Omnichannel is a Must-Have
With the dramatic rise in digital retail accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, providing omnichannel solutions that create a great customer experience has become a necessity, both within the telecom industry and across retail as a whole. The ability to buy online and pick up in-store (BOPIS) is a crucial element of that robust omnichannel strategy.
However, the telecom space was lagging somewhat behind the overall retail curve on delivering BOPIS to customers, due to the highly complex nature of the industry and its split between corporate and authorized retail channels.
One Tier-1 U.S. telecom brand was determined to be the first to solve this. The IT Manager — Systems Integration at the carrier told iQmetrix, “The challenge was that BOPIS was not something that had been done before within the wireless retail space — it had been done in other retail sectors, but not in our niche industry. Using a brand’s e-commerce platform to buy a product online and pick it up in authorized retailer stores was new.”
The carrier, which works closely with iQmetrix on a wide range of projects and solutions, turned to iQmetrix for a speedy solution.
The IT Manager added, “We had worked with iQmetrix on a variety of solutions in the past to improve our telecom retail business, so iQmetrix was the obvious, ideal candidate to work with on this integration.”
The Overarching Challenge
BOPIS has become table stakes for wireless retailers. Trish Sale, Senior Director of Enterprise Services at iQmetrix, said, “Although many customers start their buying journey online, they often want the immediate pickup, rather than waiting for delivery. They don’t want to receive their phone in the mail in a week’s time, they want to be able to pick it up in their local store. So we needed to create a solution that married those two experiences of shopping online and picking up in-store, and to do so in a unified way across the brand’s retail base.”
The carrier, which already had a close working relationship with iQmetrix, approached the team to build a BOPIS integration that could be rolled out across their authorized retailer stores and create a seamless customer experience. They already had an in-store pickup integration between the brand’s e-commerce website and the corporate stores, but rolling BOPIS out across their vast third-party channel presented a whole new set of challenges.
Kelly Jardine, Enterprise Client Manager at iQmetrix, said, “The truth is that a customer doesn’t care whether a store is corporate or authorized retailer-operated. The client wanted to make the customer experience consistent, no matter which store they were in, and give them every opportunity to buy new products and pick them up where and when they wanted.”
The carrier’s IT Manager said: “We needed to meet the customer where they shop. In-store pickup is a major leg in that race, and building that integration with iQmetrix was the cleanest, most simplified, yet most robust integration that could deliver that unique and fulfilling customer experience.”
He explained that when a retailer implements omnichannel solutions, they’re solving for all scenarios, whether online or in-store — or both. “Meeting customers where they are is the most crucial element of remaining competitive in telecom retail — no matter where that customer is. If a customer can’t use technology for whatever reason, we have our brick-and-mortar stores, they’re not forced to shop online. On the flip side, for customers who can use technology and don’t necessarily need in-store assistance, we need to account for their needs and execute on the functionality to support their journey. Either way, we’re able to deliver on that streamlined, seamless customer experience. That’s a necessity.”
However, the timeline was tight. Although the project predated the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce was already rapidly changing consumer behavior, and the advent of omnichannel solutions in other retails sectors was creating expectations within the wireless space.
“We had an urgent need to create an in-store pickup solution within a very limited timeline,” said the IT Manager. “iQmetrix was on board and ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Creating a Seamless BOPIS Integration
iQmetrix was able to work with the client to turn around the new BOPIS solution within just a few months.
“The integration has a beautiful flow when you order online from the e-commerce website,” Jardine said. “You enter your zip code, it shows the stores near you where the product is available, which includes all the authorized retailer and corporate stores. Then the customer selects the store for pickup and pays for the item online. The integration puts a hold on the product. When the payment goes through, a sales order is created, and it goes through to that location’s database and notifies the store that they have a pickup order. The sales associate will see that, grab the product, and update the sales order with the item’s serial number. This notifies the carrier that the order is prepared and they can tell the customer it is ready. The customer gets a notification and they pick up their order at their convenience. The store associate, pending the customer’s selection online for the in-store pickup experience, could have an opportunity to assist with activation or upsell the customer while they are in-store.”
Creating the notification of the sales order was not as straightforward as it might sound, because of the different types of stores that could potentially be involved in the transaction. Sale explained, “We had to enable the system to recognize the store ID number, whether they were corporate, authorized retailer, or sub-dealer channels — all of which might use different systems.”
The customer’s buying journey is smooth and seamless, but the process of creating that optimal flow was filled with unique circumstances and barriers that iQmetrix was able to solve.
Overcoming Contractual Hurdles
One of the hurdles along the journey was that, because of contractual obligations, this particular carrier was not allowed to see deeply into the inventory of its authorized retailer stores. The carrier made it clear to iQmetrix that getting complete visibility into inventory would be infringing on the management side of the authorized retailer business.
Sale said, “What the client was looking for was a system that would offer a simple yes-no answer on whether a product was in stock at a location, instead of a quantity of those items. The carrier needed to allow the authorized retailer to control which products they wanted to show as available on the website. For example, the retailer may have a certain number of the latest phone and choose to reserve all those for in-store sales. The retailer can set the answer as yes or no, that product is or isn’t available at this store. Or, they can decide they want to always have five available in-store, so we put in a feature that meant they can only show a product as available for a BOPIS purchase if their inventory has at least six. The carrier wouldn’t see there are six in the store, only that the location has sufficient inventory for an online order.”
In addition to working with the carrier on this integration, iQmetrix worked with all the authorized retailer channels to help them understand what they were enabling and at what threshold level.
This innovative solution meant that the carrier doesn’t have to worry about inventory levels or manage that side of the business, and there’s no risk of potentially infringing on those agency agreements. For the carrier, it’s a simple process and they see only the product inventory data they need to see. For the authorized retailer, they maintain the control and autonomy over their inventory that is so valuable to their operations.
The IT Manager — Systems Integration at the carrier said, “There are always contractual obligations when it comes to building an integration. The difficulty with inventory management when it comes to BOPIS is that it’s not technically our inventory, it’s the retailer’s, so we don’t have that visibility into the number of products. Having iQmetrix produce that inventory management system allowed us to uniquely integrate into the system and gain the visibility we needed.”
Seamless Payments and Reconciliation
BOPIS is an elevated experience not only for the customer, but also for the retailer. Seamless reconciliation is a fundamental aspect of not only this BOPIS solution, but also all iQmetrix’s intelligent telecom retail solutions.
“What makes wireless retail so unique is that you lose money upfront,” Jardine observed. “You have a $1,000 phone and you give it away for free, or for a fraction of its cost. In the case of in-store pickup, the dealer’s store has to give that item out of its inventory for free, while corporate receives the customer’s payment from their online purchase. iQmetrix built its retail management system around these industry nuances — our reconciliation tool solves all of these. So as a dealer, if you sell a $1,000 phone, our system will populate that vendor rebate and you’ll be able to confidently track that when you get your $1,000 from the carrier.”
She pointed out that there’s an added financial benefit to store operators in participating in the BOPIS flow. “For in-store pickup, the retailer will get the money back for the device — the equipment rebate — but they’ll also receive an additional fee because they were involved in that sale. They didn’t have to market the device, and yet they now have a brand new customer who they can upsell and who will most likely return to that store. But they did have to pick and pack the device, and serve the customer at pick up, so that’s what the extra fee provides for. It’s a quick win for the retailer to get a new customer and an easy fee earned. It’s a neat revenue stream, and they might never have gotten that customer otherwise.”
Another layer of complexity is that the purchase of a new phone is rarely straightforward. There can be credit checks, fraud checks, and various other hurdles to online ordering that carriers have to work through. This can result in a gap between the time the order is placed online and when the carrier can confirm the order. In that time, the store associate could sell the one available product to an in-store customer, or another online customer could buy the phone that the current customer is buying.
Sale added, “We had to develop a system to hold the inventory while the vetting of the customer is happening, until the purchase is confirmed. Generally, that takes around five minutes while the back-end systems do the work, but if there’s an issue that needs to be addressed by customer care it can take as long as 24 hours. Our system will hold that product so that another customer can’t buy it.”
Rolling BOPIS Out Across Stores
Rolling out a new purchasing flow across many thousands of authorized retailer doors might sound like another challenge, but the carrier knew that it was a win-win for all parties, and it used a smart method of promoting the value proposition.
Jardine explained, “The carrier had always shared new customer leads with its authorized retailers, and the new in-store pickup solution was essentially promoted to the authorized retailer channel as a corporate program that sends new customers to their doors. The customer is going to shop on the corporate website, then they will pick up their item in your store and you have a new customer, and that customer may want to buy accessories or get an activation.”
The approach worked, plus the highly sophisticated dealer channel was already savvy when it came to moving with the digital times.
The IT Manager said: “We didn’t have any challenges getting buy-in from the authorized retailer channel. Obviously, it would have been even easier if we had rolled BOPIS out during the pandemic, but this process was before COVID times. But our team and iQmetrix had the foresight to deliver this experience in response to changing customer behaviors and demographics, and how store traffic shifted to digital channels. Now, with the COVID pandemic and the need for touchless experiences, it has become essential.”
The rollout was extensive, with almost all stores adopting the new BOPIS solution over a series of stages. First, a select group of authorized retailers adopting BOPIS in a soft launch; then other authorized retailers followed. The brand now has close to 99% of its retail footprint, which includes thousands of stores, using this BOPIS flow.
Successful Flow, Satisfied Customers
The partnership between this globally recognized carrier and iQmetrix has been hugely successful, not only in this project but also in all the many other solutions and integrations the teams have collaborated on.
The IT Manager said, “Between our team and iQmetrix, we’re constantly working in tandem to come up with solutions on a daily basis. iQmetrix’s responsiveness and ability to iterate solutions have become a standard in our partnership. We’re always working together, running at whatever new problem needs to be solved, whatever new functionality needs to be built. That’s probably the greatest part of our partnership with iQmetrix that has grown over the years, and has allowed us to maintain our huge footprint and such a lucrative business model.”
He added, “Any time that we have to build a new system or resolve a problem, iQmetrix always gives us the support that we need. We work so closely together, there’s always a huge volume of requirements and challenges flying at each of our teams, we’re essentially firefighters. But that’s the job, and that’s what we love so much about it. The fact that iQmetrix is able to deliver on that, and we maintain this close partnership and always get a fast and reliable product, is crucial to us.”
The team’s BOPIS solution came at the perfect time, not long before a global pandemic hit, and made omnichannel retail strategies more must-have than nice-to-have. And the results speak for themselves. Sales through iQmetrix’s BOPIS solutions have increased by a massive 400% year over year.
Today, there are additional BOPIS features that iQmetrix offers. Jardine said, “Since we implemented this BOPIS solution with our client, we have introduced Curbside Pickup as a response to the pandemic. There’s also a Grab and Go option that the customer can select when ordering on the website, which means they won’t need to interact with anybody at the store except to pick up their item. Or if they want extra sales assistance, they can also select that when ordering on the website. The store will receive notification of the kind of service the customer is looking for.”
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