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Drowning in parcels

Drowning in parcels

Drowning in parcels

Putting technology in the hands of store associates is not only a way to help customers and to sell more but also enables staff to work more efficiently and have the tools and information to do their job better. Emma Herrod investigates how mobile is helping to optimise click and collect in store.

The number of orders placed online being collected in store is on the increase. The service has saved Christmases past as carriers and retailers struggled with the volume of sales over Black Friday. It has also enabled shoppers to collect last-minute presents on Christmas Eve with certainty. John Lewis labelled the 2015 peak as an “omnichannel Christmas” with click and collect proving to be the delivery option of choice and 56% of online orders being collected in its shops. At the same time, the busiest M&S stores were handing over 1,000 parcels a day to shoppers who had bought online.

As online has grown to become retailers’ biggest outlet, so collection desks in store have become the area recording the highest sales. Retailers, therefore, have to make sure that this works efficiently, not only to give customers a great experience at even the busiest times, but also to ensure that staff are able to carry out other parts of their role during quieter periods.

The growth of click and collect has led M&S to analyse footfall around the in-store collection area, using cctv and heat maps to understand how customers move and congregate so they can redesign it as necessary. This has resulted in the retailer locating changing rooms in the area since people have been picking up their order, trying on the clothes and returning anything that they don’t want.

Staff have been issued with mobile devices which they can use to look up customer orders. This means that neither the desktop system nor the desk is now needed. Ricky Wilson, Head of Operations, M&S, explains that parcels were originally stored in alphabetical order by customer surname but since the growth in volume they are now stored using the last three digits of the order number. Of course, customers are still asked for their name and staff can look up the order number. This has increased the speed at which parcels are found – especially in Scotland, where lots of parcels were stored under the letter ‘M’. The introduction of mobile devices also means that staff can be doing other tasks rather than waiting behind a desk in case a customer arrives.

At Asda – which has its customer collection area at the front of each store and stores parcels in different locations, from a cupboard at the customer service desk to a back room – the number of parcels for collection has increased with the launch of its toyou service. Toyou allows other retailers to use Asda as a drop-off and pick-up point for orders and returns using the supermarket’s logistics network to shift parcels between the stores and each retailer’s warehouse. Knowing that it was launching the service and that there would be an accompanying increase in parcel movements, Asda examined how it was handling its own click and collect operation in store for general merchandise and clothing orders.

Paul Anastasiou, Senior Director – Business Development, Asda Logistics and Supply Chain, says in-store staff have been issued with rugged Motorola TC55 PDAs which run a bespoke Android app to manage and track parcels into and out of the stores. The same app runs on customer kiosks in store and in drive-through locations. When a customer or staff member enters the parcel details at a kiosk, wireless paging technology notifies someone close to the parcel storage area to bring the parcel from its slot location. The average collection takes 4 minutes.

The app speeds up the collection process and allows Asda to receive deliveries effectively as each store operates a mini warehouse management system. The system will evolve to drive further efficiencies and increase the customer experience as the take-up of the toyou service increases.

Asda is also experimenting with technology which will allow customers to notify a member of staff that they have entered the store so their parcel is brought forward to the collection area. Anastasiou understands that technology, such as Wi-Fi positioning and iBeacons, will allow this to be done automatically, but he is interested in simpler mechanisms, such as email links, texts or a link in Apple Passbook. Since July, customers have been able to add their collection to Passbook so a QR code will show on the lock screen which can be scanned when they get to the collection point, rather than having to search through emails to find the details.

He believes that the future for returns also lies with mobile, since a customer could start the journey on their own phone, print a returns label in store and have the bar code scanned.


Other retailers have gone down the route of adding collection functionality to the iPads already used by staff for clientelling purposes. Store staff in Boots, for example, are able to use the same iPads as those that run the Sales Assist clientelling app, to help customers with collecting their order.

This move to mobility, with staff having access to stock data, has seen Manhattan Associates, which is better known for its warehouse and order management systems, expanding its platform to including clientelling and in-store staff services. The first customer for its Customer Engagement Platform is designer Tory Burch’s European stores. “We want to build the single application that the store associate is using continuously,” says Brian Kinsella, Director of Product Management at Manhattan Associates.

Mobile devices are also helping to optimise other areas of the store. For example, they are being used to add value and functionality over other higher costing scanners and desktop systems by putting scanning functionality and real-time data at the fingertips of the relevant people in store. Even the process of accepting parcels into the store and storing them can be speeded up by the right technology. Scandit, a supplier of mobile data capture devices to carriers, reports that the average time to capture proof of delivery with a paper-based form is almost a minute longer than using a mobile device. Multiply that by 1,000 parcels into store and then factor in reporting to customers that items are ready for collection and the time savings become obvious.

Jacob Gascoine-Becker, Associate Director at Pragma, thinks that arming store associates with wearables is a better option than iPads or phones because they are less of a distraction when dealing with customers. The optimum click and collect experience is for the store greeter to know when a person has come to the store to collect an order and to unobtrusively notify the back room that they are on their way to the collection area. The parcel can then be picked and ready for them. With the right data structure in place, the customer could be greeted by name and the store associate would know about their past purchasing behaviour and the location of different items of stock and so be able to handle the interaction appropriately.

Halfords, which sees more than 90% of online orders collected in store, improved collection rates by 1% and cut paperwork from three sheets per click and collect order to one by issuing mobile devices to staff. The company trialled a range of in-store tablets for customer use as well as phones and smartwatches to help staff pick click and collect orders.

Staff were automatically notified of incoming customers and their orders on the screens and watches. They then used their phone or smartwatch to generate a pick list, allowing them to put new orders together while they walked around the store.

Customers checked in at a touchscreen kiosk at the front of the store, confirmed their order, and were shown any relevant upsell products and told where to collect their order. They could also use the kiosk to ask for help, which paged a staff member on their phone or smartwatch. Tony Rivenell, Chief Digital Officer at Halfords, says that the company is now “using the learnings of the localised trial to inform our future strategy”.


US retailer The Container Store discovered that communication between staff and connecting with company systems doesn’t even have to be as obtrusive as a smartwatch. Its employees are using ear pieces from wearables company Theatro to talk to each other and connect with company systems to do things such as finding out about stock availability. The ear pieces also have an advantage over the walkie-talkies previously used, in that store associates can now talk only to the person they need to communicate with rather than their messages being heard by everyone.

The Container Store believes this system will reduce costs for in-store operations and boost employee efficiency. Staff will also remain “heads-up and hands-free,” comments John Thrailkill, its VP of Store Systems and Business Development.

Technology is the enabler linking data, customers and store associates, but it’s still down to the individual store associates to carry out different tasks and interact with customers. How they interact is what affects the quality of the customer experience. The helpful store associate will always be remembered over the ones chatting amongst themselves for two minutes before serving the customer, even if they manage to hand over the correct parcel.

For the retail industry as a whole, there is still a way to go before everyone is offering a click and collect or reserve and collect service, let alone making their stock and customer data available to store associates in real time. The leaders, though, are bringing the day ever closer when the parcel is ready and waiting for the customer, rather than the other way around.

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