Admit it: we all love an “inside look” at how things really work, don’t we? That’s why Rakuten Ready recently conducted “mystery shopper” research to analyze how brands’ “order-ahead and pickup” experiences deliver in real life.
Today’s retailers admit they are sold on the concept of order-ahead and pickup—it allows their customers to get what they want and when they want it, offering increased personalization opportunities and a boost in sales.
But does order-ahead and pickup live up to its promise to customers? Rakuten Ready recently visited 10 top retailers, making at least 30 trips to each at locations across the U.S. “The goal was to find out what disconnects, if any, there were between the promised and actual experience, and help brands learn how they can build loyalty with improvements,” says Rakuten Ready CEO and Co-Founder, Jaron Waldman.
The results were both eye-opening and instructive. In short, offering order-ahead and pickup can’t be a “box-check activity,” or one that brands rush into without putting sufficient planning into execution and the overall customer experience.
Five Key Components of a Seamless Order-Ahead and Pickup Experience
As part of its service, Rakuten Ready offers extensive retailer training. “We want to help our clients improve operational excellence, so we share little details on how to execute smoothly from the back to the front of the store,” Waldman says.
He explains there are five pieces to the order-ahead and pickup puzzle. According to Waldman, the five components include:
- Sufficient staffing
- Logistics, such as signage
- Effective employee training
- Adequate marketing of your order-ahead and pickup services
Small Tweaks Can Equal Big Gains
Here are some insights from the Rakuten Ready report that can help retailers improve their order-ahead and pickup experiences:
1. The front line person makes or breaks it.
“The retailers who are most successful are those who have already built high-end customer service into their culture,” Waldman says. These are the places that have well-trained staff and processes in place to make the experience easy for the customer.
By contrast, some of Rakuten Ready’s secret shoppers were faced with under-staffed or non-existent pickup counters, often with lines; stores where only a busy manager was able to complete the transaction; and situations where the store repeatedly didn’t answer their phone as the shopper waited outside for their purchase.
2. Timing matters.
The whole point of order-ahead and pickup is convenience and time savings, so the process has to be seamless once the shopper arrives, and that means no lengthy waits. Of the customers who ordered ahead for pickup, 70% of those who waited less than two minutes for their orders to be fulfilled were more likely to use the method in the future, while that number plummeted to 16% for those who had to wait more than 10 minutes.
In addition, customers like to be kept abreast of their order status through ample and accurate notifications.
3. Logistics can play a crucial role.
Some shoppers were faced with confusing directions, such as barely noticeable, unmarked parking spots in a far corner or a lack of signage in the front of the store directing them where to go.
Others were peeved that they were charged an unexpected convenience fee; that their items were out of stock; and that they had to show a photo ID even though they had confirmation barcodes.
Ultimately, this piece of the customer experience must be addressed to entice repeat business.
4. The order-ahead and pickup experience can color overall feelings about a retailer.
Brands must realize that these incidents don’t just reflect on this specific shopping method; any unsatisfactory event can hurt a brand’s overall reputation.
“Some of our secret shoppers said they would never shop at a certain store for any reason, given how poor the order-ahead and pickup experience was,” Waldman says. “You can have the best technology available, but if you don’t have the little things right, you won’t be successful.”
The good news is that these small gains can genuinely help a brand stand out. “Maybe you can’t get the order delivered in one minute, but you can make up for it with friendly staff, obvious signage and robust processes that remove any burden on the customer,” Waldman says.
Customers turn to order-ahead and pickup for convenience, which is why addressing all these factors is critical to create the seamless, barrier-free experience they expect. And if you’re wondering how your order-ahead and pickup experiences compare to others, watch for Rakuten Ready’s 2019 Time Study, coming this fall.
Once you master these other areas, you can turn your attention to shortening the wait time: If your customers would appreciate a wait time that has shortened to one minute versus 10, Rakuten Ready can help.