How Stein Mart Turned BOPIS Into a Customer Engagement Channel
For many years, customer experience experts have stressed the importance of balancing the convenience of self-service and digital channels, with the loyalty-building power of human interaction. Stein Mart, a national specialty omnichannel off-price retailer offering designer and name-brand fashion apparel, home décor, accessories and shoes at everyday discount prices, aimed to harness the best of both when it launched buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) in all 283 of its locations last fall.
Maurice Louwerse, director of IT technical services at Stein Mart, said he and his team saw BOPIS not only as a new fulfillment channel, but also as an engagement channel that would allow the retailer to make more personal connections with online shoppers.
"We didn’t want the experience to be anonymous," Louwerse said in a Jan. 13 announcing Stein Mart's BOPIS use case. “We wanted in-store pickup to be a unique touchpoint, where store associates could interact with customers and provide engaging experiences.”
To create these types of experiences, Stein Mart expanded its partnership with Inference Solutions, a provider of intelligent virtual agents that helps businesses automate routine sales and service conversations and processes. The retailer designed a "smart button" that BOPIS customers can push when arriving in-store to alert store associates to welcome the customer and ensure a delightful pickup. Inference's platform allowed Stein Mart to integrate virtual agents with AWS IoT Enterprise buttons, which are programmable, Wi-Fi smart devices that trigger cloud-based services. Stein Mart and Inference programmed the buttons to trigger virtual agents that can automate an overhead page to store employees with minimal delay.
Stein Mart's BOPIS customers are catered to quickly and efficiently, and store associates can recommend additional purchases or relevant promotions during order pickup. Additionally, because the smart button solution was easy to configure and deploy at scale, Stein Mart was able to make the experience available in all 283 stores ahead of schedule. Stein Mart's speed to market established the company as U.S. off-price retailer to offer BOPIS.
BOPIS has become No. 1 in terms of the “technologies” that influence customers to make a purchase, according to from WD Partners. The insights firm notes that while the BOPIS model will vary from retailer to retailer, all BOPIS solutions should deliver "increased new shopper acquisition and conversation"; additional shopping opportunities among existing customers; and an actionable operational model. For example, Inference's platform has an application that will allow BOPIS customers arriving at a store to call or text from the parking lot, have their phone number recognized by a virtual agent (based on information in the retailer's CRM system), and get their pickup orders delivered to them in their car. Like Stein Mart's model, this approach blends automation with human connection to achieve that delicate balance that remains valuable to today's retail customers.
"We're very happy with the entire infrastructure we engineered for our BOPIS solution,” Louwerse said. “It was simple to implement, is nimble and will be easy to maintain. And, because of our success, we're in the process of leveraging smart buttons for customer assistance in other areas of our stores."
Callan Schebella is the CEO of Inference Solutions, a provider of intelligent virtual agents for automated self-service.
Related story: Total Retail's 2019 Top 100 Omnichannel Retailers
Callan Schebella is the CEO at Inference Solutions and is based in the San Francisco office. He has worked his entire career in voice automation, machine learning and related technologies.
Prior to becoming CEO, Callan was the chief architect at Inference and led the team that developed the company’s core products. Callan started his career at Telstra Research Laboratories in technology commercialization. He has a Masters of Engineering from the University of South Australia and Masters in Business Administration from Melbourne Business School. When not working, Callan likes spending time with his family and enjoys his spare time in hobbies that include woodworking, 3D printing and drone technology.