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Many shoppers this holiday season are looking to avoid waiting in long lines at stores to check out, or spending hours wandering around cramped aisles, bumping into other people doing much of the same. And there's good news for them, because retailers across the U.S. — including Target, Home Depot, Kohl's — are finally giving consumers more options to bypass this stress. And they're getting better at it.
Already, a record $80.3 billion has been spent online from Nov. 1 to Dec. 6, up more than 18 percent from a year ago, Adobe Analytics found in monitoring transactions for 80 of the top 100 U.S. internet retailers. The amount far surpasses last year's record of $67.7 billion in digital sales during the same period.
One reason Adobe said digital sales continue to skyrocket is the increasing number of shoppers this holiday season using so called click-and-collect options — purchasing online and picking up the order at a designated space in stores oftentimes as soon as the same day. Adobe found that click-and-collect orders have grown a whopping 46 percent from a year ago during the Nov. 1 to Dec. 6 period.
Companies are trying to refine these services, realizing that shoppers greatly value speed when making a purchase.
"We found a few years ago, a lot of the discussions retailers were having brought all different perspectives on [buy online, pick up in store]. It was in its infancy," said Frank Layo, managing director at Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy. "But people started to see it as a competitive advantage against Amazon building distribution centers around them." Retailers started to realize that in offering a buy online, pick up in store option, it gave customers the ability to retrieve items that same day, while the company cuts down on shipping and other expenses, he added.
To be sure, one reason companies have been slow to get on board with this is that outfitting a store to be capable of offering click-and-collect can be costly.
"You have to train a bunch of staff ... dedicate space in stores," Layo said. "There is a big investment to get that program up and running."
During the past Black Friday weekend, Layo and colleague Steve Osburn placed 43 buy online, pick up in store orders across 15 retailers. They found that for the first time in three years (which is as long as they've been doing this study), retailers' performance improved overall. They said 65 percent of their orders were "fulfilled with no issues." And the average amount of time they spent waiting in a store to retrieve items was seven minutes, "a significant improvement over what we've seen in years past," according to Osburn.
Home Depot, for example, has been adding lockers to the front of its stores for pickup orders, where shoppers don't even need to interact with an employee to get what they need. The other companies mentioned, Layo and Osburn said, have been doing a better job communicating with shoppers when an order is actually ready to be picked up.
"In the past, it's been a big issue that the retailer says you can get your order in a couple of hours but don't tell you when it will be done," Osburn said. "You have to keep customers from showing up too early."
Kohl's CEO Michelle Gass told CNBC last month that Black Friday was a "record day" for the retailer's buy online, pick up in store orders. She added that nearly 80 percent of the company's web traffic came from mobile devices.
Target, meanwhile, said Black Friday shoppers chose an in-store pickup option with their online purchases for almost twice as many items, overall, compared with a year ago.