Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from WayfinD, a quarterly e-magazine filled with insights, trends and predictions from the retail and foodservice experts at WD Partners.
A friend of mine needed a new Apple MacBook Pro and a display to go with it. He researched online, looked at reviews on Amazon, and made the purchase on Apple.com. To complete the transaction, Apple gave him a choice: they could ship it to him (in two days, free of charge) or he could pick it up in the store that afternoon.
Eager to get his new stuff, he drove 25 minutes to an Apple store to claim it. The products were waiting for him — complete with his name printed on the label — less than an hour after he ordered them from his laggy old laptop. Best of all, as he left the store an Apple associate commented, "Hey, this is a big day for you. Nice system!"
I love this story because it illustrates several potential advantages for traditional retailers. It's a great example of customer service — providing options and understanding the customer's desire to get the product right away. It's also a story about increased margins — finding a way to use customer impatience to the company's financial advantage. It shows how a customer will happily use retail's greatest threat, Amazon, as a source for information but not the final sale, and that a trip to the store was still relevant. And most importantly, it demonstrates that, in this era of online disruption, having a physical store presence can be an actual advantage.
As our most recent research study, The Next Killer App: Stores, has shown, BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store) is one of the most effective ways retailers can differentiate from, and compete with, Amazon and other major online stores. But the store's role must be adjusted.
Remember when "service" was the most effective way to attract shoppers? Those days, for the most part, are over. Service has been supplanted by convenience. By a significant margin, consumers have told us over and over that they want convenience — and often that means a way of avoiding the hassle of going into an actual store when they already know what they want.
Stores, even those designed to provide immersive brand experiences, are designed to promote sales. To build the basket. To drive shoppers from one end to another in search of the handful of items they need. Online retailing, however, has conditioned shoppers to value convenience over experiences, and they are embracing it.
In other words, stores need to evolve into, essentially, fulfillment centers to meet the BOPIS opportunity. Our research suggests that heavy Prime Users are very open to the BOPIS concept, rating it higher in appeal and purchase influence than all other consumer segments divided by generation or gender.
Let me finish with a second story about the same guy who bought the Apple MacBook. Not long after that, he purchased a big LCD TV from Amazon. He read the reviews, chose the one he wanted, and thanks to his Prime membership, had the giant, awkward box delivered to his door two days later. Easy peasy, right?
Right ... until the unit started having trouble. At that point, he was on his own. No local store to call or visit for troubleshooting. No easy way to exchange or return it.
"That was the moment," he told me, "I wish I'd bought it from a store."
How much of a competitive advantage will having physical stores be for retailers over those with largely online operations over the next three to five years?