It’s not a future trend anymore; shoppers are purchasing online and picking up products in a physical store. It’s an easy and convenient way for a brand to provide instant gratification. The e-commerce shopper is now present at your physical store. What is the next step? This is a golden opportunity for a retailer to initiate a relationship with their online customer. Retailers must seize the moment and not make their second biggest mistake. What was the first? Retailers created separate silos for online and brick and mortar. In my opinion, a huge tactical error. It is essential that the two businesses be fused together. The glue is the sales associate, creating a relationship with the customer. The sales associate should be the contact responsible for all channels, e-commerce and brick and mortar.

I recently met with the General Manager of a large and successful independent consumer electronics retailer that prides itself on delivering a great customer experience and exceeding customer expectations. This company instituted the protocol of ordering online and picking up the merchandise. We stood near the entrance where customers picked up their purchases. The customers wanted their items and they wanted them immediately. The General Manager shared that the company was outsourcing the pickup function to a third party. He shared it was difficult to staff the pickup window. Depending upon deliveries, there were some hours of the day where no customers were retrieving their purchases and at other times, there was a rush of people. He observed that the pickup process was lacking in many aspects and not comparable to the customer service in the store. That didn’t make sense to me.

You can never make a second first impression. In retail, equally as important is the last impression. Online shopping is the now not so new paradigm; the selection is great, prices are competitive, the checkout process is user friendly. Convenience is key. If a customer chooses the option of picking up their purchases at a physical store the easy experience should be enhanced by infusing the human connection. Why not have a human-to-human interaction that will turn the customer service experience from a series of dates into a romance?

I read that UPS is pitching a new service for online retailers to accommodate customers so they don’t have to come to the store for the pick-up. Customers can select a local UPS location that may be more geographically convenient than the store. While that might make sense in rural areas, it doesn’t make sense from a repeat business perspective. Retailers should use the pick-up as an opportunity to interact with the customers and create and build a relationship. It’s possible that the online shopper will take time to see what’s available in the store. The impression the associate makes with the customer who they are helping with their pickup is too valuable to be ignored.

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Below are 7 additional suggestions to create a more effective human-to-human connection for in-store pickups:

  1. Put caring and knowledgeable front-line associates at the pick-up counter; someone who can make a great first and lasting impression
  1. Add temporary stations if necessary to ensure that lines are kept to a minimum. Have a front-line associate with a great smile and attitude. Offer customers standing in line a drink or snack, etc. to make the experience more enjoyable. Engage customers in line – make them feel welcomed, important and appreciated even before they get to the pickup counter
  1. Have front-line associates communicate their names, even if it’s on their badge. “Hi, I’m Dawn, I will happy to help you today.”
  1. Find out the customer’s name upfront and use it as part of the conversation. Everyone likes to hear their name and saying it helps make the interaction seem more personable
  1. Find out if the customer has ever been in the store before. If they are a regular, thank them for being loyal. If they have never shopped before, tell them you hope they will return, reminding them that you truly appreciate your customers
  1. When the transaction is complete, end the interaction with something like, “Mr. Jones, it was so nice to help you today and we hope that you will continue to shop here. We appreciate our customers!”
  1. Send first time customers or ones who purchased expensive items, a personalized letter or email, thanking them for coming in and giving them the name of a specific person in the store who can assist them in the future for either an online or store purchase

Retailers were shortsighted when setting up e-commerce void of human contact and as an entirely separate business unit. That was a major blunder. Don’t underestimate the value of making the pickup counter for online purchases one of the most important functions in your brick & mortar store. Repeat business is all about creating and building relationships. That one customer pickup might be your only opportunity. At your next staff meeting brainstorm ways to make the experience at the pickup counter one that will entice the customer to return.