The increasing popularity of click and collect, the piece argued, will create huge pressures on retailers. The pressures the article talks about are the costs of, and resources required by, picking and shipping online orders to the retailers’ own stores.It’s an odd article. It conflates food and non-food shopping, and doesn’t seem to acknowledge the role of click and collect in relieving the bottleneck of home delivery. But for all that, it makes some interesting observations. Chiefly that click and collect is very popular with shoppers, is not a cost-free option for retailers and is in a state of ongoing refinement. Which, and let’s be brutally honest here, we all already knew. Setting aside all glibness, there are some fundamentals worth keeping at the forefront of your thoughts where this topic is concerned. For example, there’s a finite number of roads; whether we’re talking about the UK, Europe or globally. And on that finite number of roads you can only fit a certain amount of traffic – particularly here in the UK where it never seems to take much for a traffic jam to break out. Similarly, there’s a finite number of warehouse space and a limited number of people to work in it. In the aftermath of last year’s Black Friday/Cyber Monday mega-weekend, Yodel ended up with 600,000 more parcels than anticipated. To clear a backlog like that would have meant hiring an additional 5,000 staff – just for a few days. There simply aren’t 5,000 people out there waiting to be hired for a week to put their extensive delivery experience to good use. That spare capacity doesn’t exist. Finite, you see. By comparison, you, me, all of us, we can shop online whenever and wherever we want; ecommerce is a 24×7 affair, has been for years and that won’t change. In 2014, 76 per cent of the UK’s adult population – 38 million people – accessed the internet. They might not all have been shopping, but that’s a lot of potential for ecommerce. All of which, every single order, has to make its way along the same network of warehouses, pickers, vans, delivery drivers, and so on. The numbers of parcels being sent to collection points and outlets, and to in-store click and collect counters, is a small proportion of the overall one billion parcels expected to ship in 2015. But it will continue to grow as shoppers favour delivery and collection that marches to the beat of their drum. John Lewis is now going to charge a fee of £2 for low value click and collect orders. That might not go down overly-well with customers who routinely have small orders shipped to their local Waitrose. But it reflects a much-needed change in the way retail delivery presents itself – it’s not just a function of overalls and trucks, it’s a value-add (or at least it can be) and it needs to be seen as such. There’s no perceived value in things that are free; you might be happy to receive something that’s free, but you won’t necessarily cherish or value it. Charging for click and collect from in-store locations might be seen as a bit of a taboo to some. But as long as it is combined with a degree of flexibility, gives a choice of time and location, and remains priced competitively with home delivery, it makes good commercial sense to show customers the value of the service. And if it encourages them to bundle their shopping and place larger orders, so much the better for the retailer.
Ian Jindal is co-founder of InternetRetailing.
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