It’s getting easier to skip the line and buy online, pick up in store

Many shoppers this holiday season are looking to avoid waiting in long lines at stores to check out, or spending hours wandering around cramped aisles, bumping into other people doing much of the same. And there’s good news for them, because retailers all across the U.S. — Target, Home Depot, Kohl’s and others — are finally giving consumers more options to bypass this stress, and they’re getting better at it.

Already, a record $80.3 billion has been spent online from Nov. 1 to Dec. 6, up more than 18 percent from a year ago, Adobe Analytics found in monitoring transactions for 80 of the top 100 internet retailers in the U.S. The amount far surpasses last year’s record of $67.7 billion in digital sales during the same period.

One reason digital sales continue to skyrocket, Adobe called out, is the increasing number of shoppers this holiday season using so called click-and-collect options, where they purchase their items online and then pick them up at a designated space in stores — oftentimes as soon as the same day, if a shopper needs an item immediately. Adobe found click-and-collect orders to have grown a whopping 46 percent from a year ago during the Nov. 1 to Dec. 6 period.

Companies are, slowly but surely, ironing out any wrinkles in offering these types of services, realizing that shoppers increasingly value speed more than anything else when making a purchase.

“We found a few years ago, a lot of the discussions retailers were having brought all different perspectives on [buy online, pick up in store]. It was in its infancy,” Frank Layo, managing director at Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy, told CNBC. “But people started to see it as a competitive advantage against Amazon building distribution centers around them.” Retailers started to realize that in offering a buy online, pick up in store option, it gave customers the ability to retrieve items that same day, while the company cuts down on shipping and other expenses, he added.

To be sure, one reason companies have been slow to get on board with this is that outfitting a store to be capable of offering a click-and-collect option can be costly.

“You have to train a bunch of staff … dedicate space in stores,” Layo said. “There is a big investment to get that program up and running.”

Over this past Black Friday weekend, Layo and his colleague, Steve Osburn, placed 43 buy online, pick up in store orders across 15 retailers. The two found that for the first time in three years (which is as long as they’ve been doing this study), retailers’ performance improved overall. They said 65 percent of their orders were “fulfilled with no issues.” And the average amount of time they spent waiting in a store to retrieve items was seven minutes, “a significant improvement over what we’ve seen in years past,” according to Osburn.

Kurt Salmon said the retailers that offered the best experience overall were Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Kohl’s, Target and Home Depot.

Home Depot, for example, has been adding lockers to the front of its stores for pick-up orders, where shoppers don’t even need to interact with an employee to get what they need. The other companies mentioned, Layo and Osburn said, have been doing a better job communicating with shoppers when an order is actually ready to be picked up.

“In the past, it’s been a big issue that the retailer says you can get your order in a couple of hours but don’t tell you when it will be done,” Osburn said. “You have to keep customers from showing up too early.”

Kohl’s CEO Michelle Gass told CNBC last month that Black Friday was a “record day” for the retailer’s buy online, pick up in store orders. She added that nearly 80 percent of the company’s web traffic came from mobile devices.

Target, meanwhile, said Black Friday shoppers chose an in-store pick up option with their online purchases for almost twice as many items, overall, compared with a year ago.

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