With Christmas just days away, it's a toss up whether online orders will be delivered in time.
But with more consumers browsing and buying from the comfort of their smartphone or desktop — and a significant number of last-minute sales up for grabs — retailers are have ramped up efforts to accommodate those shoppers. Amazon, thanks to its elaborate distribution network in urban areas, is responding by offering delivery as late as 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve.
While Walmart can't compete with that delivery speed, it does have one major advantage: over 4,750 stores. The big-box retailer is quick to point out that 90% of Americans live within 10 miles of one of its stores.
This year, as Walmart continues its e-commerce expansion (tripling the number of products offered online), the company is pushing customers to use in-store pickup. Like last year, Walmart is letting shoppers reserve items bought online until 4 p.m. local time Dec. 23 in order to pick up by 6 p.m. local time Dec. 24. A quick search on Walmart's website for products available for pickup at a discount yields 365,473 results, ranging from holiday decor and toys, to clothing and electronics.
Walmart isn't the only retailer cashing in on in-store pickup. It's one of the best weapons brick-and-mortar retailers have to defend against Amazon encroaching on their market share.
On the topic, the discussion forum RetailWire asked its BrainTrust panel of retail experts the following questions:
Do you see in-store pickup becoming a major holiday driver or will it become simply an everyday expectation for consumers?
Is in-store pickup a big holiday season advantage versus Amazon for retailers with many physical stores?
Here are nine of the most provocative and insightful comments from the discussion. Comments have been edited by Retail Dive for length and clarity.
1. A holiday saver
Charles Dimov, Director of Marketing, OrderDynamics: In-store pickup isn’t a holiday driver — it's a holiday saver! Online, the shopper secures the item (it’s always a pain to have the last product snatched before you get there), and the store has it ready within a few hours for pickup on the way home, or while doing errands.
The best part is that when a shopper is already at high anxiety levels (with more items for their shopping list), the retail brands that save them the aggravation will be remembered in a very positive light. Good for loyalty, perhaps?
2. As long as products don't sell out…
Ken Lonyai, Consultant, Strategist, Tech Innovator, UX Evangelist: In-store pickup will be a driver for the shrinking last-minute shopper segment and then it will become an everyday expectation. However, if those items sell out before last-minute shoppers get theirs, Walmart or any retailer can kiss those customers goodbye forever.
3. 'Needed to play'
Steve Montgomery, President, b2b Solutions: In-store pickup was a "needed to win" and has become a "needed to play." The questions now are, how far in advance does the order have to be placed and how convenient is the pick-up process?
From the consumer’s point of view, the answer is, "I’m in the parking lot placing my order and would like it delivered to me now." For the retailer the answer is far more complex. It requires the balancing of being a retail location versus a warehouse, balancing the labor devoted to each group of customers, etc.
4. Not worth the cost
Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants: In-store pickup is important, but with demand for employees growing, and the pool of available seasonal workers shrinking, adding increased labor will be difficult, expensive, and perhaps not a profit maker, since the demand for in-store pickup still requires driving to the store, fighting traffic, and parking, just to get a product. All in all, it will not prove to be worth the cost.
5. An Amazon killer?
Phil Masiello, Founder and CEO, Hound Dog Digital Agency: In-store pickup for last minute gifts will probably drive some incremental revenue. Is this an Amazon killer? Walmart would need to do a lot more to get the retention Amazon has.
Prime members, which at last count were over 50 percent of the adult U.S. population, can get last-minute delivery on the 24th in most markets. If stores were convenient and consumers wanted to drive to the store, park, walk in, pickup, walk out and drive home then e-commerce would not be growing as rapidly as it is.
6. Not a game-changer
Keith Anderson, SVP, Strategy & Insight, Profitero: I wouldn’t characterize it as a game-changer, but it does represent a material advantage Walmart has over Amazon, whose logistics network is already under strain to deliver on-time with two weeks to go until Christmas.
This will also help condition shoppers to pick up online orders in-store, which Walmart is otherwise trying to incentivize. I see it as a minor advantage but a bigger step forward for Walmart’s omnichannel ambitions.
7. If you got it flaunt it
Min-Jee Hwang, Director of Marketing, Wiser Solutions: Walmart is smart to highlight its advantages over Amazon. They may have less items available overall, compared to the "Everything Store," but since online shopping is fueled by convenience, Walmart is choosing the right focus. Holiday shoppers are strapped for time and catering to their busy schedules secures their business.
This is another example of using its thousands of stores as an advantage over Amazon. In such a competitive climate, Walmart should be (and seems to be!) making the most out of any leg-up they have.
8. No long-term advantage
Joy Chen, Chairman & CEO, H2O+Beauty: In-store pick up is a different strategy to bring value and convenience to compete with Amazon. This is maybe a good strategy for Walmart, particularly when their consumers are looking for better value on the product in return for in-store pickup. However, this will not drive more traffic or advantage long-term.
9. Good for Walmart, but what about specialty?
Lee Peterson, EVP Brand, Strategy & Design, WD Partners: We’ve tested BOPIS with thousands of consumers in several iterations, and to drive up and have someone put your purchase in your trunk is always No. 1. Walmart is doing that too, not as prolifically, but they are doing both. In any case, they’re doing more than any other physical retailer other than Best Buy on the pick up front, which is saying something.
To us, the idea of pick up in store works better with a mass merchant like Walmart because there’s so many other things you may need there on a daily basis, like groceries. But if you’re a one-trick pony, like specialty retail, it will be a little tougher to grow.
This story has been updated.