The rise of click-and-collect and returns: are they redefining the role of the store?

The store’s role has evolved dramatically over the past decade, and that pace of change shows no sign of slowing. But while the development of ecommerce was seen as a threat to physical shops once upon a time, consumer cross-channel delivery behaviours are reaffirming bricks-and-mortar’s role at the heart of the retail experience.

Two cross-channel activities in particular are influencing the store’s role. 72% of UK shoppers are now using click-and-collect, with 58% of retailers now offering it, compared with 44% in 2015, according to recent findings. What is more, new research from KPMG shows that one third of items purchased online were returned in-store.

Both collection and returns have been lauded by retailers for bringing shoppers back to the high street, and driving additional sales. Some 65% of consumers make additional purchases when picking up click-and-collect items in-store, while the attraction of free returns in any channel is driving more online purchasers over to physical stores. Once there, research shows that returning bricks-and-mortar customers make more impulse purchases than online.

However, poor consumer experiences are revealing that many retailers haven’t considered the potential need for infrastructural change in order to fully harness the cross-channel opportunity. For example, during the 2015 Christmas period, one third of click-and-collect customers had issues when collecting their order. KPMG found that the most common problems shoppers reported were lack of designated collection points, limited staff, overcrowded stock rooms slowing down collections, and long queues. This is bad news when many major retailers, such as John Lewis, deliver a third of their orders this way, while some – M&S included – saw collections rise to two thirds over Christmas.

It is clear that the store environment currently does not support seamless experiences, particularly during peak periods. To be successful retailers cannot ignore this issue and will need to adapt their infrastructure to meet changing customer demands and deliver a better omnichannel service in-store. There are many ways retailers can make the store a more flexible shopping environment, and we would recommend retailers focus on enhancing the following three core aspects of their bricks-and-mortar offering:

  1. Implement better communication tools to streamline the customers experience

Particularly key to great collection in-store, communication has long been a problem for some retailers, but improving it needs to be a priority. Giving sales associates connected devices can improve their access to knowledge about the customer, as well as giving instant access to stock information, store transfers, and transactional capabilities. But alongside providing training and technology to empower their staff with all the information they need, retailers should consider investing in managed data networks as these devices will only run efficiently with a robust supporting system.

  1. Improve POS systems to reduce waiting times

Shoppers, rightly, demand the speediest checkout experience possible, and this is even more vital when the customer is collecting a purchase in-store. Yet for retailers, problems arise with overloaded systems, which can affect not only payments, customer queries, and processing orders, but also core tasks including inventory. In response, retailers should review their systems and consider updating them, or even just increasing bandwidth to avoid technical downtime.

  1. Support the use of mobile in-store

Online click-and-collect clearly demonstrates that technology is as important in-store as online. Retailers can better facilitate consumer omnichannel needs by ensuring there is a fast, secure WiFi offering in place, and also providing independent technology experiences, such as in-store tablet information points and self-serve kiosks.