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How click and collect and returns fit into M&S’ ambition to make a third of its sales online

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Getting online orders to shoppers quickly is key for Marks & Spencer (M&S) as it looks to expand its online shopping over coming years. But challenges for the multichannel retailer, ranked Leading in IRUK Top500 research, include customer expectations of delivery, collection and returns, as it works towards its target of making a third of its sales online. Currently 20% of transactions take place over the internet. 

“Distance and time are the two variables we know we have to focus on,” said Neil Phillips, head of digital retail operations at M&S  “No-one’s managed to teleport yet, so understanding what’s more important to the customer is critical to success. Do they want an earlier order cut off or an earlier pick-up time? Next day is now pretty standard now – it’s expected. We’ve tried to push the limits on some cut-off times, and we recently introduced next-day delivery to Northern Ireland and the Highlands. It’s about focusing on time. We’re still shipping from the central warehouse but we’ve looked at where we can shave time out of the operation to make next-day delivery.” But, said Phillips, speaking alongside Doddle chief technology officer Gary O’Connor at Retail Expo this week, picking from stores is now “crucial to retailers’ success if we want to reduce distance and improve time.”

How stores fit into M&S’ online ambitions

Currently almost 75% of all online orders are collected in a store, and a third of those collections are picked up from Simply Food stores. In total it has 560 owned stores, where shoppers can collect or return a parcel, and 130 franchised stores where shoppers can collect an item. Currently 60 of its stores fulfil in-store orders, enabling click and collect orders to be fulfilled from the store where shoppers want to collect, where stock is available. The up-to-date in-stock status is monitored through the use of RFID, which can also help locate an item within the store.

Since 2017 the retailer has used Doddle to power its in-store collections and over the last year it has joined its beta programme for self-service returns. It now uses technology to make sure that items don’t get stuck into a store – especially relatively quiet stores – where they could be shipped online. 

Over time, M&S’ attitude towards click and collect has changed, says Phillips. No longer is the click and collect desk situated on the third floor, up several escalators and requiring shoppers to walk past many potential purchases so that by the time they arrive “we’ve created an average basket that is through the roof.” Today it’s about speed and convenience, with collection desks in new and refitted stores on the ground floor. “We’re spinning this journey on its head: actually I’ve arrived at the collection point, I’ve collected the parcel and I’m surprised at how fast it’s taken, then I’m in a better frame of mind to make that additionally purchase and perhaps go and browse the store.” M&S uses in-store apps for staff to help make the click and collect process fast and easy, and says store managers know their NPS scores and work to improve them. 

Returns as part of the click and collect process

It’s not possible to divorce delivery from returns, said Doddle’s O’Connor. “Retailers can draw a clear line between the speed of fulfilment and the likelihood of its coming back,” he says. “The faster I get it to you, the more likely you are to keep it.”

But when shoppers did return an item, many wanted to return it to a store, including Simply Food stores. But at M&S says Phillips, many of its stores, especially those Simply Food branches, are not suited to storing large amounts of stock. By using the Doddle platform, it’s now easier to notify carriers that there are returns to be collected and move them on quickly in order both to free up space in the store and to get items back on sale. “Anecdotally in the trial,” says Philips, “through introducing Simply Food returns we saw an increase in frequency of ordering – customers shopping frequently, ordering online quicker but because they had confidence in being able to return. We saw returns coming back quicker.” Indeed, its new format stores now have fitting rooms at the collection point so that shoppers can try on and then return an item straightaway.

Doddle’s O’Connor says it hears from customers that both the time to decide and the time to process are important – and that it’s aiming to reduce both. “Digitisation means instant refunds, electronic returns and items are back on sale quickly. The focus is to get the item back, not spend time in the queue, hence returning items to self-service kiosks.”

Image InternetRetailing Media/Paul Skeldon

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