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.
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.
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.
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.
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.