Integrating Online and Offline Shopping: Buying at the Babies “R” Us

Ecommerce has come a long way, especially when stores let you browse online, and then make your offline shopping easier. My latest shopping experience merging the online and offline world came pretty close to being a very good one, but had some usability problems.

Unfamiliar Turf

I was pretty much out of my comfort zone when it came this shopping mission. I can navigate pretty well around sporting goods, hardware and car repair items, books, and groceries. But surround me with cribs and strollers, diapers and pacifiers, and I have no sense of the intuitive layout of the Big Box store I found myself in last week.

I browsed the Babies”R”Us web site, and used the baby registry card I had received with an invitation for my Niece’s baby shower to find her gift registry. It was a good idea to include a Babies “R” Us card with the invitation, and made it easy for me to find the right part of the website, and the registry.

There were a few things listed in the registry that were only available in one of the stores, so I decided to visit in person since there is a Babies “R” Us nearby.

I arrive at the store

I was going to print out a copy of the registry, but had to add a new printer cartridge to my list of shopping items instead. That wasn’t a problem though. When I got to the Babies “R” Us, some sales associates pleasantly printed me a copy of the registry, which included a list of locations within the store of where items on the registry were located.

I also noticed a big desk in the front of the building with a “Gift Registry” sign, where a couple was talking with an associate about their registry. Looks like they let people create a registry online and in person.

Registry in hand, I decided to look at the strollers first, and the only stroller that didn’t seem to be in stock was the one listed on my printed registry. I didn’t want to buy a different stroller, and have someone else purchase one through the online store, so I decided to get a number of the smaller items on the list instead, and found a shopping cart.

I’m lost without a sitemap

Once I was pushing a cart along, I realized how out of place I was. The list was organized by department, and then by numbers within departments. That should have been helpful, but the numbers were hard to find. (A layout map of the store might have been nice.)

I found myself in the “Infants” department looking for section 6. Except, there was no section 6. I was able to locate selves 1 and 2, floor layout groups 4 and 5, Wall units 12, 13, and 14, and no section 6. The numbers were small, and hard to find.

I did pickup three or four things in those other sections on the list, but was determined to find the missing section, figuring that it was my lack of shopping experience causing the problem.

My missing navigation problem is solved, somewhat

A customer service representative found me wandering amongst lotions and notions and gift baskets, and must have recognized the lost look on my face. She helped me find what I was looking for in section 5 – there was no section 6.

She then helped me find a couple of other things on my list, as well as checking to see if something was available that wasn’t on the shelves where it should be (it wasn’t).

I asked her at that point, if when I checked out, the items that I purchased would be taken off the registry online. She told me that they should be as long as I let the cashier know about the registry.

I didn’t want to take her out of the department that she was assigned to, and wandered out on my own to other parts of the store. I was pretty much lost in the other departments, too. I wandered past her department again, and she asked me how I was doing. I pointed out a couple of other things that I was looking for which I couldn’t find, and she walked across the store to those other departments and helped me (very good customer service, there.)

After thanking my shopping assistant, I made my way to the checkout counter, and the cashier was also very pleasant and helpful, and reassured me that the items I was buying would make their way off the online registry. She gave me a gift receipt just in case.

The registry works, almost

When I finished my trip, and returned home, I checked the registry. I noticed that a book I purchased was still on the list of unpurchased items. At the shower on Sunday, I wasn’t the only one who gave her a copy of the book. I made sure that my neice had the gift receipt so that she could return it.

Impressions

Overall, this wasn’t a bad shopping experience. The clerk and the cashier and the associates who printed out a registry for me were all very pleasant and helpful. A couple of things could have made it a much more pleasant experience – such as labeling the location areas more clearly, and matching the printed descriptions of items on the registry better with their descriptions on their shelves or hooks.

I didn’t buy anything from the middle of the store “racetrack” because it was just too hard to locate stuff in there.

I wish that the book that I bought was taken off the registry, and one of my aunts suggested that they didn’t remove it on purpose to get my niece to visit the store on purpose. You don’t want to raise suspicions like that in your customers, and the failure to remove the book from the online registry did.

The integration of the store layout with the printed registry was just OK. The clerk who helped me made it a much better experience than if I was wandering around on my own. There wasn’t a sign letting people know that they could have printed copies of the gift registries, and if I hadn’t asked, I would have really been lost.

Better in-store landing pages needed

I’d recommend that the Babies “R” Us people let folks know that they will print them out registries in the stores, with a few signs indicating that. Labeling the sections within areas, and the items within sections more clearly would have made that an excellent experience, and I’d probably be raving about the store this morning. And yet, even with these issues, I’m feeling pretty positive about the experience.

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14 thoughts on “Integrating Online and Offline Shopping: Buying at the Babies “R” Us”

  1. Bill,
    I see this being an issue in my future (LOL). But it does point out a very valuable lesson for online and offline stores. If a customer or user walks into a store or on a website, is it easy for them to find what they are looking for? Store layouts are extremely important as with website architecture. Are you trying to change the behaviors of your visitors or are you adjusting to their practices.

    The only way to find this out, online and off, is to research user and shopper’s behaviors. It may be perfect for expecting mothers and/or fathers, but what about the potential customers/users that you are not reaching because of frustration? Are you missing your potential?

    If you have any tips on navigating these types of stores, I am all ears!

  2. Congratulations, again, Stephen. :)

    The science of laying out stores has been studied and defined a number of different ways. But, I’m not sure how much of that has considered an integration of the web.

    It’s going to be interesting to see how stores do make it easier for people who learn about what the stores have to offer online, and then visit those stores in person.

    Best tip is probably asking one of the customer service folks for help. :)

  3. Bill, this was such an interesting post. It sounds to me as if, perhaps, large stores are better staffed where you live than the ones here in California. I can’t count the times I’ve spent wandering around aisles of big places like K-Mart looking for some help finding something and there is just no one there. Your experience sounded a lot better than this.

    It’s fascinating to apply the web laws of good navigation to a physical store. I hadn’t ever considered this before.

    You Are Here maps (rather like breadcrumb navigation) are a big help in large places, but mostly I see these in malls. Perhaps individual stores could have very detailed You Are Here maps for their customers about where to find what in stores?

    Neat post, and best wishes to your niece!
    Miriam

  4. Bill,
    Asking for help, that’s the easy way out. I like to figure things out and understand the purpose behind things.

    I would also contend that with all of the studying done on store layout, there is probably more to be learned. I think that integrating a store layout online would help people to understand the layout and make it easier to find what they are looking for. Placing the potential point of failure on a part-time or undervalued employee can be a big mistake.

    Offering a potential customer a layout before they arrive at the store can really make a customer feel more comfortable. I am sure that there will be a lot of people like you and I that have little to no experience in this type of environment.

  5. Thanks, Miriam.

    I think that some stores are better staffed and run than others. I experience some of the same problems that you do in the local KMart – it’s hard to find help sometimes when you need it.

    I’ve also noticed kiosks in the local Borders bookstore where you can search by title, author’s name, or genre, and find out whether a book is in stock, and where it is located. I like that approach, too.

    I think I agree with you, Stephen – trying to make the integration of online and offline work as effectively as possible, without relying upon store employees is probably a good idea.

    I’d love to see a layout of the store on the website, and even a printed map of where I might need to go to pick up items on the registry would have been great. It might require a good amount of coordination between the site designers and the people setting up inside of the stores, but I suspect that it would be worth the investment of time and energy.

    Good luck with your shopping.

  6. Working in web design, SEO, and actually being a mother and pregnant on number 2 right now I enjoyed your post. One note, your niece can login to her online registry and update that you bought the book.

    Overall Babies r’ us is a good experience from a mom perspective and they integrate their marketing very well – When you register, you get free magazines and then you get targeted direct mail pieces with coupons and offers that are targeted to where your baby is at that stage. For example, when my son was 3 months, I started getting coupons for rice cereal, when he was 6 months, I started getting ads for safety gates, and so on. I actually went back and registered for the 2nd baby, not because I really needed anything, but I wanted the coupons (babies are expensive!!)

    The one area they could improve on it something that Bill touches on briefly — some items are only available in the store. It should be the other way around. Babies r’ us definitely has the best selection of the brick-and-mortar stores around me, but they could make an effort to make some “high-end” baby items available only online. Designer strollers, etc. I understand not stocking them in stores, but right now they are loosing sales to other online merchants who sell high-end strollers, wooden toys, etc. They could be capitalizing on their brand and offering these items on their website and distinguish themselves from other online competitors by offering “easy in-store returns” — Something no other online store can offer.

  7. Thanks Julie, and congratulations.

    I do think that Babies “R” Us is doing a lot of things right, and they have one of the tighter online/offline integrated marketing efforts that I’ve seen.

    That didn’t stop me from feeliing completely lost a few times in the store – it might have been easier to do my shopping solely on the web site instead of the store.

    Offering some stuff only online might not be a bad idea, especially if they decided to get into some customization. Would that be an area that Babies “R” Us would venture into?

  8. Really. Most supermarkerts (large stores) need to be handing out printed detailed maps to all entrants. Or have an extremely navigatable layout (large, black/white labels, etc).

  9. I think that the better your layout, the less likely that you need to have detailed maps. But sometimes maps are helpful.

    I do like the kiosks in some bookstores that you can use to find which shelve books might be upon.

  10. Big superstores like Babies R Us have huge inventory, and can get casual parents interested in finding high quality toys lost and scratching their head for making a decision: what should I buy??
    I run a small business dedicated to those parents looking for the best safe wooden toys and baby toys for their babies, while not spending hours sorting through a massive inventory of stuff.
    We’re using a simple nav and clear pictures, for a checkout in 3 minutes.

    Do you think small stores like mine have a chance long term and will actually attract more people, or will lose against the megastores?

  11. Hi toymom,

    That’s a question that both online and offline stores ask themselves. I think that while a large business has a number of advantages, a smaller store can make a difference by having a unique selling proposition, by paying more attention to customers and customer service, by taking advantage of more specialization that might not be profitable for a large business to try to address on a large scale.

    You say that you focus upon the “best safe” wooden toys and baby toys for children. That’s the kind of difference that can make a difference. Keep an eye open for the things that the megastores could be doing, but aren’t because they are trying to be all things to all people, and become the best at those things. Being able to understand when those opportunities are there, and taking advantage of them quickly are the advantages that you have as a small business without layers of bureacracy and slow reaction times.

  12. But it does point out a very valuable lesson for online and offline stores. If a customer or user walks into a store or on a website, is it easy for them to find what they are looking for? Store layouts are extremely important as with website architecture. Are you trying to change the behaviors of your visitors or are you adjusting to their practices.

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