September 10, 2008, 12:00 AM

Retailers are better at store pickup of online orders, E-tailing Group says

Wait time is down, and products are ready more often, according to a mystery shopper survey from The E-tailing Group, a consulting firm that specializes in e-commerce. But retailers could do a better job of communicating some information to web shoppers.

A shopper who orders online for in-store pickup is more likely to find the item ready and waiting when she arrives at the store this year than she did in 2007, according to a mystery shopper survey conducted by The E-tailing Group, a consulting firm that specializes in e-commerce. But retailers could do a better job of communicating important information to online shoppers picking up merchandise in stores, says E-tailing Group president Lauren Freedman.

The E-Tailing Group’s mystery shoppers waited on average 2.58 minutes to pick up items this year, compared with 3.21 minutes last year and 3.64 minutes in 2006, according to the report “Cross-Channel Research & Shopping: Winning Tactics and Treatments.” Products were ready and waiting-as opposed to store employees having to pull them from shelves-94% of the time this year vs. 83% of the time last year.

As in the previous two surveys, employees were knowledgeable and able to find the merchandise quickly more than 80% of the time. “You mostly have a good experience,” Freedman says.

But, while there are signs of improvement, retailers could still do a better job of informing consumers about the in-store pickup option on their web sites and providing important information on how to pick up goods, Freedman says.

She says most retailers publicize the in-store pickup option on home pages and more are putting it on product detail pages, 50% this year vs. 27% in 2007. 71% sent e-mails that products were ready for pickup this year, up from 54% last year.

But fewer of the e-mails sent after the order was placed included important information, such as store location, contact information and store hours. “The customer should have all the information they need on one piece of paper,” Freedman says.

In the stores, there is considerable variation on how much guidance consumers get about where to pick up goods, sometimes within a single retail chain. Freedman recalls visiting three Wal-Mart stores, one with few signs about in-store pickup, another with pick-up in the jewelry department and a third with signs throughout the store.

The E-tailing Group surveyed 24 multi-channel merchants, all the retailers it could find in the Chicago area that offer store pickup of online orders, and placed and picked up orders from two stores in each chain. The firm surveyed 23 retailers last year, suggesting a slow adoption rate for in-store pickup programs. Among the factors holding back such programs are the challenges of integrating inventory and web systems, and the fact that some stores lack the space to store products being held for customers, Freedman says.

“But continuing to get people into stores is going to be a bigger challenge, especially with the price of gas what it is,” she says. “Anything a merchant can do to ensure in-store traffic is critical. And the bonus of customers seeing your assortment and purchasing incremental merchandise is a fringe benefit of any merchant’s investment.”

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