Here's what Digital Commerse360's senior consumer insights analyst Lauren Freedman learned when she tested store pickup for Fanatics. She shares lessons learned and how retailers can improve their own pickup services.

Just after noon on Thursday, Nov. 5th, I received an email from Fanatics (No. 15 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000) touting that order pickup was available for the Chicago Fire, the city’s men’s professional soccer team. I thought it was interesting as did several of my colleagues. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to test it out, particularly as the pickup location was almost in my backyard.

We admired the retailer’s adoption of order pickup in these turbulent times, particularly as it is not a store-based retailer. In reaching out to Fanatics, it shared that this just another delivery option in select markets where it runs the stadium or arena retail operations for a team as they do for the Chicago Fire. A spokesman for Fanatics shared that the offering wasn’t new indicating they provided the service to 22 teams, including the University of Texas, Golden State Warriors and San Jose Sharks. As we are local to the Chicago market, we wanted to see how it performed.

Despite the location being close to my house, I couldn’t place exactly where it was. That would come later. I placed the order totaling $15.41 at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 5th and waited to see what would happen. I had the option of including an email or a phone number, which was odd. I chose mobile and never received an email confirmation, which might prove to be problematic later. The two orders and their subsequent details are noted below.

Item purchased Chicago Fire miniball Chicago Fire Acrylic Keychain
Order placed 11/5 @ 2:30pm 11/9 @ 11:10am
Order ready 11/6 @ 2:44pm 11/9 @ 2:00pm
Contact information mobile email

Order #2 confirmation page

Order #2: Email confirmation with map


While I’m sure Fanatics has the best of intentions, this test has shown that perhaps there was still work to be done. The following are some of the concerns I experienced and recommendations for elevating the experience based on wearing my mystery shopping hat.

  1. Limited pickup days and times

I assumed this must be a pop-up location and perhaps order pickup times meshed with the store hours. As shown in my cart, orders could be picked up on Tuesdays from 4-7 p.m. and Saturdays from 12-3 p.m. Gauging from my visits, the store appears to be open to coincide with team practices and games.

Mystery shopper recommendation: Call it a pop-up store so customers can set proper expectations and not compare this experience to other larger retailers.

  1. Customer communication is limited

Paperwork suggested my order number was #1016. With such a low number, it seemed to be tied to the Chicago Fire’s Fan Shop and not available via my Fanatics account.


On the initial order sent via mobile, the text referenced bringing a copy of my email yet no email had been provided or received.

Mystery shopper recommendation: Ask for both a mobile and email address rather than making it a single option. Tie orders to one’s account for follow-up through Fanatics to avert any customer service challenges.

  1. The onsite experience was not ready for prime time

As I drove up, I remember having been to this location as a neighbor kid played travel soccer there. I pulled up and ultimately spoke to a woman who appeared to be checking in players for the field. She let me park and actually helped try to locate store personnel. The shop was small and unmanned so I checked at the food counter to no avail. I ultimately returned to speak to the same woman, and she let me know associate might be in the bathroom. Eventually he arrived to help me and dug into a box behind the counter. After asking me my name, he handed me my order without checking my ID. I asked about the order volume, and he suggested they receive about 10 orders a day. From the time I pulled up to actually having the product in hand it was almost 15 minutes.

Mystery shopper recommendations:

  • Include pop-up or pickup signage and directions as customers arrive giving them the confidence they are in the right place
  • Ensure shop is manned at all times or hang an old-fashioned “be right back” sign


  1. Returns are not accepted—or are they?

When I asked if I could return the product, the store associate said they were not taking returns. That sent me back home to figure out the next steps. The good news was that I did have paperwork in the bag as a starting point. I proceeded to contact Fanatics on Nov. 9 though there was no number on the paperwork. As I couldn’t find a phone number, I Googled it and started the returns process. The order # was clearly one generated for this pop-up store and not one that was part of the system, making it impossible to follow their standard return protocol. When I got through to a customer service representative, he suggested that they saw other orders from me but not this one. They could give me no further direction, and he suggested my call did not warrant a supervisor resulting in an all-around poor experience at best.

Mystery shopper recommendations: Customer Service

  • Ensure store associates understand and can articulate the policies for returns as well as orders that aren’t picked up
  • If you decide there are no returns for these orders, that should be published up front and on the site prior to customers consummating a purchase
  • Provide comprehensive self-service information on the site and as part of the pickup store experience
  • Ensure systems work together as they are required for subsequent customer service such as returns

As a mystery shopper for over 24 years, I decided to give them one more chance just to be fair. I placed an order and opted for having the confirmation sent via email this time. Unfortunately, I faced the same issues, though the store was manned this time and pickup was quick, taking just a few minutes after arriving in the store. There was another gentleman picking up behind me and the pickup bin appeared to have about 50 or so orders.


I asked again about returns, and the associate suggested they send him the orders and he fulfills from store inventory. With two items in hand, I sent an email to the Chicago Fire fan shop listed on my email confirmation. Good news as I received an initial response in a swift eight minutes and was given the okay to return with a pending credit four minutes later. I was on my way to take the merchandise back. This was a perfect customer service experience, and I only wish I had started here.

Fanatics has found an interesting opportunity capitalizing on the buy online pick up in store model for teams where it manages the stores. Its charge is to elevate the experience to what customers receive at best-in-class retailers to ensure satisfaction. As the spring soccer season rolls around, we will give it another shot, hoping to score a winning experience in the process.