developed the Shop Your Way mobile app in-house with its own software development team, a spokeswoman says.

During checkout, the shopper selects the store location and enters a few details to describe his vehicle, as in, “white Honda Civic hatchback.” When he arrives, he activates the “Shop'In” feature in the Shop Your Way app and taps a button to signal he's arrived, which starts a five-minute countdown clock in the app. The store associate verifies the customer’s identity by checking a printed or electronic mobile receipt the payment card or PayPal account the customer used to place the order. Customers can also use a Pay in Store feature, which allows them to reserve an item online and pay cash when they arrive for pickup.

Sears says that members of its Shop Your Way loyalty program who activate the Shop'In feature while at or near a Sears or Kmart store can access special deals and personalized offers, e-coupons, price and product comparisons, customer reviews, and opportunities to enter sweepstakes. “They can also chat with friends and other members, send photos, post a poll to get shopping advice from the Shop Your Way community or get real-time access to knowledgeable store associates,” Sears says.

In-Vehicle Pickup is the latest in a string of moves by Sears to enable shoppers to purchase and receive items conveniently, Munjal says. For example, if a store doesn't have the correct size of item in stock when a shopper is there, she can use a kiosk on the floor to order the item online and have it shipped to her home or to the store. Or, a shopper who leaves a store after browsing for a refrigerator can receive a link to the fridge's product page on Sears.com, which she may use to finish the purchase later, Munjal says.

“Stores are not just serving the members who come in doors, but those at home shopping online, too,” she says. “It has been a huge shift even from a store operations standpoint. It has become a huge focus area for us.” Today, she says, 60% of sales at Sears are completed in a different place from where they originated, including via buy-online, pick-up-in-store, shipping to home from a store and other order-fulfillment combinations.

Munjal says she is “very pleased” with the number of shoppers who have encountered the In-Vehicle Pickup option on the site and tried it out on their own, without any announcement or introduction about the feature from Sears. She declines to provide details.

Sears is No. 6 in the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500.

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