Erik’s Bike Shop Inc. knew demand for its products was skyrocketing when shoppers 400 miles away were willing to drive to a store to pick up their online order.
The bicycle retail chain’s online and total sales surged during the coronavirus, with online sales increasing almost 300% year over year in 2020, says owner Erik Saltvold. Erik’s Bike Shop Inc. is No. 1315 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Next 1000.
Bicycles were a hugely popular product during the pandemic, as it is an outdoor, socially distant activity and mode of transportation, he says. This meant shoppers across the U.S. were looking to get their hands on a bicycle when many bike shops—which are nonessential businesses—were closed.
For EriksBikeShop.com, sales especially spiked during the spring weather in May. Here’s how that looks in terms of online traffic:
Buy online pick up in store sales surge at Erik’s Bike Shop
Sales fulfilled via buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) fueled a large part of Erik’s Bikes’ overall sales growth. Many shoppers that would have otherwise come into the store to shop opted to go online to conduct their research and pick up the product outside the store (curbside pickup) during the early months of the pandemic, Saltvold says. BOPIS also grew because many bicycles are expensive to ship, and shoppers selected store pickup to avoid shipping costs. Plus, some bicycle manufacturers require merchants to assemble and size the bicycle to the customer and don’t allow direct-to-consumer shipping, he says. So, as online sales and demand for bicycles grew, BOPIS surged.
“BOPIS accelerated exponentially. That was the biggest growth area of our sales,” he says.
While Erik’s Bike Shop ships nationally, it only has 31 stores in seven Midwestern states, and therefore, only has 31 online order pickup points. In contrast, the median number of stores for the roughly 200 retail chains listed in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000 is 262 stores.
This means shoppers across the U.S. were wondering where they could pick up in person a certain bicycle they wanted to purchase, even if that was hundreds of miles away in a different state. So, they contacted Erik’s Bike Shop’s customer service team either by phone, email or live chat.
“Our call volume dramatically increased for our customer service team—four to five times overnight,” Saltvold says.
“The volume accelerated so much we needed to streamline that process and create a better customer experience,” he adds.
Erik’s Bike Shop’s customer service team should be handling complex issues, not issues that shoppers should be able to look up on its website, such as if a certain store location carries a particular bike, Saltvold says.
Many shoppers check a store’s inventory before going in person, and this was especially true during the pandemic when many merchants had supply issues. 58% of consumers said they’ve checked online for product availability at a nearby store within the past six months, according to a February 2021 survey of 1,052 online consumers conducted by Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights. That’s an increase from 54% in this survey in August 2020. Plus, 45% of consumers said they plan to check for products available at a nearby store more often in the next six months.
Erik’s Bike integrates location feature
Erik’s Bike Shop knew where its inventory was but did not showcase this to shoppers online until the checkout page. It was more of a “hunt and peck” for shoppers, Saltvold says, in which a shopper would find the bike she wanted, add it to her cart, and then see that was in stock but that she couldn’t pick it up at her nearby location. But many shoppers weren’t even bothering to make it to this step, they would just call customer service to inquire about inventory.
The retailer needed to show shoppers earlier in the shopping process, such as on the search results page, where they could pick up a bike in person and when it would be available at that location. “It was really a database and data presentation issue,” Saltvold says.
To do this, Erik’s Bike Shop worked with its ecommerce platform provider VTEX to add a geolocation feature. The tool triggers a pop-up when a shopper first visits the website asking to access her location. If she clicks “Yes,” the search results page then populates details about where the nearest store with that bicycle is located.
“We identified what was the issue and looking into ways with VTEX, our online partner, ways that we could revamp search results and revamp the location for items that make it more obvious to the consumer, so the customer could self-help that process,” Saltvold says.
Because the retailer already had the VTEX technology integrated with its physical point-of-sale system to power its buy online pick up in store capabilities, adding the consumer inventory visibility to its website did not cost it anything, Saltvold says. Typically, this geolocation feature costs roughly $20,000-$30,000, says VTEX chief marketing officer Jared Blank.
The inventory visibility went live in July 2020 after about 60 days of identifying the issue and working with VTEX, Saltvold says.
After implementing the feature in July 2020, Erik’s Bike Shop had a 68% decrease in live chat interactions, a 44% decrease in communications per order and a 20% decrease in emails per order, compared with Q1 2020.
With fewer shoppers contacting customer service, the feature saved Erik’s Bike Shop on labor costs. Because of the sales surge, already Erik’s Bike Shop added 10 employees to the customer service team. Saltvold estimates he would have had to add 20 employees had the merchant not made it easier for shoppers to find inventory.
“Our customer service team is able to spend their time actually making sales, not locating inventory for people,” he says.
Even though ecommerce as a portion of total sales quadrupled in 2020, stores are still the main driver of its business and likely will be in the future, Saltvold says. He is pleased with how much BOPIS has accelerated in the past year as it enables shoppers who may have normally gone into a store to ask associates questions to conduct all of that research online.
“It’s a much more efficient way to conduct a transaction,” he says.