Bringing Storefront Perks to Web Sales Still Needs Work

While $25 billion retailer Best Buy is getting accolades for its online/offline efforts, its mixed messages show the difficulty of fully integrating channels. Customer-service representatives tell a different story than the executives.

While many retailers are struggling to make multichannel operations work at all, Best Buy is taking a leadership position in making the retailer a single brand with multiple points of access. But Best Buy is an almost perfect example of the difficulties in making all channels appear as one to the customer, as it excels in certain areas while sending mixed messages in others.

On the leadership side, consider one of the sites most innovative features. While many retailers are starting to allow customers to place orders on the Web but pick up the items in a physical store, Best Buy does it with a twist by incorporating humans in the middle of the database-to-database connection.

The strategy behind any buy-online-pickup-in-store effort is simple: It sidesteps the three largest complaints about Web shopping (shipping cost, shipping delay and the inability to see and touch the product before making the purchase) and the two largest complaints about brick-and-mortar shopping (standing in lines and wasting time looking for the desired product).

This is how Best Buy does it, according to Sam Taylor, Best Buys senior vice president for online stores: A Best Buy Web visitor makes an online purchase and pays for it with a credit card. An offered ZIP code identifies the nearest stores and whether an inventory database check indicates that the exact desired product is in stock at that store.

After the transaction is completed, the customer is sent a standard confirmation e-mail, which provides the nearest store to the consumers ZIP Code that has the item in stock according to the inventory database. The customer is told to stand by and not to try to pick up the product until a second confirmation e-mail arrives.

/zimages/3/28571.gifTo read about The Aberdeen Groups new report on online/offline tactics and struggles, click here.

At that moment, a message flashes on one of several computer screens at that store and is accompanied by—depending on the location—a bell, an alarm or buzzing pagers. A worker is then sent out to the aisle or to the backroom to physically verify that the item the database thinks is in stock actually is in stock.

If the item is in stock, the system is informed and a confirmation e-mail is sent to the customer. The worker then takes the item to a special in-store pickup desk so the customer can get the merchandise without waiting in line.

If the item is not in stock, the customer is instructed to call the toll-free customer-service number again.

The time permitted from the initial customer purchase until that second e-mail confirmation? Taylor said the response—during Best Buy store business hours—is within 30 minutes. But the Web site only promises a two-hour response, and multiple Best Buy customer-service representatives stressed that response times are about two hours.

A few random—and highly unscientific—tests by in different geographies essentially substantiated that Taylors 30-minute target is being met. Best Buy officials said recent improvements to the system account both for the speed and for the fact that customer service seemed to be unaware of it.

Next Page: Customers want to see their purchases.