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It may be all the rage right now, but click and collect is far from the finished article. Liz Morrell reports

There is no doubting that click and collect is set to enjoy its best Christmas ever this year as customers opt for convenience and certainty of delivery over carded deliveries and out of stocks. In its weekly trading update for the first week of December, for example, John Lewis announced a 58 per cent rise in click and collect orders on Cyber Monday and Collect+ orders up 88 per cent on the previous week. New data from IMRG and Capgemini reveals that almost one in five (19 per cent) multi-channel online sales are now click and collect, up from 13 per cent in the third quarter last year. It predicts the figure could rise to 25 per cent by the end of 2014. But how effective is the service in reality? Whilst retailers have generally managed a very slick click process for many, the collect side of things still leaves a lot to be desired. Speed is of the essence since the mindset here is about ensuring product availability without the pain of shopping the store itself. Yet there are still retailers whose process can run into two or three days even when the customer knows it is a product available in-store but the retailer's systems haven't allowed the combination of inventory views which allows a customer to shop a store online.

Ultimately, the customer is the only channel that really matters and the experience has got to be the same however they are shopping. This also enables shorter lead times. At John Lewis goods ordered before 7pm on a given day will be at the customer's selected John Lewis or Waitrose store the very next day. Sarah Ince, business development manager, omnichannel convenience at John Lewis says the process has to be slick throughout. "After placing a click and collect order our customers are sent a text message to tell them their products have arrived at the collection point, so customers will know when their orders are ready to collect. Orders are held in-store for seven days, allowing customers to pick them up when it's convenient," she says.

In-store convenience is key to the collect part of the process but often overlooked since not only is there a battle for space but also mindset too, with store staff often disgruntled at having to handle stock for whose sale they aren't credited, whilst collection points hidden away at the back of the store rather than in the prime positions they are crying out for also hinders the service. Indeed a new survey published by Box Technologies showed that almost three quarters of retailers had failed to make any changes to store layouts as a result of multi-channel developments such as the introduction of click and collect.

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Of course, it isn't just about collecting from store, although this is an important footfall driver. Third party collection points are an increasingly growing trend for retailers and John Lewis began a trial with CollectPlus in September, allowing its shoppers to also pick up from local convenience stores and petrol stations in 1,500 locations in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and the South West of England, as well as John Lewis and Waitrose stores. Locker locations are also growing, although some question why not more dramatically. InPost UK, which has more than 100 lockers in Greater London, recently installed its 500th locker in the UK since launching in the market in April; it will install a further 250 early next year and is aiming for 2,000 by the end of next year. The lockers are hosted, giving the host rent income for unused outdoor space and a technology is key with a text message, few clicks or a QR code scan required to open the locker - allowing customers to pick up a parcel in as little as seven seconds, the company claims.

Despite its recent introduction, estates manager Lorna Mushing says the network is growing fast. "InPost is a totally new concept for UK retailers, being a fully automated 24/7 service, but the uptake has been quick, having achieved over 500 locations open since our launch in April. Being a new system means we have seen some retailers showing caution, but we are currently in talks with major UK retailers and discussions have been very positive." The system is already used by Samsung and Avon Cosmetics.

And there are other innovations happening. Earlier this autumn Asda announced a tie-up with Transport for London, expanding on its 300 click and collect grocery sites and 500 general merchandise and George click and collect sites, and allowing the collection of Asda products from the customer's home station after 4pm for same day ordering before noon - a service which will initially be launched in East Finchley, Harrow and Wealdstone, High Barnet, Highgate, Stanmore and Epping. Asda says it is working on other formats and collection locations across London and the South East.

Network Rail, meanwhile, has launched Doddle, a joint venture of parcel shops in converted redundant space in stations, currently on trial in Milton Keynes Central Station and rolling out to London Paddington and Woking stations early next year. The service, open seven days a week, early until late, will be open to all retailers and carriers and will comprise advanced touchpoint notifications through a mobile app, SMS and email. However as a manned, paid for solution some believe it's too much. "The solution could be fine but I think they've over engineered it because it's fully manned, dedicated pickup points for which they will charge," says one industry expert.
Some believe it is simpler solutions that will work, such as House of Fraser's register and text service that allows a customer to be texted in-store once their order is ready for collection, cutting down on queuing time. Andrew Starkey, head of e-logistics at IMRG, argues that adopting solutions already used in a mainstream way by the third party experts such as CollectPlus could also work well with medium sized retailers putting the same systems into their stores and creating a common platform and experience across locations. "In that case you don't have to reinvent the click and collect experience and the terminal tells staff exactly what to do, which allows the retailer to more quickly adopt click and collect into their internal solutions," he says.

There is little doubt that click and collect will continue to grow, though some experts warn of the current hype surrounding the market as being somewhat overrated. There is also little doubt that for some retailers there is much work to be done on the systems, and an increased focus on mindset integration that needs to make the collect part as headache free as the click part. Where the market goes, however, will depend on retailers thinking outside of the box and customers continuing to be led both by the convenience of knowing products are there for them to collect without the expense of having to pay for their delivery to home - and the potential for failed deliveries that can introduce.

One thing's for sure. It will be interesting to see how the market evolves.

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