In the wake of the 2014 year-end peak, click and collect was said by many to have saved Christmas. Sean Fleming, Editor of eDelivery.net investigates whether it’s ready for peak 2016.
CLICK AND collect saved Christmas 2014 – or it did at least save many retailers’ ailing home delivery networks, which were struggling under the combined weight of Christmas and the biggest Black Friday the UK had ever seen.
A year on from all the plaudits and praise, however, things took a different turn. During the following year’s peak, customers started complaining that they were having to wait too long at in-store collection points, and were being served by over-burdened staff who couldn’t always find their parcel. This was partly, if not almost entirely, caused by the enormous growth in the popularity of click and collect; more customers were using it than had been anticipated, and consequently capacity constraints were starting to show.
What does this mean for the future of in-store click and collect? It remains a popular option and there’s no reason to expect that by the time Black Friday and Christmas 2016 get here it won’t be even more widely used. One thing is certain though, and that’s that customers won’t continue to put up with poor service. With as many as 25% of click and collect orders never actually being collected, according to Liam Chennels, Head of Commercial at eBay-owned fast-delivery specialist Shutl, you can’t gamble on shoppers’ infinite forbearance. Long queues could mean people walking out and maybe looking elsewhere for the item they’ve already ordered from you, then cancelling their order.
“The reason click and collect went down so well in the first place was the choice it gave to customers. But people want more innovation,” Chennells says.
Last year, Shutl helped River Island debut a ‘click-and-don’t-collect’ service that means customers don’t even need to go to pick up their purchases from the store, they can be collected and delivered by Shutl instead; a demand economy take on queue-busting.LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
There are plenty of examples of how click and collect is being handled on the high street, and they can tell you a lot about where retailers’ priorities lie.
Waitrose is a firm favourite click and collect option for people shopping online with John Lewis. But while some Waitrose stores have well-staffed, well-positioned dedicated collection points, others rely on the general purpose customer service desk. Typically these are near the front of the store, meaning staff retrieving online parcels have to leave the desk, walk to the stock room – frequently at the opposite end of the store, find the parcel, and bring it back. That’s ok at quiet times of day, but becomes challenging during busy weekend periods, when people waiting for parcels are jostling for space with customers who want coffee cups, or a Quick Check scanner check-out, or any one of a host of other reasons to queue up at the customer service desk. At Christmas it can feel unbearable.
Putting a dedicated collections desk in a grocery store means sacrificing a finite resource – shop floor space. Assessing when that becomes a necessity, or even just how to make it economically viable, is not a simple job.
Many Debenhams stores are blessed with their own dedicated collection desks. As, indeed, are an increasing number of John Lewis stores. But at a Debenhams collection desk you can only collect – you can’t take your returns there. Meanwhile, at John Lewis you can do both. These disparities in the service experienced at different retailers’ collection points demonstrates that not all are putting the customer at the heart of their fulfilment strategy.
If you put your collection desk in an out of the way part of the store, handy for the stock room, you’re treating click and collect like a storage problem and you’re expecting customers to fit in with a way of working that is mostly about you. Alternatively, those retailers that sacrifice prime shop floor space, making collections obviously part of their store’s core business, and account for it not in the old yield-per-square-foot way but as part of the whole omnichannel customer journey, are making a clear statement about putting the customer first.
Footwear retailer Schuh is one of the IRUK Top 50, and has earned a great reputation through innovative delivery and collection options centred around customer expectations. Sean McKee is Head of Ecommerce and Customer Service at Schuh. His advice is clear: “Get it right for the customer and the rest of it should fall into place.”
Around 20% of Schuh online orders are routed for in-store collection, and where possible it tries to fulfil those orders from store stock, McKee says, and collections are dealt with via stores’ existing help points and order desks. “We use a part of the store that was already being used for serving and handling customer orders, so there’s no consequential loss of space and it remains part of our broader fulfilment offer.
“It’s not about yield - it’s about how it affects footfall,” he says.KEEP IT SIMPLE
Footfall is a key consideration across the English Channel, for Carrefour. Its hypermarket sites typically host several other small retail outlets, as well as banks of collection lockers. Giving people lots of reasons to visit the store location is important. Carrefour’s Maxime Taieb, Head of Methods, Solutions & Innovation for Grocery Ecommerce, feels that there is a simple rule to follow. “We’re a retailer. We have to be focused on our customers. Things have to be convenient – you have to keep them happy.”
Across France, Carrefour has 600 Drive outlets, for the collection of groceries ordered online, and it is the preferred option of online grocery shoppers. Assessing the relative success of a Drive facility, most of which are adjuncts to an existing store, means adopting a mix of old and new metrics, Taieb explains.
“With Drive, we use the same measures as with the stores but we’ve been able to add in some ecommerce metrics and perspectives too. This means we can appreciate the impact on customer behaviour of any changes or developments. The same goes for measuring the lifetime value of a customer, and we’re even able to track the customer journey from the website to the store, and from Drive to the store.
“You start by looking at dwell time, number of clicks and so on. Then you apply that to a store and you start thinking about wait time in a new way, so that you set targets and evaluate success.
“Drive customers spend more than either pure online or those who only shop in-store.”DIMENSIONS IN SPACE
The degree with which the British shopping public took click and collect to their hearts has been nothing short of exceptional, and very few could have predicted its popularity. That it caught some retailers out is perhaps not surprising. That shoppers’ took to social media to grumble about long wait times, missing parcels and so on, is only to be expected.
There is no contingency for withdrawal of a service customers have warmed to; the customer expectations bar only goes in one direction – upward. If you can’t continue to delight customers with the service and experience they receive during an in-store collection, the chances are there’s someone else out there who can.
All of which creates a tension at the heart of in-store click and collect that may even point toward the future of retail stores – when you start to ditch selling space and replace it with fulfilment space doesn’t that change the very nature of your stores? Well, yes it probably does. The one thing it doesn’t change though is your relationship with your customers, whose needs, wants, and expectations ought to be driving the strategic decisions.
The way customers interact with physical stores is already changing. You need to be part of that change, but if you’re looking at everything on the shop floor through the lens of yield-per-square-foot, you’re using 2D metrics to measure a 3D problem.