The lockdown period saw retailers across industries innovating and adapting to survive, but what’s now becoming clear is that this demand for easier access to shopping will remain. Findings from Banking & Payment Federation Ireland (BPFI) suggest that consumers currently shopping online are more likely to continue to do so in certain categories. For retailers with physical stores, the challenge has become how to get shoppers back in person.
Jim Herbert, vice president of BigCommerce EMEA, explains how retailers are adopting new practices such as drive-through click & collect, better integrating consumer demand for online, with the need to keep stores alive.
The rise of drive-through click & collect
In August, retail giant Marks & Spencer (M&S) announced that it is trialling new contactless click & collect technology in three stores, as part of its digital transformation plan to integrate in-store and online services for its customers.
Using technology developed by Doddle, M&S has launched two separate click & collect trials. It will launch a drive-through collection service at its Camberley store, allowing shoppers to collect their orders “contactlessly” from their vehicles. In addition, M&S is rolling out rapid contactless click & collect at its stores in Camberley, Hempstead Valley and Longbridge. This new service is supported by a chatbot, available through text, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, informing them of their allocated shelf.
The retailer has recently expanded its click & collect offering to 153 locations, by increasing the use of in-store picking and packing in its operations. M&S head of digital operations Neil Phillips summarises the retailer’s strategy: “Great digital technology in our stores is really important for offering our customers a great experience and for connecting the online and in-store journey.”
Other well-known UK supermarket chains have also been experimenting with the drive-through trend, including Waitrose’s online grocery collection service. While not a new idea – Sainsbury’s and Asda have been using similar systems for a number of years – there’s no doubt that wide-spread adoption has been accelerated by the pandemic.
Moving from ‘clicks’ back to ‘bricks’
Retailers with physical stores have something of a challenge on their hands. As ecommerce giants such as Amazon continue to act as our go-to for many day-to-day shopping needs, physical stores need to offer something more or different to compete.
Prior to the pandemic, experiential retail was being called out as the future and a way to attract customers to stores. However, with many people still shunning the high street, it remains to be seen whether pop-up shops and experiences will continue to be popular. During the lockdown period many retailers, small and large, brought their online and in-store offerings more closely together to continue servicing customers. With stores opening up again the challenge is reversed. Consumers have become accustomed to ordering online and don’t necessarily want to go back. Supermarket giant ASDA, for instance, has announced its online grocery sales doubled in the second quarter and the retailer now plans to increase its grocery delivery capacity by 40%.
Click & collect services therefore will play an important role at a local and national level in clearing old season stock backed up in stores during closures, as well as building more sustainable shopping patterns for the future. During lockdown, DIY retailer B&Q set up in-store car parks where items were brought directly to the customer’s vehicle. This ensured customers can collect items in a safe and secure way, avoiding any unnecessary contact. It also offers a personalised shopping experience to customers – and gives retailers the opportunity to avoid redundancies for in-store staff.
Investing in the future
As COVID-19 continues to severely impact the retail sector, Global Data estimates that the financial cost of the virus is in the region of £12.6 billion. Bricks-and-mortar retailers that haven’t shifted their business model in line with the consumer shift to online shopping, such as Primark, have had their revenue streams hit the hardest.
Many people are still nervous of visiting busy stores, according to a global survey by accountancy firm EY, which found that 80% of shoppers would feel uncomfortable trying on clothes in store. Consumers have typically enjoyed the convenience of online shopping over recent months, with a reluctance to revert to older buying habits. The UK’s largest retailers are working hard to find a manageable middle ground, which balances consumer preferences with the need to keep stores open and staff employed.
The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the way in which retailers use new technology, and the way consumers want to engage with brands. While the in-store experience will always be an important aspect, an omnichannel presence – merging the physical with the online – is going to be an essential strategy for survival.