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Study: In-Store Pickup Isn't Any Faster Than Just Shopping In-Store

Choosing in-store pickup for online orders saved seconds at best over just shopping in-store, but that doesn't factor in time saved for browsing.
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in store pickup

Just what are your shopping priorities? If you want convenience, but aren't worried about speed, you might place an order online. If you need something right now, you're more likely to run to your local retail store. But if you want the best of both convenience and speed, you'll probably order online but pick it up in a local retail store.

Unfortunately, a new study by StellaService questions this conventional logic, suggesting that in-store pickup may not be any faster than simply going to your local retailer to buy whatever is on your shopping list. Though the survey size is relatively small, it tested eleven major retailers — Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, Macy's, Nordstrom, Office Depot, Sears, Staples, Target, Toys 'R Us, and Walmart — at two separate retail locations each. For each test, an order was placed online for in-store pickup and the same purchase was made by simply walking into the store. Each test was timed to see which method was faster. Surprisingly, customers who ordered online didn't always walk out the door faster.

The snag with in-store pickup is that it can be difficult for customers to know where to go to pick up their purchase. Some retailers let you pick up items at any checkout or customer service desk, while others have a special location for in-store pickup. Often it's not clearly indicated, which can mean wandering around or finding an employee to ask before you can pick up your purchases. On average, there were time savings of 96 seconds between ordering online and picking up in-store versus simply shopping in-store, which isn't as much as you might expect for a feature designed to save time and hassle. At Home Depot, Macy's, and Nordstrom, shopping in-store was actually faster than ordering online and then picking it up.

Why Use In-Store Pickup?

With in-store pickup options saving you little (or even no) time, it may seem like there's no point in placing your order online before heading to the shop. However, in-store pickup still has some advantages, even if it doesn't save much time:

  • You have the convenience to browse (and comparison shop) online to be sure you're getting just what you want, for the best price.
  • You don't have to be worried about an item selling out if you reserve it online in advance. This can be a big problem with hot products, like new releases from Apple.

While this study compares in-store pickup to in-store shopping, the advantages of in-store pickup look a lot better when compared to its most likely competition, online shopping. In-store pickup can offer you a "best of both worlds" experience with the ease of online shopping but the instant gratification of picking something up immediately at a local store. A study by Forrester Research found that 70% of its survey group used in-store pickup options, mostly to save the cost of shipping when buying online.

When you compare in-store pickup to online shopping, you can see it has some decided advantages:

  • While you may wait in the store, you don't have to wait on shipping. In-store pickup items are ready in an average of 1 hour (according to StellaService), with Lowe's coming in as the quickest with items ready for pickup in just 10 minutes. If you need something immediately, this makes it easy.
  • Going to pick your order up means there are no shipping fees to pay, making in-store pickup a frugal choice.
  • Shipping has other disadvantages, too: Your package could be lost or damaged in transit, stolen from your front porch, or you may need to pick it up from the carrier yourself if you aren't home to receive it. Going to get the item ensures you get the item without any additional hassle.

Even online retail giant Amazon recognizes the allure of in-store pickup, offering a number of "Amazon Locker" locations around the country where you can stop off to get your item instead of waiting for it to show up at home.

When to Use Which Delivery Option

So which delivery option is the best? While in-store shopping, in-store pickup, and online shopping will all get you what you need, there are certain situations in which one option may shine above the rest. Let's break it down:

Shop In-Store:

  • When you want to see or try an item before you buy it, like shopping for clothes.
  • When you aren't concerned about the item you're looking for being sold out or unavailable.
  • When you need an item immediately. (In-store pickup is an equally good option.)
  • When you're shopping for bulky items. (In-store pickup is an equally good option.)
  • For common items, especially where you're not likely to be concerned about brand or price, like printer paper.

Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store:

  • If you want to browse or price-compare online, but don't want to wait to get your item, pay extra for shipping, or deal with other shipping hassles.
  • For items that might be sold out or hard to find.
  • If there's a retail location you want to shop that's convenient to stop at.

Buy Online:

  • If you can't find a specific item locally.
  • If you're not concerned with the speed at which you get an item — and can wait a few days to a week to get what you purchase.
  • If you're not worried about the cost of shipping, or you're shopping at a retailer that offers free shipping.
  • If you're trying to buy from a store that doesn't have a convenient retail location, or doesn't have what you're looking for at a convenient retail location.
  • If you want to shop around, read customer reviews, and price-compare across multiple retailers.

What do you think, reader? Do you shop online, in-store, online with in-store pickup, or all of the above? Let us know in the comments below.


Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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18 comments
HisSon
Sometimes it's a wash as to pick up or have it shipped. I live in a rural area where there is sometimes a round trip to pick up a purchase can take an hour or more to complete. By the time you figure gas, wear and tear, shortening the service time for the vehicle and saving time for other things, it can at least come out even or even sometimes be a cost savings. Obviously, if you need something yesterday then pick up is the only option.
Lrvette17
Sears is awesome and if you have their app, you don't even have to leave your car. Although picking up anything in their automotive section has always taken me 20-30 mins.
I always buy my phones online and pickup in store at Best Buy, really quick and easy. Home Depot was easy and conveniently located up front but they have some paperwork on their end which can sometimes take a few extra minutes.
pottsgw
Under 5 minutes from when I've scanned my info at the Sears pickup terminal.
LonnieMcClure
The three times I used this at Lowe's I had to wait while an employee apparently went and picked my item(s) off the shelf. One would think when you order online and pay in advance, your items should be waiting for you. I also wonder what would have happened if they had sold out.
Mr.1111
This is only because the employees are 9 times out of 10 clueless as if they've just started working there, and then they take their time like if there was no care in the world.
kuldra
My experiences with multiple in-store pickups at Kmart have been good. My local store has the pickup at the front service desk, and has my item waiting right there in the cage. At Guitar Center, even though I had the ready email, they couldn't find my item and didn't even know if it had been delivered to the store. I had to come back a week later. Lowes was reluctant (I was scolded by the service desk rep) to give me an in stock appliance that I had purchased online six hours earlier, since they hadn't yet sent me the ready email. Sears, at two different stores, has been great for appliance pickup after an online order. Best Buy did fine as well. My only reason for in-store pickup isn't for convenience, its to guarantee an item is available when I arrive. I also like to add as many online coupon codes to my checkout as possible. I've saved hundreds of dollars on my appliances that way.
steveroymax
I've saved a little in sales tax ($30 or $40 dollars over the last year) buying some things online and getting them shipped to me.

You always have to pay sales tax (in my state) if you pick an item up at a store.
fatmanosu
Walmart is the worst on pickup. Most of the time of the area has no on e in it and the employees walk by with no help. I have spent 45 minutes waiting before for someone to show up. Best buy is decent since mine has a line for it. I do it for points and to miss shipping. I go by all the shops once a week when getting groceries so not out of my way.
KiNgHe
I prefer in-store pickup over shopping in store because:
1. I get cashback for online order
2. I can read the review for the item
3. I don't have to find the item in store
4. The item is available online, but it can be OOS by the time I get to the store
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
@dealnews-mbonebright That's fair actually, the study was with shoppers who were instructed to buy one thing specifically so there was no natural instinct to meander
dealnews-mbonebright (DealNews)
My in-store pickup experiences at Target have always been much quicker than a trip to Target itself. But that may be because I always get distracted in Target.
MStapp
Wal*Mart (don't you just HATE companies that use that cute little * thingy making search's.... impossible); Wal*Mart and KMart are especially depressing, you have to go to the BACK OF THE STORES! Many companies now want you to do all their printing for them, bringing in your printed copies of their documentation. Sears is a HOOT, 5 minute pick up guaranty. The joke is they turn off the timer, so you don't qualify when they're slow/stupid, or both, and even if they honor their guaranty the $5 coupon is CRAP that's not good on anything except full prices they aren't moving anyway.
aquariusjive
Best Buy has been the worst by far on multiple occasions when choosing the site to store pick up option. One benefit with this type of purchase, though, is that you secure yourself an item before it leaves the shelf which occasionally happens when you call the store for stock information and the items are sold out by the time you actually reach thier doors.
lordbuddha
At walmart, you must order online for sales items and pick up at store. If you just show up with a printout of the sales, they would not hornor it.
wtaelewis
My experience has always been that it takes more time to order online and pickup in the store. This has been true at Best Buy, Walmart, Sears and K-Mart. These stores do not have the trained staff to properly handle this type of transaction and they don't seem to be improving at it. I try to avoid doing business this way as much as possible.
bellinghop
If you are an airline miles collector like myself then in-store pickup can be a great option vs. simply buying in-store. To get bonus miles you normally access the store's website through the airline's shopping website (Delta's Skymiles Shopping, for example).

By ordering online and then picking up in-store is you can get the extra miles for things that you don't want to wait to have shipped. You don't get those miles if you pick up the same product in the store without going the the airline store portal.
bikeral
My home depot experience has been the opposite. The pick up desk is right in front and clearly marked. I give my name and my stuff is there. Instead of wandering the aisles, I walk out with my stuff.
MWFplus3
Only time I use this is when it actually saves on shipping costs. It is always a hassle...the "kids" at Best Buy don't care, and Home Depot is always a disorganized mess....I end up in the same line as those returning merchandise. Sears is not too bad, but it is all a matter of timing....you have to hope no one is in front of you.
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