Tractor Supply continues to iterate on its omnichannel services, such as tweaking the pickup part of its buy online pick up in store services and giving associates mobile checkout devices.

Farm supplies retailer Tractor Supply Co. knows its stores need to keep up with changing times.

As shoppers get used to fast shipping speeds and buy online pick up in store at other retailers, they come to expect it at all of their retailers, including Tractor Supply, said Letitia Webster, senior vice president of ecommerce, omnichannel and master data management, at the National Retail Federation 2020 conference in New York City this week.

Plus, most of Tractor Supply’s customers live at least 15-20 miles from a store, so they drive a long way to get there, Webster said. What those shoppers want to know is if the product they want and the correct quantity—such as 10 bags of animal feed—is going to be there when they arrive. If not, it may be a wasted trip. So, customers would call the Tractor Supply customer service call center to check in-store availability before coming to the store, Webster said.

Based on shopper expectations from other retailers and knowing how valuable buy online pick up in store would be for its shoppers, Tractor Supply decided to roll out the ominchannel service to its 1,900 stores, Webster said. After about a year of integrating the system, Tractor Supply deployed the service about 2 years ago.

Now, about 50% of its ecommerce orders are buy online pick up in store, Webster said. Over the 2019 holiday season, this jumped even higher, to 60% of online orders. Plus, many shoppers purchase additional items while in store picking up their online order, Webster said without revealing more. In addition, calls to its customer service center have decreased, she said.

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The retailer is now looking at improving this experience even further. If a shopper makes an online order, but then has to wait a long time to pick it up, the service did not save her time, Webster said. Tractor Supply is testing a few things to shrink wait times: a button shoppers can hit to alert an associate that a customer with an online order is waiting, lockers for online order pick up and an open-shelf pickup area.

Tractor Supply’s open-shelf order pickup is on display at NRF 2020.

Tractor Supply is testing the open-shelf area in six stores. Here’s how it works:  A shopper walks up to a kiosk that is a few feet in front of a shelf with cubby holes that contain orders. The shelf is unattended. The shopper scans a barcode the retailer previously sent her in an email that her online order pickup is ready. The kiosk then points with a laser to the cubby hole that contains her order and will beep at her if she is touching the wrong order. The shopper takes her order and leaves. The whole process takes about 15 seconds, which is better than the few minutes it would take with finding an associate, Webster said.

“We all have to be flexible and try to do new and different things,” Webster said. “We don’t need to find the next big thing, but we all have to think about change.”

With the new pickup services, Tractor Supply is testing them at a small group of stores and gathering insights, such as customer satisfaction scores, as well as tweaking the services before deciding to expand them to more stores, Webster said.

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Another omnichannel technology Tractor Supply is currently deploying is roving mobile technology for store associates, in which employees can check out shoppers from anywhere inside or outside the store with a mobile device. This is especially helpful for products that are located outside of its stores, such as propane tanks, so the shopper doesn’t have to haul it inside the store just to purchase it and take it back outside.

Besides checkout, associates can use their mobile devices to look up store inventory or check pricing for shoppers. This is a much better experience than a shopper asking a store associate a question, and the employee needing to find a different computer to look it up.

Similar to its thinking for BOPIS, further innovations in retail keeps pushing Tractor Supply to continue to innovate. For example, as grocers and mass merchants like Target and Walmart adopt curbside pickup, it would make sense for Tractor Supply to also have this service, as many of its products are large and bulky, Webster says. And so the retailer is looking into testing that service, she said.

Mobile is also a huge growth area for Tractor Supply, as it accounts for 70% of its online traffic and more than half of its ecommerce transactions, Webster said.

Tractor Supply is No. 504 in the 2019 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000

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