Buy online, pick up in store: The convenient, safer consumer option
Buying online and picking up in store presents shoppers with an attractive idea: Taking advantage of the convenience of online shopping while avoiding delays and shipping costs.
BOPIS, as it is often called, is not a new concept. In an effort to compete with Amazon, retailers have been offering BOPIS, or a version of it, since around 2013 — and its popularity has grown since then. With the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more spa retailers are getting into the act.
Ted Lawrence, corporate retail category manager at Poolcorp, a wholesale distributor of pool and spa supplies and equipment, has been promoting a BOPIS strategy to retailers for 10 years. In addition to tapping into its growing popularity, he notes that 60% of BOPIS customers buy additional items when they come to the store to pick up their online orders. COVID has only made BOPIS more attractive.
“COVID caused retail to change and to change very quickly,” Lawrence says. “Those who had a strategy in place before the shutdown benefitted exponentially. The others were scrambling to come up with a strategy.”
Nevertheless, some spa retailers have been able to get an e-commerce website up and running, and offer BOPIS, in time to manage pandemic restrictions.
Customer service was the driving factor
DesRochers Pools & Spas in Shorewood, Illinois, began offering its customers a buy online, pick up in store option in early 2020, just before COVID hit.
“We started to notice our customers value convenience more than ever,” says Mallory Bjekich-Wachowski, the company’s retail operations manager.
“At times, customers asked less about price and more about delivery, pick up and online ordering.”
DesRochers used DropClick, whose team of IT professionals set up an e-commerce website for the company in just a few days. So far, there has been no need to add staff or make physical changes in any of DesRochers’ three suburban Chicago showrooms.
“We are fairly new at selling online, but I was happy with the number of sales for our first year,” Bjekich-Wachowski says, noting the fortunate timing of launching an e-commerce site just before Illinois shut down. She expects the company will always offer BOPIS and utilize it more each year.
Snake River Pool & Spa in Boise, Idaho, also began offering online purchases with curbside pickup at its three stores early last year, just before COVID, and will be starting local delivery this spring or summer. Company president Kyle Mueller had planned to add BOPIS at some point, but COVID accelerated his online strategy and marketing plan.
“Customer service was the driving factor,” Mueller says. “We want customers to shop however fits their lives and schedules best.”
BOPIS also enabled Snake River to better compete with online retailers, since they could answer customers’ questions, test water and offer other personal touches not available from online-only retailers.
Snake River’s marketing director researched software to use and spoke with other brick-and-mortar retailers and the company’s manufacturing partners before choosing DropClick to develop an e-commerce subdomain of Snake River’s existing website. No changes were made to the stores’ physical space or its staffing, though the company has a plan for if and when online sales volume increases beyond current capacity.
“We have the physical space at two of our three locations to carve out any necessary space in the future for staging, processing and extra product so infrastructure is not an issue,” Mueller says. “If and when the demand for e-commerce increases beyond our current personnel capacity, we will hire accordingly.”
Mueller says it’s too early to tell if the company’s BOPIS option has been worth the few thousand dollars in start-up costs (plus monthly fees) and 30 to 50 internal man hours to get it set up. They have, however, worked out most of the kinks and in April started to roll out a full digital marketing blitz to promote Snake River’s online shopping app.
“Even if the system never becomes a large profit center, it will be a success if some customers use the program to make their lives easier and better,” he says. “I can only imagine this segment of our business will continue to grow, though I don’t believe it will ever be a large part of our business.”
Responding to COVID
Valley Pool & Spa had planned to begin offering a buy online, pick up in store option as early as 2017, but other projects kept causing delays. However, when its seven stores in the Pittsburgh area were forced to close temporarily in March 2020, the time was right to get in on the BOPIS action.
Valley launched an e-commerce website in just two weeks, built and hosted on the Shopify platform. For years, the company had sold products on Amazon and other marketplaces, and had used third-party shipping management tools like SellerActive and ShipStation. Shopify was easily integrated into these platforms.
“We have wanted to add [BOPIS] because it is a vital part of the future of brick and mortar,” vice president Eric Cassidy says. “The pandemic accelerated our plans to get it launched, to keep up sales and the ability to serve our customers.”
Store staff treats online orders with the same urgency as in-store orders; online orders awaiting pickup are simply placed in bags on shelving units. So far, Valley has not had to add staff, but Cassidy believes he will eventually need to add one person per store to handle e-commerce sales during the peak season.
Getting into BOPIS
For spa retailers who have not gotten into e-commerce or BOPIS, Lawrence says setup is not difficult. He advises adding the most sold and profitable items first such as chemicals, filters and accessories, then branch out from there. Lawrence recommends Shopify, adding that most people with technical skills can set it up themselves. “Look inside your organization for an employee who has the zeal to take the project on,” he suggests.
Once an e-commerce site is launched, Lawrence likes the idea of a designated parking space for BOPIS customers near a simple sign that reads “Call or text to let us know you are here.”
“Set up a text-and-call group for your employees so when a customer calls, you can run the products out to the vehicle,” he says.
Bjekich-Wachowski says retailers curious about e-commerce should be prepared to make big and small changes after their sites launch. “As we know with most things, there are glitches and room for improvement,” she says. “Don’t give up if it doesn’t go exactly as planned. This sort of start-up is always a work in progress.”
Even one year in, Cassidy says Valley’s e-commerce has needed adjustments. “You must be prepared with very thorough procedures and staff discipline in place,” he says. “Ensure that your team knows online orders are of equal importance to in-store sales and should always be treated as such.”
Cassidy believes BOPIS is here to stay, even when COVID is brought under control and social distancing is not a concern.
“It is now permanent,” he says. “Though the pandemic sped up our plans, this is inevitable for all retailers that want to continue to grow and exceed customer expectations.”