It’s no news that online shopping and the rise of click and collect (C&C) services have caused a boom in consumer spending in peak times and the build-up to Christmas. Last year, John Lewis reported that 40% of its total sales took place online in the six-week period leading up to Christmas. Of those online sales, 52% were made through the C&C service alone. But as numbers like these will likely continue to grow each year, retailers need to be aware of how they can sustain a great customer experience.
Insight from our Voice of the Customer (VoC) projects with high street retailers, indicates that there is a genuine issue facing retailers, in that any service can struggle to maintain quality and consistency around peak trading times such as Christmas and Easter.
“Any service can struggle to maintain quality and consistency around peak trading times such as Christmas and Easter.”
For click & collect (C&C), this manifests itself in longer wait times at the collection area, which can lead to a lot of frustration amongst customers and puts pressure on store staff who feel overstretched and unable to give attentive service. Christmas, in particular, is popular as C&C puts customers in control of when and where they collect their delivery, rather than having to be in and wait all day for delivery (or risk missing it) which is a key benefit when buying a time-sensitive gift.
Yet, despite the issues that C&C can present in the busiest shopping periods, retailers should still embrace it as it is such a compelling proposition for customers. We have seen strong evidence that it drives additional conversion and sales, with those people collecting items, stopping to browse the store and even planning ahead to shop in store – which is a unique advantage for traditional clicks and mortars retailers. But what more can retailers do to continue ensuring their customers get great service, as the future promises to continue to increase volumes of click and collect and stretch their current staff and logistical resource?
There are practical and proactive methods that retailers can take to help in remedying some of these issues. Having a customer feedback programme in place is critical for obtaining real-time customer experience insight, and overlay this feedback with other known data about the transaction (e.g. type of product, store collected from, day of week and time of day). This enables managers to pinpoint specific locations and days/times where issues occur and take action – typically getting the right resources in place at the right time – a constant challenge for retailers.
Another initiative retailers can take is asking customers to browse the store whilst their item is being collected for them. This both reduces the queue but also makes the wait more bearable. Further to this, retailers can also try to manage demand by having collection ‘slots’ that encourage customers to choose an alternative from the busiest times or days.
A great example that we’ve seen where the retailer has managed to provide a successful solution to the growing constraints of busy C&C periods, is the way John Lewis extended its C&C proposition to Waitrose stores. This both increased the number of collection points and encouraged John Lewis’ customers to shop at Waitrose supermarkets – a win-win for the John Lewis group.
“Customers get very frustrated if they are not kept up to date or given accurate information”
Carriers and delivery firms can also aid in reducing the stress put on retailers at peak times. Customers get very frustrated if they are not kept up to date or given accurate information. Carriers must ensure that customers are clearly informed of the status (e.g. despatched, arrived, ready to collect, deadline for collection) to avoid inbound telephone/email queries that the agent may not be able to answer, and to avoid arriving at the store before the item is ready to collect.
As consumers increasingly go online and employ more of these time-saving services, retailers need to begin to implement processes and establish methods of best practice that ensure customers are not left disgruntled in the busiest retail periods. In doing so, they can help sales continue to grow and ensure that they spread a little bit of Christmas cheer.
It is vital to retailers to ensure that they have fast, accurate and actionable feedback so that they can constantly review and improve processes and technology. This positive loop of feedback and continuous improvement will enable retailers to both increase volumes and deliver a great customer experience.
Steve Brockway is Chief Research Officer at Maru/edr providing innovative thought leadership and research excellence to Maru/edr clients and researchers.