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Bridge the gap between store and online

On-the-go shoppers are now using mobile to connect the store with the online experience, writes Martin Shaw, RetailX head of research.

The growing popularity of mobile shopping has powered cross-channel services that now give shoppers real flexibility in the way they buy. Initially, customers were able to buy online and collect in store.

Then a growing cohort of retailers enabled shoppers to return online orders to a shop. At the same time, the fast development of mobile websites and apps has enabled shoppers to connect their own online and store-based customer experiences, using a retailer’s app or mobile website to check store locations and stock levels before they make the journey to the store.

Together, these services and functionalities have created a foundation on which leading retailers in this Mobile & Cross-channel Performance Dimension are now building for the future. In the research underpinning this Dimension, RetailX researchers explore that evolution by mapping some of the increasingly sophisticated services that are now available to help shoppers bridge the gap between website and store.

In doing so, we have found that mobile and cross-channel services are broadly becoming more sophisticated. While, for example, click-and-collect used to be the exception rather than the rule, most IRUK Top500 retailers now offer the service, while many are improving on it with the addition of, for example, same-day pick up, while a few are working to offer it even faster.

In this latest 2018 edition of this research, we have returned to metrics that we’ve previously used in order to assess how performance is developing around cross-channel services, and functionality and performance in mobile websites and apps. We have asked questions such as: are mobile websites connecting shoppers with information faster than they were last year? Do more retailers now allow customers to check an item is in stock before they make the journey to the store?

To that we have added new metrics in order to understand how retailers are improving on existing services and introducing new and innovative services. As a result of this, we are seeing how retail practice is developing in this Dimension. This year, and for the first time, we’ve investigated how speedily shoppers can collect their online orders from a store and how much it costs them.

We’ve broadened our scope to look at some of the new locations where retailers now enable customers to return their online orders. We’ve also considered what role emerging technologies play in retail. For example, do Top500 retailers use AR in their iOS mobile apps?

What the Top500 do: collection and returns

The research suggests steady growth in the uptake of collection services among leading UK traders. In 2018, 62% of IRUK Top500 retailers enabled shoppers to pick up their online orders in-store. That’s up from 57% in 2017.

Fewer (14%) offer reserve and collect, a service that means shoppers don’t have to pay for an item until they pick it up. It may be that this service has less uptake because payment is not made until the item is collected, implying a lower level of commitment on the part of the customer and higher levels of abandoned orders. However, in our assessment, we judge that reserve and collect offers customers more choice.

Those retailers that offer collection from store do so from a median of 50 stores and take a median of three days to fulfil the order for collection. There seems to be a general move towards offering faster collection services. For the first time, RetailX research shows that a significant minority are beating the three-day median, with 44% enabling next-day pick-up, and 22% same-day.

Having lockers in store for shoppers to pick up their item can make for a convenient service but in 2018, it’s not one that is widely found. RetailX research found this service was available from only 1%, or 5, of the Top500 retailers.

Most retailers appear to absorb the cost of offering click and collect services, perhaps because they see this as vital in order to compete. The median charge is £0, while the average fee is 83p, reflecting a decision by a minority of retailers to pass on the cost.

Our analysis suggests that returns are becoming more flexible, with more retailers now able to accept orders back in a channel other than that in which it was purchased. Almost half (46%) of Top500 retailers enable shoppers to return their online orders to a store. More than a quarter (26%) enable returns via a third party location, up from 24% a year earlier.

What the Top500 do: mobile apps and websites

In 2018, RetailX research has found, more Top500 retailers have mobile apps. Almost half (49%) have iOS apps. The figure is up by seven percentage points from 2017, when 42% had them. Slightly fewer (46%) have an Android app – up by eight percentage points from 38% in 2017.

Some features have become more common through this proliferation of apps, while others have become less popular. This is because new apps are likely to have fewer features than those that have been developed and then subsequently improved over a number of years.

We looked in more detail at retailers’ iOS apps. It makes more sense to look in detail at these since they are more commonly found than Android apps and because where retailers have both, they tend to replicate the experience.

We found that more than half (57%) of iOS apps are transactional, with native shopping – which allows the full transaction to take place in the app rather than going through to a website – available in 26%. Both figures are down from 2017, when 64% were transactional and native shopping was offered by 35% of retailers.

Enabling shoppers to see if an item is in stock in the right size or colour can save them a wasted trip to a store. This useful feature has become more popular in 2018.

This year more mobile apps feature store stock checkers (23%) than in 2017 (18%). Fewer, however, had store finders (42% from 48% in 2017). Slightly fewer used push notifications (52% from 54% in 2018). As already mentioned, this is likely to reflect the greater number of mobile apps available in 2018.

Fewer apps have a serious bug, at 18% in 2018, down from 29% in 2017.
It’s clear from the figures that some cutting-edge features set retailers apart: only 3% offered augmented reality in their mobile apps.

When shoppers visit a retail website from their mobile phone, they get a result even if the retailer has not optimised that site for mobile. Leading retailers are now ensuring their websites work well from mobile device and offer multichannel services and, in 2018, RetailX research assesses the availability of store finders and stock visibility via the mobile web.

The team found that 34% of mobile websites enable customers to see stock levels, and that 20% enable them to check whether an item is available in store. More than half (58%) of mobile websites feature a store finder.

We judge that the speed at which mobile websites download is a fundamental part of the service that retailers offer to their customers. It’s well-documented that customers move on when a mobile website doesn’t load quickly, so leading retailers are putting great effort into ensuring that their sites do. Across the Top500, we found that mobile websites download in a median of 8.8s, starting to render in 2s and become visually complete in 7.2s.

Average site speeds are slower than in 2017, when sites downloaded in 7.4s and were visually complete in 6.3s. However, the start of render has stayed similar at 2.1s. Sites are probably 18% slower to render because they are 20% larger, at 2.6MB, up from 1.8MB in 2017.

What the leaders do

Argos and Screwfix both stand out for a mobile and cross-channel performance that includes offering reserve and collect alongside same-day collection. Shoppers using their mobile apps can check stock, while they are both among the 23% of iOS apps that offer additional stock checking features.

Apple is among the leaders in this Dimension, with a suite of services that include same day collection and extra stock checking functionality alongside store-owned collection lockers.

Dunelm offers same-day collection alongside reserve and collect. It is one of the 26% of Top500 retailers that enable shoppers to return an item via drop-off at a third party location.

Sainsbury’s detailed mobile performance includes the use of native shopping from its app, a store finder, extra stock checking features and return via a third-party drop-off point.

Wickes’ flexible service offers same-day collection, returns via a third party site, as well as visibility of stock and a store finder in its mobile app.

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