What Is Buy Online, Ship-to-Store (BOSS)?

We’re all a little different — each of us unique in our own way. Some flag down their friend and ask them out to lunch when they see them at the market. Others avert their eyes, duck their head, and pray to avoid any unscheduled contact. We’re not saying either way is right or wrong, we just know people on both ends of the spectrum. Everyone also has their own shopping preferences too. Some people flock to self-checkout, others prefer a good old one-to-one interaction with the checkout clerk. Again, no judgement. Similar dynamics apply with online shopping: everyone has a path to purchase that they prefer.

Buy online, ship-to-store (BOSS) is a purchasing method that lets consumers buy products online through a local store even when they aren’t in stock. Instead of paying to have the purchase shipped to their address, the product gets shipped to the store for free (usually), where the customer then picks it up.

This allows the brand or retailer to leverage their larger distribution network and spare the customer shipping or courier fees for a single delivery. When you already have trucks moving products between stores, it’s more cost-efficient to ship a purchase this way. It also gives customers access to national inventory, rather than driving them to buy from a local competitor or wait for the item to be in stock again.

BOSS is often confused with BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store), but BOPIS usually refers to purchases people can pick up on the same day they order. Buy online, ship-to-store is technically a subset of BOPIS. Since this is a means of buying products that are out-of-stock locally, it’s common for BOSS orders to involve a single item or just a handful of them.

While customers often schedule their same-day pickup or get assigned a pickup window with BOPIS, orders made with buy online, ship-to-store take time to process and ship. Customers need reliable tracking information to know when their order is available for pickup.

Here are a couple best practices for a buy online, ship-to-store model, plus some reasons why it’s so successful.

Best practices for buy online, ship-to-store

BOSS uses a store’s existing supply chain and distribution network to get items from one store to another, but the pick-up process requires some changes to the store’s infrastructure and operations as well.

Have a designated area for pickup

The biggest key to success with a BOSS model is to have a section of the store dedicated to picking up orders. It’s easier to direct these orders to your current customer service area, but that’s not a good experience for BOSS customers. They just need to grab something they’ve already paid for, but they could wind up in line behind someone who has a long story about why something didn’t work or needs to ask complicated questions.

Whether you set up a special desk for buy online, ship-to-store orders or you use a locker system, make sure your customers can quickly get their items and get out. Assuming the items fit in a locker, that’s often the ideal solution because it gives your customers a self-serve way to get what they need. You simply text or email them a locker code when their order is ready, then they grab it.

Use clear communication

If a retailer fails to deliver a quality BOSS experience, consumers will avoid using this purchasing method again, and they may even avoid the retailer altogether. The key to facilitating a quality experience isn’t simply coordinating distribution, it’s keeping the customer in the loop and making sure they know what to do and where to go. 

Follow-up communication is crucial. Customers need an email telling them when to expect their order, tracking information to keep tabs on their order, and an email or text message alerting them when the order is ready for pickup. Ideally, this communication should also tell them where in the store they should go to get their items.

In-store, customers shouldn’t have to wander around to find their items. Stores offering BOSS need clear signage at every entrance indicating where BOSS customers go to pick up their orders.

Why buy online, ship-to-store is so successful

BOSS doesn’t let customers do same-day pickup. They have to wait for shipping and travel to the store to get their purchase. So why does it work? Why do consumers choose this buying method?

It lets local customers leverage national inventory

Normally, when a local store is out of stock of a product a consumer wants, the consumer has to either buy from a competitor (which may be more expensive or not have the perks they want), travel to a store that’s further away, or wait for another shipment to arrive.

None of those options are ideal for the customer or the retailer. The customer is ready to buy now, here, on this product page. And this purchase may not be worth a longer trip.

BOSS offers a new path to purchase that lets the customer complete the transaction right when they’re ready to buy by letting local customers access national inventory. They can see that while the product isn’t in-stock at the store five minutes away, the item is available through another branch that can send it to their local store. 

This secures the sale and prevents the customer from dealing with the frustration of starting the buying process all over again somewhere else.

It lets customers (and stores) avoid expensive shipping

Free shipping is a compelling store perk. But it’s hard to offer. To facilitate free shipping, stores have to decide between raising prices or eating the cost of shipping. If a store can’t offer free shipping, BOSS lets customers choose between paying more to have an item shipped to their door or just picking it up when it’s available. 

It’s not quite as alluring as free shipping, but it does remove the shipping cost to the customer, and the store doesn’t have to pay for shipping on an individual purchase.

Are you taking advantage of buy online, ship-to-store?

Most brands don’t have the infrastructure to facilitate buying methods like BOSS and click and collect through their own direct-to-consumer channels. But if your retail partners offer this buying method, you can feel more confident about directing your customers to their product pages. And if you have a store locator tool like PriceSpider’s Where to Buy, you’ll want customers to see that there’s a buying option available, even when their local store is out of stock.
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