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CollectPlus CEO on being a retailer ingredient, Yodel’s reputation and being “boringly consistent”


“Boringly consistent” is the phrase that Neil Ashworth, the CEO of CollectPlus and chief commercial officer of Yodel, uses when summarising how he wants customers to perceive his business.
The internal catchphrase isn’t the most inspiring, admits Ashworth, but in its substance over style approach it strikes close to the heart of what the company believes customers really want from delivery.

For those unfamiliar with CollectPlus, it was founded in 2009 and operates a network of third party points where customers can collect online orders or drop off returns. It offers its service at online checkouts through partnerships with retailers.

Speaking to eDelivery, Ashworth starts by charting what CollectPlus is getting right – it now works with around 400 retailers and boasts a 9.7 satisfaction rating on TrustPilot.

While home delivery will continue to take the lion’s share of fulfilment for some time, CollectPlus projects third party click and collect networks to grow much faster than either home delivery or retailers’ own click and collect options.

The point is that while customers would prefer to receive their deliveries at home, they aren’t at home. Ashworth says that there are comparatively few couriers that will deliver for example on a Sunday or in the evening and with some authorities, including the Mayor of London, signalling that they may act against workplace deliveries, click and collect will retain appeal as an option.

“We recognise that customer choice drives shopping habits. Customers are chameleons – it’s never going to be one or the other, it’ll be a blend.”

The option favoured will even vary for a given consumer throughout the course of their life, with for example the over-65s being more likely to be available for home deliveries.

He describes CollectPlus as being an “ingredient” in the retailer’s portfolio of fulfilment options. The brand, therefore, needs to be strong enough to “ensure the customer knows who we are and what we stand for.” Ideally, a CollectPlus location will be the nearest option for a given consumer, but Ashworth hopes that even when this is not the case consumers will opt for it anyway.

What are the key tenets of CollectPlus’s approach? The main component appears to be data. The company can remotely measure how well individual stores in the network are performing.

The company receives 17,000 pieces of qualitative and quantitative feedback per week, for example by prompting customers who have collected a parcel to fill out a survey. There is also external feedback provided by the likes of Trustpilot and YouGov.

This allows the company to remove stores that are underperforming – as a case in point, throughout 2018 the network size remained at 7000 stores as new ones were added and poor ones were cut out. The company will follow a similar strategy this year.

One result of this use of data has been the company moving from “where customers live to where they are”. This has involved launching locations in university campuses and large workplaces and even the traditional British public house.

As Doddle CEO Tim Robinson also argued in a recent interview, convenience is about more than proximity. There’s no point in being on the right of a tube exit if the vast majority turns left, says Ashworth, by way of example.

Bu there are also things the company has changed online. On the website, location centres now show roughly what time vehicles arrive, and images of stores are now available in case customers know them by sight rather than by name.

How is this paying off? Of course it is a positive that CollectPlus has good scores, with 86% of respondents in a Money Saving Expert poll giving them either a great or ok rating.

But for Yodel, which has since December 2016 jointly owned the click and collect service with retail payment network PayPoint, this figure was only 46% compared to 54% saying it was poor.

Asked if the association with Yodel has damaged CollectPlus’s brand, Ashworth says he “hope[s] not” and that he hasn’t seen this impact.

He counters the criticism with a quote from an unnamed senior retail executive: “Yodel is very much back in the game.”

“Yodel is in the middle of a substantial turnaround – it’s come through its third successful and stable Christmas,” says Ashworth. “I don’t think there’s any other carrier that can claim that.”

He questions the reliability of surveys, saying results often vary.

“[Yodel] is a business that is re-establishing and getting credibility in the eyes of the retail community. That hasn’t translated into customer perception yet but that will come in time.”

Regardless of the status of its parent, however, CollectPlus’s trajectory seems to be a positive one.

Image credit: CollectPlus

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