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Guest comment: The rise and rise of Click & Collect

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Sophie Albizua - cofounder of eNova Partnership

by Sophie Albizua

It is official: Click & Collect has made it to the forefront of the retail scene. No longer an optional extra to boost eCommerce growth, it is finally taking the pivotal role it deserves in retailers’ strategy, with the likes of New Look announcing it will be “the biggest driver of sales within the next three years”. Not only is click and collect take-up accelerating at an unprecedented rate, but it is evolving and venturing into new categories as more and more businesses aspire to reap the rewards of one of the most effective tools in staying at the forefront of the growth pack. A world of challenges and opportunities await for retailers as they embrace, adapt and enjoy the rewards of this deceptively simple concept.

In an increasingly challenging retail environment, the uptake of C&C should not come as a great surprise. Argos, the first to introduce the service a decade ago, with click and collect sales of around £1bn, is no longer the only example of success. Halfords, John Lewis and M&S are some of the many businesses who now have the sales figures to demonstrate that it is one of the most proven ways to embrace multichannel retailing.

The bug is spreading amongst UK retailers with many big brands announcing they will be launching the service to their customers. High street retailer New Look has announced it will be pushing Click & Collect out among 600 stores nationwide next year, top UK department store John Lewis is doubling its Click & Collect collection points with an additional 60 Waitrose stores to pick up from, and fashion retailer Reiss has announced it will launch just in time for the peak Christmas trading period.

Whilst click and collect success stories abound, the simplicity of the concept hides a minefield of nuances and complexities. Firstly, from a customer point of view: ensuring that the pick up location is clearly identified, that the collection process is smooth and staff informed, and that returns are processed effortlessly. Secondly, from an operational point of view: store or central warehouse fulfilment, online or in-store payment, staff training and sale attribution to name but a few, are to be carefully thought through for click and collect to succeed.

Now the trend is spreading wider than clothing and goods. Marks & Spencer has become the second retailer in the UK to venture into Click & Collect for food, after Tesco launched its own service for groceries over the summer.

This takes the concept of Click & Collect to a whole new level. It is no longer simply wrapping up a dress or finding a place to store a television ready for collection: food presents a whole host of new complications. For example, where to store fresh or frozen products, how long to store items for, how to deal with substitutions.

On paper, click and collect for food is as good an idea as it sounds. With online food retailing representing over £5bn of sales and click and collect penetration typically between 20 and 80%, the numbers speak for themselves. But in practice, will it work? The complexities associated with food C&C could get in the way of the customer experience which, in the short term, could prevent these services from achieving the success they would deserve on paper.

Both Tesco and Marks & Spencer’s services operate on a scheduled time-slot basis. You have to be at your collection point (Tesco has a drive-thru area at the back of its stores so customers don’t actually have to go into the shop) within a 1.5 to two hour timeframe or you run the risk of your order being either unavailable, or returned to the shelves. If you are ordering something very specific, like a birthday cake, and the key to your satisfaction is availability as opposed to convenience, then click and collect with a time-slot might work for you. If you’re doing the weekly shopping, however, is a fixed pick-up timeslot a great service or a hindrance?

The fact customers are asking for ever-tighter fixed delivery slots for home delivery doesn’t mean that they would want the same for click and collect. In fact I would argue that home deliveries and Click & Collect work in diametrically opposed ways: as a customer opting for home delivery you want a tight timeslot because you don’t want to be sitting around at home all day waiting for your groceries. Click & Collect works for the opposite reason – the convenience of knowing you can pop by at any time of your convenience and your product will be there waiting for you.

The substitution issue inherent to food remains for C&C orders. Tesco put all substituted items into different coloured bags so you can decide there and then what you want to do with them. But it poses the question: what’s better – processing a refund, parking your car, going inside the store to buy new substitutes yourself, or going in store to make these choices by yourself in the first place? The M&S offering, limited to themed ranges and a very tight dining offering, removes that headache – there are no substitutes.

Then comes the issue of costs. Tesco charges a minimum of £2 per food Click & Collect order. There is of course no doubt that having orders individually picked and separately refrigerated costs extra time and money, but will the customer who is used to picking up all his non-food items for free understand this?

Click & Collect can be, and will be, a phenomenal driver of sales and customer satisfaction, but as with everything in retail, it’s all about the detail. It needs to answer customers’ convenience demands flawlessly with any disappointment hurting disproportionately in the digital age. From that point of view, to venture into food C&C is brave and Tesco and Marks and Spencer should be applauded for trialling it.

Food C&C is in its infancy and will no doubt one day follow the successful path of its non-food counterpart – For this to happen though, customer demands will need to win over any internal, logistical or financial constraint driving customer experience. And there is no doubt it will over time, as once it does, customers will not even consider the alternative.

Sophie Albizua is co-founder and director of eNova

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