Buy online, ship to store doesn’t get much glory. Here’s why it should

Encouraging shoppers to buy online and ship to a store could be a huge benefit to retailers, but they don’t seem to be doing much to promote it.
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Francis Scialabba

· 5 min read

These days, home cooks googling recipes for bopis, the Filipino dish made with pigs’ lungs and hearts, are getting an unexpected lesson in retail buzzwords. Buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS), or, if you’re not into the cutesy acronym thing, click and collect, exploded during the pandemic.

But there’s another click-and-collect option, one that doesn’t baffle people looking up recipes: Buy online, ship to store. It has an even more impressive acronym, BOSS (which is practically a music cue for “Born in the USA.”) And BOSS solves many of the shipping and returns expense headaches that afflict retailers.

Some industry observers say retailers should encourage BOSS more, because it could both please shoppers and pump up their margins and overall sales. But like whipping up a batch of lowercase bopis, it takes some prep work and an understanding of the ingredients.

Is your OMS, like, OMG? Rhapsodizing about the intricacies of order management systems (OMS) may not make you a hit at the next dinner party, but it helps with this topic.

So meet Charles Dimov, VP of North America for demand generation and product marketing at OSF Digital, a company that specializes in areas like OMS.

“There are a lot of simpler ordering management systems, which are just meant for, ‘I get the order, I pull in from the DC all the time,’” Dimov told Retail Brew, referring, of course, to a retailer’s distribution center. That’s just basic e-commerce, something Amazon was doing before Gen Z was even drawing breath. But Dimov said a “slightly more sophisticated order management system is required” to handle BOPIS because, among other things, the system must know the inventory of all of a retailer’s locations.

To take full advantage of a buy online, ship to store strategy, though, a retailer needs an even more sophisticated order management system.

Dimov offered the example of someone buying a pair of jeans online. If the intention is just to buy the jeans and take advantage of free shipping, but the retailer has the style and size in stock at a nearby store, it can offer store pickup as an option and save itself the cost of delivery. Plus, in all likelihood, make a bigger sale.

  • 85% of BOPIS shoppers said they have made an additional purchase at a store when picking up an order, according to a 2019 survey by Doddle.

Meet the new BOSS: If a nearby store doesn’t have the jeans in stock, this is where BOSS comes in—because retailers save plenty when they ship to stores, compared to paying a carrier to ship to residences. The reason, retail consultant Joel Bines explained in his book, Metail, is that orders shipped to stores “ride for free,” since they’re added to trucks that are already making regularly scheduled trips from distribution centers to stores to stock them.

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And, back to our jeans, when a customer opts for ship-to-store, Dimov said that an even better option for the retailer may be that they don’t ship from a distribution center.

“More elegant than that is a system that’s smart enough to say, ‘Ah, but rather than going to the DC, let me check the other stores which are in the vicinity,” Dimov said. “What if that sister store actually had, you know, 50 pairs of that particular pair of jeans? It would be silly to then go to the distribution center and bring in yet another pair of jeans of exactly that size and put it in the field rather than getting your stores to help each other and basically optimizing your inventory that way.”

After all, those trucks that travel from the distribution center are traveling between stores, too. And the store-to-store option Dimov describes helps keep merchandise moving off of shelves, so maybe it won’t have to go on sale to make way for the next season’s styles.

“This keeps the inventory flowing faster in the field, which again is positive,” Dimov said.

You’re not the BOSS of me: In Metail, Bines, who refers to buy online, ship to store by its lesser known acronym, BOSTS, urges retailers to more fully realize the benefits of the practice—by incentivizing it.

“Since BOSTS lowers your costs, why not present it as a customer benefit first, perhaps by offering discounts on BOSTS orders, for example?” he wrote.

Bines, co-leader of the global retail practice at AlixPartners, said he often makes this same suggestion of offering financial incentives to entice shoppers to choose ship-to-store for his retail clients. But so far, Bines told us, he hasn’t had any takers.

“I’ve been saying [this] to retailers for a long time, but I must not be very good at my job,” he deadpanned.

Bines agreed with Dimov that the lack of sophisticated order management systems could be to blame for retailers not encouraging the ship-to-store option more.

“Retailers generally operate on extremely old tech stacks” and “what happens is real life gets in the way,” Bines said. “You can’t let real life get in the way. If this is something you need to do in order to remain competitive or to beat your competition, then you need to figure out a way to do it.”

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.