COVID-19 has accelerated traditional retailers’ willingness to use their physical stores as distribution locations to compete with pure-play retailers. A network of stores is an indisputable advantage for traditional Aussie retailers because they can support buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) programs. BOPIS gets products to customers faster and cheaper than shipping from a distribution centre and it’s even proven to increase in-store sales. If you’re considering launching a BOPIS program, here are six questions you should answer to guarantee success.

1: How transparent is your inventory?

To succeed in BOPIS, the most important rule is that your inventory must be totally transparent to the customer. A shopper needs to have confidence that when they see an item available for sale that it will be there when they get to the store. To support this, you need a Distributed Order Management system (DOM) that can provide accurate inventory even before the customer hits the buy button. And strategies like setting buffers to prevent products from being sold twice are essential to customer satisfaction. If your OMS isn’t sophisticated enough to handle inventory distribution across locations, from stores to distribution centers you need to consider this.

2: Are your stores set up to handle BOPIS?

While retailers need to focus on inventory accuracy for their BOPIS programs, you shouldn’t discount the impact of in-store operations. Fulfilling BOPIS orders may require dedicated space in your store where associates can store items that are ready for pick up. If items are being fulfilled from a Distribution Centre do you have a separate place to store them, so they don’t get mixed in with store inventory? If you’re fulfilling from available stock, are you capturing the updated inventory accurately once an item has been prepared for pick up?

3: Do you have a clear strategy for your BOPIS program?

What exactly do you hope to accomplish with your BOPIS program? Are you looking to generate more traffic to your stores or are you hoping to increase online conversion? If you’re currently charging for delivery, is the purpose of BOPIS to offer cost-free fulfillment to customers or decrease the cost of delivery for the business? Has there been actual customer demand for this service? If your strategy isn’t clear, it will be much more difficult to measure success.

4: Are you set up to start small and grow as the program succeeds?

With any new strategy it’s best to start small so you can iron out kinks without impacting your entire store network. By identifying one or two stores where you can test a pilot program, you’ll be better able to see the impact of the new strategy and measure how well it’s succeeding. A new service like this will entail staff training, space allocation and integration with all of your backend systems. Don’t start out by biting off more than you can chew.

5: Are you well positioned to collect feedback?

Any new program will impact your staff as well as your customers. Before you begin, develop a strategy for collecting feedback from both groups. This can be as simple as a few questions asked during checkout or as robust as an online survey. If you’re starting small with just a store or two you may be able to collect only anecdotal information but that can still help you make informed choices. If it’s taking longer to fulfill a BOPIS order than it is for someone to shop from the shelves, you’ll know that something is wrong with the process. Information is power.

6: Can your tech stack support programs like BOPIS?

Inventory transparency is crucial for BOPIS and other advanced fulfillment programs. Is your OMS agile enough to conduct a pilot program? Many enterprise systems are difficult to scale and require substantial development to make any changes. If you’re leveraging a cloud-based system, chances are that you’ll have more flexibility to support test-and-learn programs like a BOPIS pilot.

As retail behaviour continues to evolve at a dizzying pace, it’s essential that you are set up to adapt with the times. Inevitably this will come down to a question of technology. Either you have the right tools to be agile and develop rapid responses to shifting consumer preferences or you’ll risk losing out to the competition.

Graham Jackson is CEO of Fluent Commerce