September 1, 2004, 12:00 AM

Merchants still have much to learn about online order/store pick-up

Although consumers like picking up online orders in stores, many retailers still have lessons to learn about serving those customers, says a new study.


Although consumers like the notion of picking up online orders in stores, many retailers still have lessons to learn about serving those customers, says a new study by Chicago-based consultants The E-Tailing Group Inc. The lack of service is hurting retailers’ ability to generate incremental sales when online customers arrive at the store, says president Lauren Freedman.

By several measures, retailers have improved their store pick-up service for online orders, the study says. For example: E-mail notifications to customers that orders were ready for pick up were sent for 75% of online orders, and 83% of merchants sent such notices the same day as the order. And same-day pick-up was available in 63% of stores.

But there were also too many shortcomings in service, leaving retailers on the short end of driving incremental sales, the study says. “Overall we found that in-store pick-up and return processes were more efficient than last year but lacked the customer attentiveness that could generate incremental sales," Freedman says. She adds that the E-Tailing Group’s researchers found store clerks who were distracted, multi-tasking and often conversing with co-workers or friends rather than focusing on the needs of customers who arrived to pick up online orders. “While 63% of store associates were able to quickly locate ordered products, these employees acted like cashiers, offering little help and assistance beyond finding the order,” the E-Tailing Group report says. “Only 6% referenced the web during the return process.”

Other shortcomings cited in the study:
-- Half of stores provided no designated counter for pick-ups;
-- 25% of ordered products could not be located and had to be pulled from floor displays;
-- 75% of the time orders had to be re-checked out in the store after customers had already checked out online.

On the positive side, the study notes:
-- The average time to return an item took 3.27 minutes, down from 6.6 minutes a year ago;
-- Store personnel appeared more educated about the returns process than a year ago, though employees need to get a manager’s help 50% of the time;
-- In-store display of a retailer’s web site address was present in 75% of stores, up from 50% a year ago.
-- 35% of stores offered kiosks for customer use, up from 13% last year, though only 12% offered Internet access to place an order.


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