The way we shop has changed, so why haven’t shops?

There’s a lot of conflicting stories around what exactly the first item to be sold on the internet was.
Some claim Pizza Hut got in there first in 1994, others that it was 74 year old Jane Snowball buying her groceries even earlier in 1984 or — and this is the one I like — that it was 21 year old entrepreneur Dan Khon selling a Sting CD to his friend in Philadelphia. Which ever of those claims you subscribe to, its safe to say the way we purchase things on the internet has come a long way since then.
After the 2000’s era explosion of CD’s and DVD’s gliding through our letter boxes, and making up the majority of goods bought online, these days it’s the way in which our goods are delivered to us that has also been changing.
But has it changed enough? There is room — and the need —to evolve much further, much more effectively, to satisfy the unmet needs of customers.

Click and Collect is popular, really popular.

“54% of UK shoppers used a click and collect service within the past 12 months, up from 49% a year earlier”

Business Insider, July 2016

John Lewis credit it with their ever increasing turnover in the past couple of years and Sainsbury’s are aiming to double their click and collect sites to ensure their customers can pick up their groceries at their own convenience.

Click and collect is the perfect middle ground between internet shopping and physical stores for customers who don’t like the extra cost of home delivery, or the anxiety that can come with not being in to receive a package. And for retailers, when a customer goes in to store to pick up an order, a lot of the time they’re buying even more while they’re there.

“Nearly one-third (32%) of holiday shoppers used the click and collect method –with 69% of these shoppers purchasing additional items in the store of collection and 36% making another purchase in an adjacent store.”

The International Council of Shopping Centres, January 2016

So why, time after time, do I end up wandering around high street fashion stores looking for where I can pick up my delivery and struggling to locate my order number on my email only for the store assistant to write it on a scrap of paper and then disappear into the dark abyss of their store room for the best part of half an hour?

It turns out I’m not the only one who finds click and collect a little unsatisfactory…

Business Insider

Business Insider, July 2016

So surely we can do better? And I mean better than a big ‘Click and Collect’ sign above the till?

Well, amongst many other delivery companies, Amazon already is. Amazon Lockers are popping up all over the UK. They’re in convenient locations (lots of CO-OP stores and shopping centres), you can get next day delivery and they’re self service. You simply use the touch screen to enter your order number or scan your barcode and a locker pops open with your delivery inside. Simple and effective for the consumer, despite the systems complexity behind the scenes.

So what would high street stores look like if they took a similar approach?

Imagine walking into your local H&M, knowing exactly where you can collect your delivery, pulling up your beautifully designed email that provides you with a memorable 5 digit collection number (as opposed to the obscure pieces of code I’ve read off to shop assistants in the past) and your locker popping open. You can grab your order and maybe even pick up something else to go with it, all with little to none aimless wandering around.

And what if, like 30% of online shoppers, you order 2 sizes with the intention of returning one?

Whilst picking up one of my click and collect orders recently, a lady next to me opened hers up which consisted of the same jacket in 2 different sizes. She tried both of them on the shop floor and hopped back into the queue to return one. Could she have tried those jackets on in changing rooms exclusively for click and collect customers and just popped one back into a ‘returns locker’? Using a touch screen to self serve her own refund?

The locker format could even be used to direct attention to other items and their location in store. Inbuilt displays on locker doors could make suggestions based on what was in your delivery, or other products you’ve been browsing online. Perhaps incentivise the purchase with a discount for the extra item while you’re there.

And could we go even further and detect when you enter the store? Sending app users a notification welcoming you and displaying your collection number?

Now there’s lots of ways click and collect could go and it is still really young. Simply saying Amazon use pick up lockers so other shops should too is a bit of a jump, especially when they have spent hundreds of millions on systems infrastructure and process. It’s also missing the point.

The intersection, and often clumsy journey, between the digital and physical retail worlds offers a world of opportunity for retailers brave enough to jump in with both feet. And unlike Amazon, most high street retailers tend to focus on a product category. That should be seen as a strength and advantage, ripe for enriching customer experience. Because like in the clothing example above, each of those categories contain nuances of customer behaviour highly specific to themselves.

So surely it’s worth more than just sticking a big sign above the till?