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EDITORIAL Consumers shout hybrid – but are retailers listening?

Consumers have fully embraced omnichannel retailing and are committed hybrid shoppers who seamlessly combine digital and physical retail, a number of studies out this week show – but this has some challenging repercussions for retailers.

According to a UK study of 6000 shoppers and 400 retailers, 70% of shoppers prefer a hybrid of both in-store and online, 20% in-store and 10% online. Both online (63%) and in-store (45%) shoppers conduct research online prior to purchasing. Within this, they are using mobile to go online in store to look at price comparisons (66%), product reviews (62%), advice from friends/family (31%), and product demos (25%).

A separate report, which talked to shoppers globally, 28% of shoppers expect to shop mainly online this Christmas, but 60% say they will be hybrid shoppers – again demonstrating that consumers have very much returned to physical retail, only having researched online at home and then clutching their mobile as they waltz in through the door.

All good news, what with Springboard’s September footfall figures showing that for the third month in a row, footfall’s slow rise has slowed – this time to just 6.8% for the month. This is, however, some 9.5% higher than the same time in 2019, says Springboard – something that in part at least can be attributed to the lure of hybrid shopping.

Much of this hybrid growth is down to click and collect. According to another study, this facet of the omnichannel retail model is set to reach £42bn this year, accounting for 8.4% of the industry’s total annual income.

However, retailers are struggling to make this work for them. Yet another report this week points to some 52% of retailers not being able to turn a profit by fulfilling from stores.

More than half (54%) of UK retailers have increased store staffing to allow them to pick and pack online orders fulfilled from the store, with almost a quarter (23%) saying staff are having to perform more tasks to service ecommerce orders at store level.

However, fewer than half (48%) say they are currently fulfilling online orders from the store profitably.  And, while almost three in ten (27%) expect to return a profit from ecommerce orders fulfilled via bricks-and-mortar networks within a year, 5% say they don’t expect ever to be able to achieve profitability with these types of orders. 

Charging for Click and Collect also seems to increasingly be less of an option. John Lewis this week suspended its Click and Collect charges until 19 October in a bid to encourage shoppers to pre-order for Christmas. 

But many in the industry – along with most consumers – believe that axing these fees should be for life, not just for Christmas.

According to delivery company ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT: “One must wonder why John Lewis feels the need to charge £2 to customers picking up an online order in person, when the opportunity for increased sales from customers visiting stores to pick up their goods is likely to encourage further purchases.

“At least John Lewis has dropped fees for now. Other stores are grimly sticking with them, often with quite complex fee structures. For example, shoppers with New Look are offered free next-day click and collect for orders over £34.99 or face a charge of £2.99. Alternatively, if they are prepared to wait for three to five days, they only have to pay £1.99, or nothing at all if they have spent over £19.99. That’s quite a smorgasbord of options. Next, meanwhile, states: ‘At times of peak trade, we may charge 25p for the Next Day To Store service’. That feels as if the fashion retailer is cutting off its nose to spite its face. Why risk annoying customers for such a small sum?”

This confusion variety of fees – and the very concept of fees at all – on click and collect shows just how far apart retailers and their customers appear to be around the hybrid model. The many research reports out this week clearly show that consumers want to be hybrid; they want to research and even buy online, collect in store and, often, do further research and buy other things using their mobile while they are there. 

By charging for this, consumers will be put off. This will see footfall drop at a time when it should be growing and only adds to the growing feeling that retailers, beleaguered as they may be, simply aren’t listening to their customers.

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