Exclusive Q&A: Michaels evolves omnichannel for COVID-19 and beyond

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Dan Berthiaume profile picture

The Michaels Cos. has been launching new omnichannel services in response to the pandemic, and will maintain its digital focus throughout recovery.

Richard Armour, senior VP, e-commerce at The Michaels Companies, recently spoke with Chain Store Age about how the leading arts and crafts retailer quickly developed and introduced a wide variety of omnichannel offerings as COVID-19 necessitated store closings. In addition, Armour outlined how Michaels is supporting store reopenings with omnichannel technology, and plans to continue relying on omnichannel as a key component of its customer experience. 

How did Michaels initially use technology to react to the impact of COVID-19?
With the full support of our CEO and our larger executive team, we quickly evolved our omnichannel capabilities so that we could continue offering our merchandise to our customers in various ways. Buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) was a program that already existed at Michaels, but as the pandemic set in, we worked quickly across our teams to reduce friction points so that it would be a smoother operation for our stores and our customers.
We piloted a curbside pickup program in April that allowed our customers to order their merchandise online and pick-up their items curbside, from outside our stores. We went from pilot mode to full launch across the chain in one week. The initial launch required customers to call the store when they were outside so that our associates could bring their purchases to their car. 

We analyzed results and customer feedback and tweaked the program in July to allow customers to use our app, as opposed to calling the stores, to notify stores that they were outside. This cut down time on both ends, making the service more efficient.
We were also able to help our distribution centers quickly fulfill e-commerce orders directly from stores through our ship-from-store feature. Like BOPIS, this program was already in place at a select number of stores before the pandemic, and we were able to increase the program offering from 350 stores to over 1,000 stores at the start of the pandemic. This was especially important at the beginning of the pandemic, when many of our stores were closed to the public.
Understanding that customers were hesitant to leave their home to shop, we partnered with a delivery technology company, Delivery Solutions, in an effort to easily connect with delivery partners DoorDash and Roadie, and launched a pilot program in June to see if same-day delivery would be an option that customers would want from us. We received extremely positive feedback and rolled the option out to stores across the chain within a few weeks of the pilot.
Through BOPIS, ship-from-store, curbside pickup and same-day-delivery, we were able to utilize 80% of our stores early on in the pandemic which allowed us to meet demand while keeping many of our associates employed.
As the pandemic continued, did Michaels change, enhance or add to its tech response?
We remained laser-focused on supporting our customers by providing easy-to-use and accessible resources that fostered a sense of comfort amid the stress and uncertainty of what was going on in the world. In addition to rolling out our curbside pick-up service and same-day-delivery, we worked with our IT partners to launch in-app purchase capabilities for our customers through the Michaels app.
Additionally, at the beginning of the holiday season, we enhanced the digital experience for customers and promoted Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales online a week earlier than we have done in the past. These decisions resulted in over 70% of sales through BOPIS and was one of the most successful e-commerce weeks in the company’s history.
How has Michaels used technology to help adapt to the reopening of physical stores?
Giving our customers more options and a frictionless shopping experience whether in stores or online helped the company better prepare for extremely high demand. As the pandemic continues, our diverse omnichannel services allow customers to continue to shop for the products they need in a way that is most comfortable to them.
Are there future plans you can discuss for 2021 as pandemic relief is expected for the second half of the year?
In 2021, we will continue to invest in our robust suite of digital capabilities, further enhancing our digital shopping experience and laying the foundation for future strategic initiatives that will connect content, commerce and community. We plan to accomplish this by focusing on expanding our product assortment for customers, as well as update our e-commerce platform to continue to reduce friction.