Buying products online to pick up in stores isn’t a new concept, but Halloween Express’s chief operating officer Brad Butler is surprised that more seasonal retailers haven’t caught on. Several of his competitors don’t offer in-store pickup of online orders.
“I would have thought that it would have been standard for any seasonal retailer now, but I’m shocked that it isn’t,” Butler says. “It’s not an easy thing to do, but my goodness, go to any retailer today and probably one of the most popular things they offer is buy online, pick up in store.”
Amazon is set to lead Halloween shopping this year, but Halloween Express is experiencing success its in-store pickup options, which started five years ago as a way to compete against rivals like Party City, No. 236 in the Internet Retailer 2017 Top 500, and Spirit Halloween. The system allows Halloween Express shoppers to browse live inventory at 80 stores around the country, place orders and ship items not in stock to stores for free.
Big-box retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (No. 3 in the Top 500) and Target Corp. (No. 20) offer in-store pickup of online orders, and Walmart is running TV commercials focused on ordering Halloween costumes and picking them up in stores. However, Halloween Express’s seasonal competitors haven’t been so eager to adopt the model.
Spirit Halloween operates in a similar manner to Halloween Express, with pop-up stores selling Halloween costumes and decorations in the months before the holiday. However, Spirit Halloween doesn’t offer in-store pickup options. Party City offers in-store pickup, but only at its permanent locations and not its Halloween City pop-up stores. Neither retailer responded to requests for comment.
With Halloween Express’s 33,000 SKUs available online compared with 7,000 in-store SKUs, the free ship-to-store option gives early shoppers who want specific items a greater chance of finding what they want. Live store inventories are key to this service, especially when customers order from in-store inventory online right before Halloween and expect to be able to pick up their order the same day, something only available when there’s enough in-store inventory.
Butler says the system isn’t foolproof—during the hectic holiday season, some inventory sells out suddenly and products are easily misplaced by in-store shoppers, meaning popular costume inventories may not stay up-to-date or be as easy to find. The added complexities of such an inventory management system also require training employees on it and dedicating space in the stores for online order pickup, something Butler says not all Halloween Express franchisees are willing to do.
Training includes making sure employees know how to work with the technology, which is built into the retailer’s point-of-sale system. But employees also need to handle customers in a variety of situations. For example, some customers want to try on items before they take them home, something that clogs up the process for others waiting for online pickups.
Reserving the floor space is simple. In-store pickup is usually done a separate table from standard checkouts, so franchisees need about 12 feet of open floor space, along with some shelving for orders ready to be picked up. However, giving up store space to products that can’t be sold can seem counterintuitive for some franchisees, he says.
However, Butler believes that the training costs and minor inventory hiccups are worth the effort, and customers will come to expect it as in-store pickup becomes more popular at retailers of all stripes. In fact, the biggest complaint he’s gotten about the program from customers is that it isn’t available at all Halloween Express locations.
The investment in a buy online, pick up in store service can be a boost to in-store sales too. 70% of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (No. 33) shoppers browse the website for product availability before going to a store. Giving shoppers the ability to see in-store inventory has helped to boost sales at Lowe’s, Cos. Inc. (No. 35) by getting customers in the door to buy what they searched for online and maybe make an extra purchase while at the store.
Butler’s experience at Halloween Express is similar. By offering in-store pickup and returns for online orders, participating stores have seen an increase in foot traffic and average checkout values, he says, declining to give numbers. The convenience of physical locations also helps him compete against online-only sellers like Amazon.com Inc. (N0. 1).
“Consumers just love it. It truly is a no-brainer,” Butler says. “Consumers aren’t as price sensitive when you offer buy online, pick up in-store, because of convenience. It’s not unusual to have somebody have a smartphone out shopping, and they’re looking for something, and they see that they can buy it online and pick it up in-store right from their phone. The convenience is just unparalleled.”