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EDITORIAL 2020 saw an ecommerce boom, but could ending click & collect see that too stop?

Shopping on mobile outside the home is leading ecommerce (Image: Shutterstock)

Shopping on mobile outside the home is leading ecommerce (Image: Shutterstock)

2020 has proved to be a pivotal year for online – and especially mobile – commerce. Lockdowns have pushed more shoppers than ever to use the web and mobile for everything from getting their groceries to playing games to watching TV.

This has been a much-needed boon for many retailers, particularly pure-plays and those lucky enough to already have embraced omni-channel. In fact, for Amazon, Argos and Asos among others, it has been a huge success, with Asos for one recording the biggest growth in online traffic of all UK ecommerce brands in 2020, according to research.

For Amazon and Asos this has seen profits grow and helped them weather these difficult times better than many. Asos added 1.1million new users and sold a dress every two seconds during December.

However, for many retailers that until 2020 relied almost entirely on stores, things have been less kind – and it could all be about to get worse.

Many bricks and clicks retailers have for many years relied on using the web and store in combination, leading many to turn to click & collect-style services to plug the retail gap. That now could all be coming to an end as the latest lockdown really starts to bite and government is putting more pressure on closing out as many stores deemed non-essential as possible.

Of course, the logic is sound: coronavirus cases are rocketing and the new variant makes even outside mingling potentially very much more risky. But does closing down click & collect help?

For many retailers, click & collect is a vital lifeline. It allows them to continue to trade and make some money and hopefully tick over until they can release all that pent-up demand for real world retail when things can open up again.

For many shoppers, too, it allows them have some access to buying things they need. While food and medicines are clearly essential, if my kettle breaks, or my TV, or any one of a thousand things we now rely on to while away the locked down days, finding a replacement is, to me, essential. And for some things, click & collect is clearly the way to service this need.

While there are a raft of reports out this week detailing how online everyone has become, it is hard to find within them any sense of how much of that online selling involved some sort of click and collect or curb-side pick-up or similar. Surely it can’t all be being delivered by my postman?

According to IMRG around a third of online retail in 2020 was some sort of click & collect, while primary research from RetailX reveals that 54% of the UK Top500 have click & collect as of November and that it’s most prevalent among retailers selling cosmetics (59%) and least prevalent among retailers selling automotive goods (28%). Closing down this channel to market is going to have a profound impact on retailers. Is closing down click & collect services going to really help anyone? It has become an essential part of retail and perhaps should remain in place, so long as it is done carefully.

Can it be done safely? Hopefully, yes. If supermarkets can open and operate safely – face masks, distancing, one-way-systems and traffic light systems – then surely click & collect can be made to work?

To my mind it is focussing on the wrong things: driving a few miles to have a walk away from lots of other people is surely safer than roaming the crowded streets of the town? Similarly, carefully controlled access to click & collect is safer than everyone queuing to get into the nearest superstore to browse all those kettles.

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