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I have lost count of the number of reports about the future of the high street. What's evident is that despite all the years of eCommerce, shops still contribute around 90 per cent of retail sales (depending on which research you read). Retail is undergoing a rapid evolution, fuelled by technological changes, and as such it's a really exciting, challenging and dynamic place to work.
This means retailers are having to consider how best to transform their businesses to stay profitable. As someone who talks to retailers every working day, I see many different views and opinions about the best way forward, regularly at polar opposite ends of the spectrum.
However, I believe one area that is worth a look is the growth in click and collect, as this is an area where independent retailers can potentially differentiate from the competition.
Why click and collect?
The internet and smartphones are changing the face of retail, and one of the areas that is rapidly evolving is the rise in popularity of click and collect. Have you come across this yet, or have you considered it as part of your business plan? It could be a very interesting option for specialist independent retailers.
High street behaviour is shifting and more retailers are looking at their shops as being a part of the shopping experience rather than the whole experience. Consumers are doing research across different channels, And they're also making choices on where and when they buy and collect their goods, with click and collect becoming a popular option.
Argos attributes more than 50 per cent of its sales to multi-channel shopping - which amounts to nearly £2bn in sales. Yet its fastest growing channel is online click and collect, which now accounts for more than 30 per cent of web sales.
Shuh's Head of eCommerce, Sean McKee, says that it's now common for the brand's customers to use multiple channels throughout the purchasing process, and it sees smartphones as the biggest change to the business of recent times. The company found that a consumer shopping via a mobile device is 600 per cent more likely to reserve the product at a local store for collection. In 2012, 17,000 pairs of shoes were purchased for collection in store and 43,000 were reserved for trying on in store.
Click and collect is becoming much more important in the business and the growing use of mobile phone shopping will drive this on further. Shuh predicts that mobile will be the most popular way of buying by 2016, and the retailer is prioritising this in terms of its future planning.
Click and collect sees the boundaries between shop and internet disappearing. James Millar, Lead Consultant at Experian Retail & Property and author of its Town Centre Futures 2020 whitepaper, says the high street is becoming a bridge between online and offline as consumers freely switch between the two. Yet, the high street is still much more than a place to just collect online orders. Tradedoubler research says that 38 per cent of people who find a product on their computer or smartphone would still prefer to buy it in a shop. Therefore they may just research online and go into a store later to buy, or reserve online to view later in a store.
This underlines the importance for independent retailers to allow customers to switch between channels. By offering a click and collect service an independent retailer can:
Offer a service that its pure play competitors can't
Increase customer loyalty
Reward customer loyalty
Encourage more footfall into the shop
Encourage more face to face contact
Provide a service that consumers clearly find valuable.
What is needed to offer click and collect?
On the face of it, the technology required for click and collect is simple. You would update your shopping basket to allow a delivery option of 'collect in store', so this should be an easy add-on for any existing eCommerce website. Possibly the more challenging element for independents is the ability to integrate stock control between the website and store. You would need to ensure that stock is accurate when a customer wants to buy online and collect in store. It would not be pleasant to have a customer travel to the shop to collect an item that is no longer in stock!
Retailers need to take action to transform their businesses to take advantage of the new opportunities opening to them. The Futures 2020 report mentioned above suggests that more than half the population in 500 town centres will have become frequent online shoppers. This means more opportunity for independents to offer services like click and collect to their local market.
Independents can encourage a higher degree of customer loyalty, creating more touch points and more customer interactions. I have spoken to lots of retailers that already do this with great success, particularly when combining click and collect plus online sales with customer loyalty schemes.
David Mackley MBA BSc is Managing Director of Intelligent Retail - www.intelligentretail.co.uk - providers of multichannel EPoS and eCommerce websites for independent retailers. If you have any questions you can contact David on T: +44 (0)845 680 0126 or E: firstname.lastname@example.org