Retailers flex their flexible fulfillment muscles: BOPIS defined


Curbside delivery. BOPIS. Contactless payment. “Pop the trunk.” If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “what is BOPIS“, these are all terms that you might have heard in defining it. 

The retail talk of the moment, from grocery and household goods to restaurants and even garden centers, is all about flexible fulfillment — as shoppers shelter at home and shrink from entering physical locations, they’re demanding every available omnichannel option that helps reduce risk of COVID-19. 

What is BOPIS: Buy Online Pickup In Store

Flexible fulfillment is far from new. Large retailers like Target have invested heavily in this area for over a half-decade, with ship-to-store, ship-from-store and BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) options. And last year there were reports that 25% of consumers would opt for curbside pickup in 2020. 

Those predictions, of course, have been blown out of the water now that consumers everywhere want and need to keep their six-foot social distance. But for most retailers, scaling these services during this crisis has created monumental challenges. It requires quick pivots to figure out how to turn traditional stores into fulfillment centers that can get consumers what they need quickly and seamlessly. 

To the customer, something like curbside delivery appears simple: Just shop online and opt for in-store or curbside pickup rather than delivery. A confirmation email follows, then a phone call or location-based check-in alerts an employee to come out with packages. Pop the trunk and head home, end of story. 

Not so simple: Flexible fulfillment seems easy, but requires digital prowess

But flexible fulfillment options also require retailers to have the right backend digital capabilities and the ability to nimbly switch gears. Pizza Hut, for example, retooled its website and recently announced contactless curbside pickup options, which shoppers can choose just by clicking a box during checkout. 

Nevertheless, every U.S. shopper is becoming well aware of the flexible fulfillment options available in their area and chomping at the bit for more. They can now order online, pick up in-store at Bloomingdale’s; get curbside carryout from the Container Store; and take advantage of free store pickup at Office Depot ~ among many, many others. 

Bed Bath & Beyond, for example, may have struggled before COVID-19 and has now temporarily closed most of its stores during the pandemic, but now it is turning its financial capabilities towards flexible fulfillment options as its digital business surges. In addition to its four e-commerce fulfillment centers, it is converting a quarter of its stores (including buybuy Baby) in the U.S. and Canada into regional fulfillment centers that use its “vast inventory resources to assign orders locally and deliver quickly.” 

“We now plan to invest about $250 million, focusing on our core business and key projects that support the omnichannel future of our company,” said Mark Tritton, president and CEO of Bed Bath & Beyond on a recent earnings call. These projects include digital and omni fulfillment capabilities, including BOPIS, curbside pickup, omni-inventory management as well as digital marketing and personalization.

The future of CX requires clicks: Contactless payment, simple delivery will continue to reign

Some retailers are going even further by only offering pickup options at physical stores. A Kroger store in Cincinnati, for instance, has converted to pickup only due to the unprecedented surge it has seen in online orders, creating a location that it says is ideal for seniors and those at higher risk. And Best Buy recently announced that its stores would now operate for curbside pickup only, in addition to its online delivery services. 

Contactless payments are also seeing a big boost as consumers vote with their pocketbooks for touch-free shopping. Burger King is working to make its drive-thrus contactless for both payments and pickups; while Florida-based grocery Publix has rolled out tap-to-pay registers at its 1200 locations. 

The question is, will this all last? When economies open up and physical stores return to business, will flexible fulfillment still reign? Only time will tell, but it’s hard to imagine all this newfound consumer convenience going away. Even when we can all freely walk the supermarket aisles again, perhaps it will still be nice to just pop the trunk. 

Most commerce is
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Sharon Goldman

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