CHICAGO — The questions shoppers faced at the checkout counter used to be as simple as “cash or credit?” and “paper or plastic?”
Today — especially online — it’s a little more complicated. Are you making a one-time purchase or would you like to subscribe and get a discount? Do you want to pick up your items at the store and avoid paying for shipping? If so, will you come inside for your bags or download an app that will summon an employee to your car?
Perhaps you’d rather have them shipped to a package pickup station or your home. Would you prefer same-day delivery? Next-day or two-day shipping? A drop-off by aerial drone?
While it might seem as if shopping now requires a flowchart, the retailers that have proved most prolific in giving customers new ways to buy online say it’s what their shoppers demand.
“Guests have expectations about convenience and speed, and we need to be able to meet those expectations,” said John Mulligan, Target’s chief operating officer.
Chicago will be the first major city to have four of Target’s newest order fulfillment services — in addition to existing choices like next-day or two-day delivery and subscriptions — when Drive Up, the retailer’s curbside pickup service, comes to city stores in early July.
The additions also include two versions of same-day home delivery — one for groceries and other items ordered through the Shipt app, which became available to Chicago customers Thursday, and another for items customers buy in a store but can’t or don’t want to carry home.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Target Restock, which provides next-day home delivery on thousands of household items, has been in stores nationwide since May.
There has been an “explosion of different forms” of online order fulfillment, said Ken Cassar, principal analyst at Slice Intelligence, an e-commerce research company. That’s despite the fact that offering more options generally means more work for the retailer.
Amazon is setting the agenda and forcing other retailers to keep up, said Brian Kilcourse, managing partner at Retail Systems Research.
Earlier this year, Amazon said more than 100 million shoppers subscribed to its Prime membership, which offers free two-day shipping and other perks.
With Amazon’s full range of options, members can get orders in two hours or less, or they can wait six days and get a reward or discount, depending on the item purchased.
Shoppers can place orders online, subscribe to receive regular shipments or click an item-specific button — real or virtual — to automatically place an order. Customers who don’t want packages left on their doorstep can send them to a pickup locker or store or buy a smart lock so Amazon can deliver to their home or car.
Competitors have responded by lowering the minimum purchase amount to qualify for free shipping and speeding up delivery times, according to Slice’s data, gathered from consumers’ email receipts.
Some, such as Target and Walmart, have been working to develop new shopping and delivery options of their own. Walmart has tested a system that allows shoppers to scan items with an app as they shop and pay without visiting the cash register. The system already is available in Sam’s Club stores.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Thank you for signing up for our e-newsletter!
You should start receiving the e-newsletters within a couple days.
More than 500 new Pickup Towers, where customers can retrieve online orders, will be in Walmart stores this year, the company said in April.
While Amazon has been a leader, Target isn’t blindly following.
“Our focus is doing things we think we can do very well,” Mulligan said.
That means taking advantage of its network of stores and paying attention to details that make for a better experience, such as minimizing the time shoppers spend waiting for curbside pickup.
Drive Up orders arrive on employees’ handheld devices with a loud honk to keep them from getting lost amid other alerts. Target also asks customers to provide the color and type of car they drive so employees can more easily figure out which order goes in which trunk.
At stores that already have the Drive Up service, an order typically is delivered within two minutes of the car’s arrival, Mulligan said.
The “culture of service” also was part of the reason Target opted to acquire same-day home delivery company Shipt last year, he said.
Customers shopping in the app can leave notes by each item for an in-store buyer, such as whether they prefer their bananas green or ripe and brown-speckled, and they can choose to have their shopper send a text message before making a substitution if an item is out of stock, said Kit Naramore, partner success manager at Shipt.