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Soaring Through This Holiday Season Grounded in a Better Digital Experience


If this year has taught us anything, it is that during unprecedented times – and even in “normal” times – having information at your fingertips is critical. It drives all of our decisions: where to shop, what to buy, when to buy, where to go, and what to do. Yet details can change minute by minute. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in retail where product details and accurate inventory counts are crucial to the shopping experience.

When accurate information is not readily available, it can significantly increase consumer frustration levels. Take the availability of toilet paper in March. People would drive to a store, all the while calling from a mobile device to check the status of their toilet paper stash. Once they arrived, they discovered information may not have been communicated correctly. That caused mayhem, damaged the customer experience, and consequently hurt the brand. Of course, this was on top of many stores already having a difficult time tackling the logistics associated with COVID. Fortunately, most retailers have since ironed out those early glitches.

The main takeaway? An increasingly large number of shoppers have adopted new (and perhaps permanent) ways to shop. As we approach the holiday shopping season, the pressure is on retailers of all sizes to deliver the best customer experience possible. 

So where should a retailer focus? Let’s start by looking at “Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store (BOPIS).”

Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store

BOPIS didn’t start with this pandemic, but it has certainly grown as a result. That’s because BOPIS can help to dramatically reduce the amount of time customers spend in stores, and therefore reduces possible exposure to viruses. In many areas, it’s become an essential business strategy for retailers.

Let’s explore the benefits of BOPIS a bit more. Today’s shoppers place high value on their time and their hard-earned resources. According to Total Retail, nearly “70% of shoppers have made multiple BOPIS purchases, and more than 50% of those have elected to purchase a product via BOPIS based on where it is available for fastest pick-up.”

More importantly, as Hughes Senior Marketing Director, Jeff Bradbury said, “BOPIS lets consumers take action immediately, complete a task, check it off the To Do list and move on”.

Does that mean retailers simply need to make products available curbside quicker than their competitors? Not exactly. There is a level of necessary infrastructure required to pull off BOPIS. That may include the enterprise network and brand-specific apps to process orders and contact-free payment transactions; real-time inventory systems; or training for employees to understand how to pick, pack, and prioritize orders so they can be delivered efficiently to customers.

Target is a shining example. Digital sales at Target soared by more than 190% during the second quarter of 2020. Because the retailer had already made strategic investments in all things BOPIS —from a better mobile app, stronger network, and effective digital signage to well-trained associates—Target was able to deliver a great customer experience. 

BOPIS is enabling many retailers, like Target, to survive during the pandemic, and it is an approach they will likely use to serve shoppers well beyond this crisis.

Building a Strong Digital Experience

BOPIS is just one aspect of a retail brand’s digital experience. Others include in-store digital signage, loyalty programs (and apps), the e-commerce site, and how product or sales information is communicated to customers. All of these will impact the upcoming holiday shopping season–and experience.

For example, several retailers including Walmart, Target, Costco, and Home Depot, have all opted to remain closed on Thanksgiving, rather than open stores early for “Black Friday” deals. Instead they’ve decided to begin promoting their Black Friday deals well in advance, offering them over a span of weeks rather than on a single day. These promotions will ripple through all their customer-centric channels. This will enable them to reduce the risk of crowded stores and maintain safe social distancing practices, all without sacrificing revenue or brand loyalty.

Retailers will need to continue to be flexible and inventive in the coming months. Yet if they focus on building a strong digital experience that incorporates BOPIS, they should be well-positioned to soar through this holiday season.