Left Hand, Right Hand : When In-Store Staff Can't See Your Online Order

Left Hand, Right Hand : When In-Store Staff Can't See Your Online Order
Left Hand, Right Hand: A Series on Bridging Customer Experience Gaps in Commerce

Ever experienced the frustration of in-store staff being unable to see your online order? "Left Hand, Right Hand: When In-Store Staff Can't View Your Online Orders" dives into the causes and solutions of retail's internal communication gap.

Imagine the scenario: you've placed an order online, received confirmation, and yet, upon arriving at the store, the in-store staff seem to be in the dark about its existence. It's a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. In this inaugural installment of our "Left Hand, Right Hand" series, we're exploring the all-too-common disconnect between in-store operations and online customer interactions. This gap not only creates confusion and frustration for customers but also reflects deeper issues within a company's communication and operational structures. Join us as we delve into why this disconnect happens and what can be done to create a seamless bridge between the digital and physical realms of shopping.

Preface Disclosure: While I've encountered this issue more times than I'd care to count, it was an incident just a few days ago that pushed me to pen this article. My family and I fell prey to the disconnect between online and in-store operations, yet again, but this time at a global, well-known, and financially buoyant clothing retailer. Here's the scoop on what went down, and why it left me scratching my head over how such a prominent company could fumble on what seems like Retail Operations 101.

The Incident: The mini-saga began with my wife making an online purchase from this retailer. Realizing I would be near one of their stores for a meeting, she thought it prudent (and I agreed) that I could pick up her order, turning the trip into a productive errand by also returning an item that didn't fit. A classic two birds, one stone scenario (note to self: stop using this metaphor, it's kind of gross).

Her order went through seamlessly, with the "pick up in store" option smoothly selected for my convenience. To her pleasant surprise, a ready-for-pickup notification pinged her inbox shortly after. All good to go - right?

Upon my arrival at the store, armed ready to go with the digital order confirmation, I was met with puzzled looks from the staff. Their systems showed no record of the order, and a physical check of their ready-for-pickup area revealed zilch. It was as if our online actions had vanished into thin air once they crossed the threshold into the physical realm.

Fortunately, the item was still on the rack, allowing me to complete the mission on my own. However, the experience left both the staff and myself in a state of frustration (to their credit they handled it well, but clearly would have preferred not to have band-aided over a situation). The expectation was set high (and correctly) by the retailer's online promises, only to crash into the reality of their in-store system's obliviousness.

Mini-saga over, check. Slight bad taste in mouth, also check.

The Conundrum: How does a behemoth in the retail industry fail so spectacularly at integrating their online and in-store operations? This incident isn't just a one-off; it's symptomatic of a larger issue at play. A disconnect that not only erodes customer trust and satisfaction but also puts undue stress on in-store employees who are left to navigate these murky waters without a compass. This plays out in multiple sectors: apparel, like the above scenario; service like a recent car rental story; B2B in wholesale and manufacturing - it's wide open.

Understanding the Disconnect: A Deep Dive into Retail Operations

The incident I shared is far from isolated. It's a manifestation of a larger, systemic issue plaguing many retail giants: the disconnect between online orders, wholesale and supply chain awareness, and in-store execution. This gap, especially as so many of us experience this regularly, is wide enough to deflate your customer experience before you've even started, and raises several questions about how retail operations are managed in an age where digital and physical should be seamlessly integrated. Here's why these gaps exist and how they can impact everyone involved.

The Why: Technological Gaps (but really a Strategic Gap)

One of the primary culprits behind this disconnect is outdated or siloed technology systems. Many retailers operate their online and brick-and-mortar stores as separate entities, each with its own inventory and order management systems. This segregation leads to a lack of real-time communication between the two, causing scenarios where an order visible to the customer online simply doesn't exist in the store's system.


The expectation was set high (quite correctly) by the retailer's online promises, only to crash into the reality of their in-store system's obliviousness.


The Impact: Customer Frustration and Staff Stress

The consequences of these operational faux pas are twofold. For customers, the excitement of a convenient online order ready for quick pickup dissipates into a pool of frustration and wasted time. This disappointment can erode loyalty and deter future purchases, both online and in-store.

For staff, these situations put them in the uncomfortable position of facing disappointed customers through no fault of their own. This not only strains their morale but also adds unnecessary stress, as they scramble to rectify issues they had no hand in creating. Add to that a lack of confidence in their employer - that's you - in general; if their company workflow automation doesn't actually, you know ... work, then how often are they going to be facing down this kind of frustration in their day to day work life?

customer upset with missing order


Solutions for a Seamless Retail Experience

Addressing this issue requires a holistic approach, focusing on integrating systems, building robust checks and balances, improving communication, and enhancing training.

  1. Integrated Systems: Retailers must invest in unified commerce platforms or models that seamlessly connect online and in-store operations. These platforms should provide real-time updates on inventory and orders across all channels, ensuring that everyone is on the same page. This could be using (better) real-time API integrations and upgrades to triggers and robustness for existing systems, or replatforming entirely.
  2. Clear Communication: Clear, proactive communication with customers is crucial. If an issue arises with an online order, retailers should promptly inform the customer, offering solutions or alternatives rather than waiting for them to discover the problem in-store. This calls to robustness triggers again, systems monitoring other systems; did the required event happen? Did the staff accept the order? Did the item's online commitment turn into physical commitment (ie being pulled off the shelf)?
  3. Staff Training and Empowerment: Equipping in-store staff with the training and tools to handle discrepancies between online and physical orders can significantly improve the situation. Empowering employees to make decisions on the spot, such as honouring online deals or manually fulfilling online orders, can turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one. In this situation the staff had no mechanism to validate my claim; here is a customer showing that they have an order online, staff, as a backup, should have been able to manually call up this order via manual systems sync or at the very least looking up the admin view of my order within the company's online platform even if it is not sync'd with their ERP/POS platform.
  4. Leveraging Technology for Good: Utilizing technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning can help predict and manage inventory more effectively, reducing the chances of an online order being unavailable in-store. Additionally, mobile apps that provide staff with immediate access to online order information can bridge the information gap efficiently. This is a growing model that will only gain ground in all areas of prediction, robustness, and enriching customer experience.

A Call to Action for Retailers

The story of the missing order is not just a tale of frustration but a call to action for retailers. In the digital age, customers expect and deserve a seamless shopping experience, whether online or in-store. By addressing the technological and procedural gaps that lead to these disconnects, retailers can not only enhance customer satisfaction but also build a more resilient and flexible operation that can adapt to the evolving retail landscape.

Bridging the Digital-Physical Divide

The journey of a single online order, from click to pickup, is a litmus test for a retailer's operational efficacy. As retail continues to evolve, bridging the gap between digital convenience and physical fulfillment is not just advantageous; it's essential. By fostering a cohesive, integrated operation, retailers can ensure that their left hand always knows what the right hand is doing, creating a harmonious shopping experience that meets the expectations of the modern consumer.

This exploration highlights the importance of unity in retail operations, emphasizing the need for continuous improvement and adaptation. As we've seen, the solution lies not in overhauling one aspect but in harmonizing all components of the retail machine. For retailers willing to take up the challenge, the reward is a loyal customer base built on a foundation of trust and exceptional service.

Now, over to you: Have you experienced similar disconnects in retail? What solutions do you think could bridge the gap between online and in-store experiences? Share your thoughts and let's discuss the future of seamless retail together.