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BOPIS, BORIS, and More: An Omnichannel Commerce Dictionary

You may have noticed some new ecommerce acronyms floating around lately: BOPIS. ISPU. BORIS. What the heck does it all mean? Are retailers running a business, or a Cold War-era spy agency?

For the last two decades, I’ve built my career and my business on the ever-shifting landscape that is retail. I know that it’s not enough to simply keep up with retail jargon—it’s also important to envision how a retailer can benefit from these practices, and how they can execute on that vision.

The rise of the omnichannel or multichannel shopping experience has led to an explosion of new purchasing behaviors, each with its own implications for business infrastructure, and yes, each with its own punchy acronym. Do your customers browse online, then buy in-store; or do they buy online, then pick-up in-store? Do they prefer to make returns online or offline? Assessing consumer behaviors can help retailers identify key trends in the omnichannel customer experience, which can then be used to increase sales, foster brand visibility, and much much more.

Retail needs an updated glossary of terms, one that captures the many ways in which the online and the offline intersect throughout the omnichannel experience. Here’s a handy guide to a few of the trendiest retail acronyms, along with some analysis of what it could mean for your commerce strategy and operations.

The new terms of retail

ROPO - Research Online, Purchase Offline
This particular buying behavior is fairly self-explanatory: a customer researches information on a product online to determine the type of purchase they wish to make, then goes to a physical store, where they make the final conversion.

According to a 2016 Forrester study, 92% of all offline customers do online research before heading to the store. This is especially true of higher price point products, which tend to command longer customer journeys. What does this mean in terms of strategy? It means that retailers must optimize both their online and offline properties, as one informs the other. They’ll need to take advantage of the many insight tools available to them to determine how to personalize content, merchandise products, and plan in-store promotions.

ROPO introduces the challenge of channel attribution. How will you know which online or offline channel to attribute the sale to? When considering ROPO, retailers should incorporate digital touchpoints, such as a text or email receipt, throughout the in-store experience. This will allow them to match offline conversion with online customer data, browsing activity, or Google Analytics data. Although the many variables at play here suggest that this method won’t necessarily cover all ROPO customers, it’s a good way to get a general sense of cross-over.

Much has been said about the ‘retail apocalypse,’ but the truth is this: People aren’t shopping less, they just have a different relationship with brick-and-mortar spaces.

BIMBO - Browse In-store, on Mobile, Buy Online
BIMBO refers to a buying behavior that is more or less the opposite of ROPO. Here, the customer qualifies their purchase in-store and on mobile, then makes the final conversion online. Online-only, direct-to-consumer brands like Casper often run experiential pop-ups or other small-scale storefronts, which capture this type of purchasing behavior.

Much has been said about the ‘retail apocalypse,’ but the truth is this: People aren’t shopping less, they just have a different relationship with brick-and-mortar spaces. A brick-and-mortar retail space now functions like a meeting ground for shoppers to experience a brand, to attend events, to commune with peers and experts. Because the customer views the physical store as a kind of showroom, it’s essential that the retail experience—from the merchandising to the associates—is always on-brand.

BOPIS - Buy Online, Pick-up In Store, or ISPU - In-Store Pick Up
These days, customers are demanding more and more flexibility and convenience around their fulfillment options. Both BOPIS and ISPU refer to when a customer makes a conversion online, but rather than selecting shipping options, they opt to pick the items up at the physical store. Again, because this type of buying pattern drives customers to a brick-and-mortar space, it’s essential for retailers to optimize the in-store experience by providing a highly personalized experience for the customer. In fact, according to some studies, nearly 70% of customers purchase additional items while they’re browsing in-store!

It’s no surprise that technology plays a huge part in properly implementing BOPIS. All aspects of the supply chain, order information, fulfillment, and inventory must automatically sync across both online and offline properties, so retailers will want to invest in a management solution that supports the ability to connect across a variety of custom touchpoints in real time. With BOPIS, keeping track of inventory can be an especially thorny challenge to tackle. Digitizing all physical in-store products might be one solution— RFID tags allow retailers to track inventory item by item, which means a retail associate will always know the who (the customer), the what (the order), and the where (where the customer will pick it up in-store).

BORIS - Buy Online, Return In Store
And last but not least, there’s good ol’ BORIS (nyet!). With BORIS, customers make an online purchase, have the item shipped to their home as per usual, then ultimately decide to return or exchange the item at a brick-and-mortar retail space. Since it takes the hassle out of return shipping, BORIS is an extremely convenient service for the customer, and is often considered a feature of a best-in-class customer care experience, which shoppers increasingly expect from retailers these days.

It sounds tricky to pull off, and it is. Returns are often considered the costly bane of ecommerce: It’s expensive to process returned items, in terms of both labor and time. Even more troublesome is the issue of inventory management. In order for BORIS to work out, online and offline supply chain systems must be fully integrated, providing all channels a single source of truth. If these channels are segmented, and there is no record of a particular SKU in one channel, then it won’t be possible to process a return if it’s being made in another. Retail associates must be able to access the original purchase data in order to honor pricing and avoid fraud.

It’s a buyer’s market

That’s about it for the alphabet soup, at least for now.

Remember: the customer experience is always changing. Every year, a new innovation gets added to the retail dictionary and changes the way customers shop. That, in turn, changes the way retailers sell. All of these omnichannel shopping behaviors require retailers to thoughtfully build out operations across online and offline channels.

That can be hard, time-consuming, and expensive, especially if your technology investments haven’t kept up with the changing retail landscape. But the benefits to your business—in increased sales, greater customer satisfaction and loyalty, and a clearer understanding of what your customers want—make it worth the effort.

Omnichannel isn’t just a buzzword, it’s an experience that’s here to stay. So stay up to date, stay flexible, and stay in sync. Now more than ever, customers are always right—especially when it comes to how and where they buy.

Editors' note: A version of this story was first published by TotalRetail.

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