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Insights

Free and fast click and collect: The next industry standard

Fast and free click and collect isn’t just nice to have – it’s a necessity if you want to remain competitive and keep people coming to your store.

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Free and fast click and collect: The next industry standard

Imagine a world where a new retail store opens and, to cover the initial overheads of the venture, it levies a £5 entry fee on all shoppers.

Of course, it’s ridiculous to make someone pay for the privilege of entering a store to potentially spend money – but in today’s retail environment, that’s exactly what you’re doing if you’re charging people for your in-store click and collect service.

Fast and free click and collect isn’t just a bonus to offer customers. In fact, the British market expects the service more than any of its European neighbours, and demand is only set to grow.

As per the IREU Top 500, 67% of the UK’s top 500 companies offered C&C services at the end of 2017. In fact, the UK was the only major country on the continent to beat the EU average of 64%. To stand out from this crowd, many high-street staples have already made the service completely free, whatever the cost: Argos, Next, Matalan, Marks & Spencer, Boots, River Island, Mothercare and Game are just a few who are in on the movement, whether they offer immediate collection or require a several-day wait.

We now live in an age when companies are investing heavily into an omnichannel approach that reverses the marked drops in high-street footfall by harnessing and integrating – not fighting – the power of ecommerce. As these companies take advantage of the increased expectation of free C&C by adopting it, the paid click-and-collect model will increasingly count against a retailer, especially as online-only services look to make delivery costs free, or keep them low, to compete in kind.

But aside from simple rivalry with other companies offering the service without charge, there are countless justifications for adopting a free – and, ultimately, quick – click-and-collect model. Whichever way you look at it, the pros hugely outweigh the cons.

Consumers already think they’re doing the hard work for you – and it still isn’t free

The first point is perhaps the most obvious, but also one of the most important. Simply put, the act of collecting a parcel from a store with free C&C still isn’t free for the customer.

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Admittedly, one of the core reasons many people prefer C&C is because they’re not home to take delivery; unless there’s the opportunity to name a “safe place” such as with Amazon Prime, chances are there’ll be the red slip of disappointment on the other side of the door when they get home. Nonetheless, the act of picking up a parcel from a delivery office, while frustrating, is often just as annoying as a trip to a store.

At the base level, time really is money; a customer could be sacrificing their lunch break to retrieve a package just to make sure they get it when they need it. That’s if they’re even able to make the journey on foot. While many shoppers live in towns and cities where collection might only entail a 15-minute walk – which is still a sizeable round trip – others must rely on a car or public transport, incurring travel costs, the possibility of parking charges, and the very real frustration of traffic.

You get another opportunity to sell

If you think that a C&C transaction begins with a click of a mouse and ends with the customer picking it up, you’re doing it wrong. With click and collect, you already have a captive buyer’s mentality. If you’ve already convinced someone to spend money with you, they’d do it again with the right deal – so long as it’s seamless enough in the overall shopping experience.

As we discussed in our 2018 State of Omnichannel Retail report, customers picking up a C&C order in store could spend an average of 12% more – while returns recoup added a further 18%, as you’re keeping an engaged customer in a purchase loop. Shoes don’t fit how you want them to? Here, maybe these might. Need some insoles to complete your purchase? We’ve got them in your size.

Sometimes, the upsell is easy. If you’re picking up something more unique such as a tent, there’s a good chance that plenty of other in-store items complement the order: spare tent pegs, an outdoor stove, a waterproof jacket. Other companies know that conversion in their store may require a little more cajoling for the average C&C customer, so they may offer a discount to those willing to explore the shop – a 10% voucher alongside their collection code might sweeten the deal.

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But even businesses which choose to do nothing special in store will potentially damage brand loyalty by offering a normal click-and-collect counter that costs the same price as delivery elsewhere – sometimes, even next-day delivery. If a customer has already bought the product from you, and they’ve spent time and money getting to a location they might not (or never) wander into under normal circumstances, why should they pay a third cost for a service that put them in your grasp in the first place?

C&C tracks the effectiveness of a marketing budget – and improves loyalty

On any given day, marketing departments spend vast amounts getting people to shop in-store or online, but struggle to track the source of conversion of store sales. C&C makes this difficult task a whole lot easier because the initial sale is tracked online, along with any ancillary sales appended to the transaction at the point of sale.

With click and collect, you’re closing an important gap in marketing insight. You can see how the sale was acquired – from a newsletter, PPC ad, and so on – and track a customer’s actions beyond that (analysing upsell or understanding which other products they’re interested in). Once you’ve got this information, you can remarket to this audience with specialist discounts, and use unique codes to improve your understanding of these customers, boosting loyalty and quality of service with every sale.

Opportunity knocks: Free C&C removes another barrier to purchase certainty

With free and fast click and collect, orders are a much safer bet to secure customers, whether they’re an impulse buyer or otherwise – and you only need to consider the purchase path of any standard marketing campaign to realise where custom may be lost without this service.

Say, for example, you decide to run a sale from a Monday, both online and in-store, and you have free C&C. Someone catches an ad and decides to click through, sees something they like, but home delivery may be unappealing or inconvenient. However, they can get into store on the weekend, as they were going shopping anyway.

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Fast, free click and collect will get their item in store at a time that suits them. From a business perspective, it secures the deal there and then, committing the customer to a purchase. Otherwise, you leave yourself open to a lot of sale-derailing possibilities: customers may find the product with a competitor; another personal engagement may derail their plans to shop; their personal needs may evolve; their financial situation my change during the week; or they may simply forget. Even if they do make it into the store, the one thing they had their eye on may be long gone.

With speedy, free click and collect, you break down that barrier to a sale and secure the money there and then – and take their custom off the table along with it. Customers’ attention spans are now shorter than ever, and if you get a chance to bank the spend, you’d be wise to take it.

Multichannel customers are more valuable to a retailer. They're more engaged with a brand, while their flexible approach to purchase platforms makes them more frequent shoppers. Free C&C encourages this dependable, captive audience to use stores more than online. In turn, it exposes them to new products, whether they’re related to their purchase or not, as well as the power of visual merchandising – overcoming the filters or searches they may usually limit themselves to when shopping on the internet.

With the carrot of free click and collect, customers will better explore what a store has to offer, experiencing a brand in the traditional way, and at a time when people are beginning to forget what physical stores can provide. It’s one of the few strengths of high-street retail that online platforms massively struggle to replicate; even Amazon, the powerhouse of ecommerce, is saddled with a poor search function, imperfect filters, as well as a “you may also like…” feature that often seems more like a series of guesses than informed recommendations.

Putting a human face on an otherwise faceless experience

Many customers have a simple ethos, especially with products that are sold in several places: wherever the product’s cheapest, they’ll buy it from there. But by luring people into stores with fast and free click and collect, you get more chances to showcase your brand to this captive audience – or a new customer entirely – so long as you give them a fulfilling experience. This could be through expertise, recommendations, or just high-quality customer service, but it all works.

In the simplest terms, a pleasant and helpful customer experience could not only result in a repeat order regardless of the price, but it could have people checking out your shop more often, knowing exactly what to expect from your business. This is something you can’t guarantee, and certainly don’t expect, from a delivery driver.

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Those that see paid-for click and collect as dispensation for logistical outlays are the ones that will suffer in the next round of retail closures. Right now, logistics pressure on C&C only exists due to a lack of in-store stock-check investment – and this is something that also needs to be prioritised if businesses are going to power instant reserve and collect.

These popular offerings cannot exist without fast and free C&C, which sweats store assets hard and maximises the value of omnichannel retail. What’s more, it removes constraints and pressures from distribution centres and gives the customer both certainty and convenience.

Every successful company will adapt its business based on demand, and now it’s more important than ever to carry a large and loyal customer base into your future. Companies of the present (and, sadly, past) have kicked themselves for not matching consumer demand, whether it was through the correct ecommerce strategy (if any), using a mobile-first approach during the boom in handheld devices, or simply developing their social media profile to engage with the audience they cater to.

Like these ever-evolving business, digital or omnichannel requirements, click and collect is not a fad. To stay competitive, it must be fast and free, otherwise it’s a customer tax – a tax businesses can’t afford when they’re getting fewer customers through their doors year on year.

Insights

Five years on, Black Friday still thrives in the UK – whether retailers like it or not

Black Friday is always forecast to be bigger and better than ever, and in the face of heightened online spending, high-street retailers must embrace omnichannel if they are to keep up with internet-only rivals.

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Five years on, Black Friday still thrives in the UK – whether retailers like it or not

For all the negative coverage Black Friday continues to attract from its many critics, its presence in the UK has not only endured, but steadily grown – and whether people liked it or not, it had its biggest-ever sales extravaganza on its fifth anniversary during November 2018.

Earlier in the month, Amazon announced that its Black Friday spectacular would be better than ever before, and that the big day itself would only act as an anchor; its sales period ran between November 16th and 25th, while it was all but guaranteed that Amazon would spearhead a separate event for Cyber Monday (November 26th).

This shouldn’t have been a surprise for anyone; after all, Amazon was responding to demand as well as expectation. Statistics published the year before by Barclaycard, which now processes almost half of all debit and credit card transactions in the UK, estimated that Black Friday spending had risen by 8% when compared to 2016 sales.

At the same time, analysts cited by this Guardian coverage claimed that the number of shoppers in retail parks and high streets on the day itself had dropped by 8%, in part due to prior discounting from electronics and fashion businesses.

The demand for the high-street shopping experience was once again losing out to online sales during a critical period, and while there are many reasons for this shift, the high street can’t afford to ignore the event – and must use an omnichannel strategy to maintain a grip on Black Friday and remain competitive.

Limited resistance

Black Friday was launched in the UK in 2013 by American giants Amazon and Walmart – the latter using Asda as its host – dividing public opinion immediately. Its critics were somewhat vindicated by what quickly followed.

In the first two years alone, shoppers created eye-opening scenes, whether it was a man getting pinned down in a car park outside of Bristol Asda after trying to buy two 60-inch TVs, or a stampede for 40-inch Polaroid TVs in Wembley Asda, questionably encouraged by dancing cheerleaders dressed in black.

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So it was unsurprising when Asda, uncomfortable with the bunfights it orchestrated, decided to axe its Black Friday deals ahead of 2015. By doing so, it joined a handful of retailers who decided against Black Friday from the very start, most notably Fat Face, whose chief executive Anthony Thompson called it “bonkers” and [said it was “bad for customers, […] bad for business [and] bad for UK retail”](https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-42093624).

Yet for all the negative, annual editorials about Black Friday – which still rolled in as we published this – the anti-Black Friday brigade’s high-street ranks have far from swelled. B&Q was the only major player to withdraw in 2018, after commissioning research which found that consumers were more willing to trust retailers which offer “low prices throughout the year more than those that run frequent sales”.

Yet these findings aren’t quite as damning as B&Q, a company you don’t exactly associate with a Black Friday extravaganza, makes out. If anything, the figures underline why the high street is still forced to engage with the event.

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Shoppers still see Black Friday as a must-buy day

B&Q’s research found that nearly half (46%) of shoppers didn’t plan to shop in 2018’s Black Friday sales, while a further 43% said they “often or always returned items after regretting purchases made in sales”. While these stats sound shocking on the outset, you only have to look at the inverse of the findings to find a more important trend:

  • Over half of UK consumers (54%) specifically planned to shop on Black Friday 2018 – a sales event that was only five years old in the UK.
  • While shoppers will always regret purchases, the critical 43% could potentially form all but 3% of the 46% of Black Friday cynics in the survey. It’s safe to say this isn’t the case, but regretting one purchase in, say, four is hardly a new thing in the fashion and electronics sectors – two of the biggest players on Black Friday.

The strategy of backing away from Black Friday may have worked for B&Q, a predominantly out-of-town retailer. However, huge organisations were predicting a continuing upward trend that fell in line with Barclaycard’s 2017 findings.

Same old players, brand new format

The phrase “Blackvember” may be a clunky portmanteau, but don’t be surprised if it becomes the new phrase for the sales season. As we saw in 2018, Amazon already accepted that Black Friday was just the central day of an otherwise long-running sales event.

And would you believe it, this attitude was mimicked by its former Black Friday launch partner, Asda. After famously turning its back on the day itself after all those aisle-based scrapes, it launched its “Green is the New Black” multi-day sales event, clearly understanding that it needs something to respond to the evolving appetite for deals in November.

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The move made sense. Now the novelty has worn off, British businesses are coming to the realisation that while Black Friday is a federal holiday in the US, it’s a regular working day here. What’s more, payday for many doesn’t fall until the weekend after the big day – so spreading the deals across two or three weeks is the best way to access customer funds, especially ahead of Christmas.

It’s a model the high street needs to replicate, and must draw on an omnichannel approach: capture shoppers online, then bolster in-store sales.

The high street needs to roll those omnichannel sleeves up

November and December have always tested businesses, but it’s the perfect time to employ, test and improve omnichannel abilities – especially with the internet being used by more people than ever to locate deals.

If you’re running Black Friday on the high street, what should you do to maximise this potential?

Buy stock specifically for Black Friday

Getting shoppers through the door is most of the battle on Black Friday, but you don’t have to discount products on already-tight margins to do this. An investment in products that can be turned over for a meagre profit – or even just a guaranteed even break – still gets shopping-primed customers into your store, who can then get more out of other products you sell. Promoting these both online and offline will open you up to all sorts of new shoppers, who you can reach from repeat in-store visits, or through newsletters via email sign-ups to your online store.

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It’s not a particularly new strategy, but it works. However, the focus shouldn’t be on making a profit: Black Friday isn’t as much of an opportunity to sell products as it is to create new relationships. Black Friday-specific stock will not only improve footfall but potentially attract new custom from open-minded consumers who may never have interacted with your brand before and who will go on to buy into your deeper-margined inventory.

Incentivise click and collect

If you can’t beat them, join them. If you still have to charge for click and collect for one reason or another, consider waiving it for Black Friday (or “Blackvember”) in order to get more people into store. If you can, consider lowering prices too, subject to click and collect.

People will always check for comparative deals online, so if you can offer a special price if your customer opts for click and collect – pushing you to the top of a price checker – chances are you’ll make much more from in-store purchases during their visit (something we found in our 2018 State of Omnichannel Retail Report).

Standard online purchases still have the very real drawback of being subject to delivery, often arriving days after the initial buzz of buying has worn off. Giving people an excuse to get it on the day in person, when the excitement for Black Friday is high, is something many customers will happily go for – particularly if over 75% of them planned on shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores, as per BlackFriday.Global.

Make your store as experiential as possible

To separate yourself from online retailers, use the one thing in your arsenal you can guarantee they don’t offer: an in-store experience. If you’re able to host something during the course of the sales season that ties into a sale itself – whether that’s a book signing, fashion show, music performance or product demonstration, you can show what makes your brand worth seeing in person.

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Combining this with a full focus on great customer service, and enlisting extra people to help transactions run quickly and smoothly, could most definitely pay off, with the right combination of products and experiences.

Keep them coming back by spreading those deals

As Asda and Amazon understand, “Blackvember” is slowly becoming the shopping equivalent of an advent calendar: customers want to open doors or webpages regularly to see what treats lie in store on that day. Amazon Fashion even took this format to the high street with its pop-up, which we visited in September 2018 – it changed the layout and stock of the store so that people had another reason to return.

There’s a lot of irony in the fact that an ecommerce giant is pioneering a concept that businesses could have adopted a long time ago – and the fact it coupled its pop-up with different after-hours events only made it even better. It’s not too late to learn from this – the market is otherwise wide open for an ever-evolving high-street presence.

Whatever you do, don’t insult the customer with poor offers

While consumers love Black Friday, they’re also more than aware of the true value of offers, especially when they’re actively tracking a product. With this in mind, it’s critical you ensure your offers are genuinely great deals; consumers are savvy enough to know if a deal is something that competitors – or even you! – offer at other times of the year, and labelling a rerun of this sale with a Black Friday banner will insult their intelligence – and undermine your participation.

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As long as customers love Black Friday, so should you

One thing’s certain: it’s wrong to believe that cracks are appearing in the British house that Black Friday built. While this type of cynicism may have convinced many to pull back from this huge sales opportunity, the cracks aren’t because of serious, structurally devastating subsidence – they’re the types of hairline fractures you’d expect in any high-grade, new-build home that’s settling into its foundations. Black Friday is going nowhere.

Black Friday shouldn’t be relied upon by businesses to simply boost sales – but it should be used to build and maintain a following. If you’re not engaging with this hugely captive audience on such an important day, the outcome could be potentially devastating, especially as all major online sellers are stepping up their game.

Customers still absolutely love Black Friday, and as long as they think that way, the high street must respond to this demand. Many retailers may take a moral stance against it, but while some cynics may doff their cap at a retailer’s anti-Black Friday stance, these people are hardly the best target audience to be popular with.