Multichannel Retail Push On Full Display This Holiday

You can see it at Sears, where holiday ads entice Web-savvy moms to do all their shopping online, but retrieve orders at the store, saving time and shipping costs. Or at RadioShack, which last week announced that 1,300 neighborhood stores would participate in its "Ship-to-Store" pilot program. In fact, some mainline retailers are so skillfully marketing their clicks-and-mortar strategy that Best Buy last week even sweetened its in-store pick-up deal with something practically unheard of in America's overcrowded shopping centers: Special parking spots for its Web customers.

Finally, it seems, mainline retailers are actively courting consumers across multiple sales channels.

The strategy isn't new. Electronics retailers--including Circuit City, Best Buy, and CompUSA--pioneered clicks-and-mortar programs years ago, which makes sense: Most consumer fears about online shopping have to do with shipping, especially when it comes to expensive electronics.

In-store pickup makes returns easier, saves the customer shipping costs, and still spares the tortures of actually shopping.

According to Internet Retailer, a survey of in-store pickup counters conducted in the third quarter found that store employees retrieve 68 percent of orders made online in less than a minute, with an average in-store wait time of only 3.64 minutes.

But it's companies like J.C. Penney that retail observers think are really leading the charge. Says Richard Feinberg, director of Purdue University's Center for Consumer-Driven Quality: "These retailers understand that you have to be where the customer wants you, when they want you." More than ever, these retailers understand that as many as 75 percent of all purchases are researched online, according to Purdue's data.

All Web visits may not generate online sales, but they do contribute to in-store sales, he said, adding that catalogs are also a key part of the mix.

"We would have thought that retailers would get rid of catalogs as the Web got stronger, but now we find that catalogs drive Web traffic, too."

Next up, Feinberg said, will be retailers figuring out how to leverage wireless communications: "More than 200 million Americans have cell phones, and they don't have their computers with them at all times."