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GUEST COMMENT In convenience: is click and commute changing the face of UK retail?

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Polishing up multichannel means making life easier for customers. So what can retailers introduce to get people spending more online and instore?

The ‘click and commute’ model is shining a light on the 72% increase in the last decade of commuters who travel for more than two hours a day across the UK. Large train stations in popular working cities are introducing retail touchpoints, with John Lewis getting things started at its central London St Pancras station store in 2014. It put click and collect, returns and delivery right in front of customers on their way to and from work.

John Lewis predicts 50% of its UK sales will take place online this year – that’s an incredible opportunity the brand has cleverly capitalised on. At St Pancras you can pick up your order, and while you’re there you might browse and buy more things in-store.

With three million people frequenting busy stations throughout the week, click and commute has the power to change the face of UK retail. But only a handful of large brands, including Argos and French Connection have since followed John Lewis’ initiative of opening small stores dedicated to pure convenience.

Click and commute is a pretty good term. It’s all about convenience for the customer and driving trade for the retailer. As internet shopping grows, retailers must look at how they can maintain store traffic.

Convenience is fast becoming a logistics focus. Questions such as “if I order it tonight, can I wear it tomorrow?” feature on the evolved shopper’s checklist. Large numbers don’t want their shopping delivered to work. Companies are refusing to accept personal parcels – many big firms, universities and government departments have banned employees from receiving them at their place of business.

Doddle , the dedicated parcel shop currently present in or very near 44 major commuter stations, is making a much-needed dent in the convenience market, partnering with a number of retailers including Amazon , Net-a-Porter and Wiggle to make receiving and returning orders easy.

While the click and commute opportunity is huge, retail convenience isn’t limited to touch points or dedicated parcel hubs – these will be viable and successful in very large cities where people commute into one or two stations.

Retailers will continue to widen the number of convenient spots points where customers can collect products they’ve bought online, increasing accessibility and encouraging sales instore.

Turning supermarkets into parcel collection centres is the next logical step – culture is such that people are now stocking up on groceries two or three times a week. You’ll pick up your delivery while browsing the aisles or collecting your online order.

The big four are all looking at ways to review their offerings. They’re thinking: what can we do to bring more shoppers instore? How can we offload the cost of store overheads?

Asda now partners with French sports chain Decathlon , which has taken space in 12 stores. Argos and Sainsbury’s collaboration is another example, while Morrison’s signed a deal with InPost two years ago placing lockers instore where parcel deliveries from other retailers can be safely retrieved.

Brand tie-ups and parcel hubs in supermarkets will continue to grow. I see Tesco , for instance, in the future having an area of parcel delivery points. After they’ve been at work all day, customers will be able to pick up orders while buying dinner.

John Lewis appears to have the convenience angle sewn up – get your parcel from Waitrose if it’s more convenient, and browse while you’re instore. The brand knows that encouraging footfall in the multichannel journey means more money spent.

One idea that hasn’t taken off is collecting grocery orders from lockers at London underground stations. Most supermarkets have called time on this idea after a mixed reception.

Six years’ on since Tesco entered the word of customer convenience by introducing one of the first ever click and collect services, there’s still a gap for working individuals receiving deliveries – parcels languish as Royal Mail’s offices shut by the time work has finished.

The simple fact is that when Royal Mail attempts to deliver a huge number of parcels to individuals’ houses each day, they’re out at work. A card through the door asking you to come and get your parcel is no good if local office opening hours are 8am to 5pm. Of course times vary, but is that customer service for a vast number of commuters across the UK? No.

The Post Office has historically thought like a letter and parcel business that people use to send things. It’s only just begun to understand convenience, having been forced to transform itself into a retailer after government subsidies were withdrawn.

Today’s consumer, however, doesn’t really have any view on that. They have only two questions: “What do I want, and how do I want to be served?”

Local Collect, the Post Office’s click and collect offering where consumers arrange to have parcels from online retailers delivered to a local branch, was only considered in 2013 despite the huge rise of online shopping in the UK over the last decade.

Collect Plus , which launched in 2011, is a prime example of the type of service Royal Mail should have been offering far sooner, having utilised almost 6,000 small local shops across the country to allow consumers to pick orders up and return items.

Despite leisurely progress click and commute, in its numerous guises, will play a big part in the future of retail. We’ll see more brands opening up shop, expanding across stations in big cities. Many will continue to observe, but the convenience model has been reinvented – those slow to market are already missing out.

David Brint is CEO of studio workflow software specialist SpinMe

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