The future of Click & Collect
by Mark Thomson. eCommerce is expected to account for 22% of global chain retail sales by 2023, reinforcing the move toward a seamless, omnichannel.Thursday, 24 Jun 2021
by Mark Thomson. Propelled by COVID-19, ecommerce is expected to account for 22% of global chain retail sales by 2023, reinforcing the move toward smooth, seamless, omnichannel interaction. Click & Collect is here to stay and has a promising future after the surge in ecommerce under lockdown globally. It has proven to be a flexible solution that offers numerous benefits to shoppers and retailers alike. Key facilitators of ecommerce success include adapted delivery solutions such as click & collect, which enables shoppers to pick up their orders in a safe and efficient way. They will typically buy online and pickup in store (BOPIS) or at a third-party location such as a post office or pick-up locker. Tested and strengthened over the last year, click & collect has proven to be a flexible solution that offers numerous benefits to shoppers and retailers alike.
Meeting customers wherever
One of the major trends shaping the global retail industry is the omnichannel transition. Driven by the rise of ecommerce and consumers’ evolving expectations, this trend compels retailers to embrace digitalisation to offer their customers a mix of digital and in-store shopping experiences. The growth of global ecommerce, coupled with the development of social media and other new forms of communication, has created a retail landscape in which customer centricity is no longer a point of distinction between competitors, but rather a necessity for any successful retail strategy. As the driving force behind the development of omnichannel shopping, consumers and their evolving expectations are defining the future of retail.
If customer centricity is the new normal, retailers must first understand what customers expect from their shopping experience. Even without considering the amplifying effect of the pandemic, demand for self-service and contactless shopping options, increased inventory visibility, and home delivery services have steadily grown. Increasingly, shoppers are becoming more comfortable with ecommerce, which has enjoyed nearly uninterrupted growth since its inception. They also expect their online shopping experiences to be smooth and convenient from start to finish. This means retailers must offer more than just a streamlined, user-friendly interface. They also need to provide multiple payment methods, flexible delivery options, and easy returns. Indeed, the final step in the online shopping experience can be a decisive moment in the customer experience, which is why click & collect is so well suited to the modern marketplace.
Designed for convenience and flexibility, the click & collect approach gives consumers greater control over their delivery experience. Shoppers can choose where and when to pick up their orders, with the added benefit of being able to return any unwanted items to the same location, even if that location is a post office. For retailers, click & collect can cost less than typical deliveries, as it allows for order consolidation, which simplifies logistics, and considerably reduces the frequency of failed deliveries. By eliminating those, retailers can also eliminate the resulting processing costs.
While most of the trends affecting retail and ecommerce were underway prior to 2020, the global pandemic has amplified and accelerated them, especially the desire for self-service, the shift online and the meteoric increase in returns. Consumers under lockdown soon realised the inconvenience of delivery companies arriving in the middle of a Zoom meeting, as opposed to the ease of click & collect, which allowed consumers to retrieve their parcels at their convenience. For retailers struggling to meet surging demand during COVID-19, click & collect has provided both a means of reducing home delivery costs, and an easier, more affordable option to scale up activity as needed without paying a third-party fulfillment agent or hiring and training new employees.
Certain challenges remain
To be sure, click & collect is not without its challenges. Chief among these is labour, namely ‘picking’. The average warehouse does not lend itself to the kind of small-scale item level picking that most click & collect orders require. Dark stores may provide a compelling solution where order capacity is sufficient, but this adds complexity to the supply chain. Many retailers have found it more efficient to pick from existing stores, primarily due to their proximity to customers – which means reduced last-mile delivery costs and environmental impact. Automation, particularly micro-fulfilment centers (MFCs) will have some impact here. But they involve significant capital expenditure and will only be viable options for some retailers.
Warehouse pickers lack the time to replenish empty stocks, while inventory management substitution comes with its own set of challenges, particularly customer dissatisfaction. Stock visibility and on-shelf availability remain key areas of concern. Automation can help here: mobile technology can empower staff, robotics can accelerate fulfillment, data analytics and technologies such as shelf edge cameras and pressure mats can improve inventory accuracy. Quick response (QR) codes can also be used to enhance traceability and reduce waste.
Considering the pandemic’s effect on consumer trends such as contactless options, personalised experiences, and the desire for flexible delivery solutions, click & collect has a promising future. Challenges remain, but if retailers can control costs and master inventory management, then click & collect can help increase sales. It can complement and strengthen customer loyalty by providing consumers with the high-quality shopping experiences they seek.
Mark Thomson is Director of Retail and Hospitality Solutions EMEA, Zebra Technologies (formerly Motorola Solutions). Thomson’s exploration of the global retail landscape helps retailers gain a focus on what’s real and what works when building a retail strategy in a digital world. He works closely with retailers and hospitality businesses on developing a vision for their retail business that aims to improve customer experience and drive business efficiencies.
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