Click-and-collect promises to link digital and physical

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Finding the sweet spot within the intersection of digital and physical retail might be the most urgent priority for the retail industry. But identifying such a place — for instance, where an online customer can maintain a digital persona in or out of the physical store — has not always been easy amid the massive transformation occurring in the industry.

The intersection of the two is filled with a maze of considerations, including effectively analyzing consumer preferences through big data, optimizing back office operations and workflows and employing appropriate technology.

Retail fulfillment company Doddle believes it is developing a piece of the puzzle through its click-and-collect network model of retailers, carriers and global partners. That sweet spot, according to founder and CEO Tim Robinson, is where digital and physical-store retailers will get the biggest results with the least amount of effort.

Robinson says a critical starting point for retailers is to recognize that digital consumers are hardly “analog” consumers. Doddle, which launched in 2014, positions itself as a delivery platform giving the retail industry and its various component parts “a way to get products into the hands of their customers however, and whenever, they want.”

Buy online, pick up in-store customers shouldn’t have to prove their identity with a printed version of an order email, he says; nor should they have to stand in line behind in-store shoppers making purchases.

“Fundamentally, those two things rub up against each other,” Robinson says, adding that retailers are not always consistent in accommodating digital consumers. “You need to use your store infrastructure to extend the digital journey.”

Doddle’s proposition is that click and collect will remove stress associated with digital shopping — such as uncertain delivery and returns processes — while engaging retailers to work together to leverage their physical store assets, and, most importantly, creating additional opportunities to sell their goods and services.

“If you allow the consumer to continue to live in the digital world, you have a much better opportunity to delight them in that space and re-engage them when they are in the store,” Robinson says. “One of the mistakes that retailers make is that they assume they can just throw in kind of a click-and-collect proposition in their stores on the back of an online order and treat a digital consumer in an analog way.”

A ‘PREEMPTIVE’ STRATEGY

Richard Crone, a consultant who studies merchant payment processes, says click and collect gives physical and omnichannel retailers an opportunity to combat the latest challenges from Amazon and other online giants.

Amazon is pushing the concept of autonomous retail checkout with Amazon Go, a chain of convenience stores where shoppers can buy products without assistance from a traditional cashier or self-checkout station. The stores are being tested in markets in Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco with 3,000 to 5,000 stores reportedly planned nationwide over the next several years.

Crone advises retailers to consider click-and-collect fulfillment as a “preemptive distribution strategy” to what is to come.

Autonomous checkout represents a “retail tsunami that every existing retailer must react to. Their first line of defense is perfecting click and collect,” Crone says. “Then you have a defensible position with a long runway before you ever have to invest in changing your store layout for autonomous checkout.”

For physical store retailers, perfecting click and collect means ensuring the store’s app is optimized to allow features such as shopping lists to start the order process before the customers enter the store, Crone says.

Bree Bergman, retail vertical marketing lead at Zebra Technologies Corp., says retailers are getting serious about exploiting the big data they are able to capture from their customers to enhance the customer experience through concepts like click and collect.

“There are so many different levels of data. If (retailers) can take that and then look at how to streamline it quickly, then they have the opportunity to enhance the customer experience,” Bergman says. “Retailers are realizing that they have all this data that they can actually utilize to make a better experience.”

BRINGING CUSTOMERS TO THE STORE

Recent surveys show that click-and-collect fulfillment creates viable opportunities for retailers. The International Council of Shopping Centers reported in March that more than half of all shoppers today use click and collect, and 61 percent use it at least once a month. The survey also noted that 67 percent of click-and-collect users make additional purchases from the retailer when coming into the store to pick up their initial order.

Respondents told ICSC that they favored click and collect because there are no delivery fees, they can receive their purchases more quickly and they can be assured the items they buy will be available when coming to the store.

Research from the National Retail Federation shows that 76 percent of consumers surveyed want to be able to pick up their online purchases at the store cash register while 63 percent want curbside pickup, 56 percent want delivery to the trunk of their car and 50 percent want to pick up purchases at a locker. The study found 64 percent use click and collect to avoid paying for shipping.

In another survey, analytics company GlobalData reported in February that the click-and-collect market in the United Kingdom is expected to rise by 45 percent between 2018 and 2023. The clothing and footwear sector represents the largest click-and-collect channel, accounting for 60 percent of U.K. spending fulfillment in 2018, according to GlobalData.

Jeff Sylvester, analyst at customer experience research firm Verint ForeSee, says that while the Amazon model of online shopping has come to be a dominant retail channel, shoppers want “to go into the store” — and click-and-collect fulfillment is helping get them there. Many shoppers are starting online with product research, ratings and reviews, and then going into the store once they have determined exactly what they need.

“People are really more about that experience. They want to talk to an actual associate in the store. They want to feel the product. They want to look at it. They want to make sure it is exactly what they are looking for,” Sylvester says.

Doddle’s Robinson says that use of existing retail facilities for click and collect reduces the capital burden of new pickup points such as product lockers often placed at convenience stores or similar locales.

“Fundamentally, the philosophy of this business is to use existing infrastructure, whether that is a retail store or whether that is a gas station or in some cases a major workplace, to create technology and solutions that allow consumers to collect and return items from infrastructure that already exists and therefore reduce the burden of actually delivering items to specific home addresses,” Robinson says.

He says click and collect gives online consumers more control and choice. “Now there’s no fear that you are going to get home and find that either you’ve missed the item and now you have to collect it from a post office or that delivery has been thrown over a fence and you have to deal with the consequences,” he says.

M.V. Greene is an independent writer and editor based in Owings Mills, Md., who covers business, technology and retail.

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