Way back in January 2007, I wrote about a poor experience I had with Best Buy’s in-store pickup. I really like the idea of in-store pickup. In theory (and as-advertised) it works like this: you go to Best Buy’s web site, put the stuff you want in your electronic cart, say you want in-store pickup, place the order and pay for it online, then go pick up the merchandise at the store.

This is a ‘best of both worlds’ kind of thing. You get the convenience of online shopping, but you don’t have to wait days for stuff to ship to you.

After my sour experience in 2007, I figured it was time to give Best Buy in-store pickup another shot. At lunch time, I ordered the Alien quadrilogy, some earbuds (the ones that came with my iPod are giving out on me), and the just-released Mac OS X 10.6 ‘Snow Leopard’ upgrade. I’ve ordered from BestBuy.com before so this all went very smoothly, and I selected in-store pickup at the Bailey’s Crossroads (Falls Church, VA) store.

I got the email notification that my stuff was ready for pickup about an hour later, with the plan to swing by after work to get my stuff.

When I finally got there in the evening, my first sign that something was wrong was the promised signs to tell in-store pickup customers where to go apparently didn’t exist. After asking somebody where to go, I was directed to the customer service/returns line. I waited there in line for a good 10-15 minutes while people returned their defective or unwanted products.

Once I got up to the desk (already a little miffed; in-store pickup isn’t supposed to require waiting in long, unrelated lines), I gave them my info. The woman walked into the back and emerged with 2 of my 3 items (the Mac OS X upgrade was missing). She said she needed to go get the software for me. Once again, as I said in 2007, the whole point of in-store pickup is that your order is READY FOR PICKUP when you get there. I’ve used this service twice at two different stores with more than two years intervening and they failed on this rudimentary point both times.

The woman sent one of her underlings to go retrieve my Mac OS upgrade from out in the store, and she returned after ten minutes or so with a Mac OS X package. Unfortunately, the package she arrived with was for Mac OS X 10.5 ‘Leopard’ (the old version I’m upgrading from). I pointed this out and she, once again, trekked out into the store for ten minutes. This time she returned with the desired Mac OS X 10.6 ‘Snow Leopard’, and my order was complete. It had taken at least a half hour, which was more than enough time for me to have picked up the three items myself and gone through the regular checkout line.

And, of course, the customer service desk doesn’t have the little anti-theft gizmos, so after getting everything in order and leaving the store I got stopped by the anti-theft alarms and had to have somebody review my receipt and look through my bag.

This isn’t rocket science. If you’re going to offer an in-store pickup option, here are a few things you should do (pay attention, Best Buy):

  1. Have a dedicated line/kiosk just for in-store pickup (with signs). Don’t make people who just want to pick up an order wait through everybody else’s returns.
  2. The order must be assembled and ready for pickup when the customer arrives. This is the whole freakin’ point. If you can’t do this, just don’t bother saying you offer in-store pickup.
  3. Have a regular check-out rig at the in-store pickup location so people don’t get ‘beeped’ by the machines on their way out the door. In fact, just put in-store pickup as part of the regular checkout lines.

This, unfortunately, is a lot like my experience with self check-out at grocery stores. The whole thing is configured for maximum frustration, almost like they want you to do things the old-fashioned way. If this is the case, then just don’t offer the ‘new’ way of doing it! Don’t bother with in-store pickup if you don’t intend to make it work. Don’t install self-checkout machines if you intend to make them almost impossible to use.

If these places really want you to use these new, cool technologies and ideas, then they need to think them through and handle them professionally.

Unfortunately, I’m going to have to give up on this whole Best Buy in-store pickup thing again. It’s such a great idea, but they are definitely doing it wrong.