Click-and-collect, technology fad or retail's savior?

Jacqueline Renfrow

I was with another mom at the park when she announced that our play date was about to come to an abrupt end: She had to make it to Macy's to pick up some shoes for a gala happening that evening. The woman was very excited about her first click-and-collect purchase. In fact, she had previously bought the same style shoes—just in a different color—so she knew the brand, style and size would be a perfect match, no need for try-ons, exchanges or returns. I could see the triumph on her face. She had made the perfect purchase: something she needed, accessible quickly and locally—a guaranteed happy ending.

But this story got me thinking. How often is this the outcome for click-and-collect customers? The implementation of these programs is spreading like wildfire through retail, but what percentage of shoppers are using this purchasing option? And does it, more often than not, turn out to be a rewarding customer experience?

It seems many of those questions are still unanswered for apparel retailers when it comes to implementing a click-and-collect purchasing method. I've spoken with retail consultants and the merchants themselves, and heard results on both ends of the spectrum. While many are lauding the service as an integral first step into the world of in-store technological innovation, there are others that tend to disagree.

Some early adopters of the technology that are reaping its success include department stores Macy's and Bloomingdale's (which last summer launched the program nationwide), along with Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Other apparel retailers offering the same option include Men's Wearhouse and BCBG.

On the other hand, Mike Moriarty, a senior partner at A.T. Kearney, says that click-and-collect is more hype than anything else. "These are not working," he said. "They are not creating the profitability that [retailers] want." While the trend seems to be growing, Moriarty does not see this express model as a successful model for building sales.

And according to a recent study by StellaService, the option may help retailers leverage local inventory and boost consumer confidence, but click-and-collect does not shave off much time for getting a purchased product into a shopper's hands.

Personally, I started shopping online several years ago and I'm hooked on the ease of delivery to my door. And I admit, a large number of those purchases are practical items such as household goods, pre-packed foods, paper products and children's clothing. So the risk is minimal: I know what I'm getting and there's no need to try the items out.

But there is still a small percentage of my online purchases that are apparel, from specialty stores and department chains. Fashion tends to be much more hit or miss, with sizes varying and styles not coming to life until viewed in person, and so I often end up driving to a physical store anyhow for a return or exchange. Standing at the register is when I usually start to ponder if I saved any time ordering the shirt online.

For retailers, offering click-and-collect seems like a no-brainer way to get foot traffic in the store and to be able to push that upsell. It also saves fulfillment costs if the item is already stocked in the brick-and-mortar location and does not need to be shipped from a warehouse. But like any purchasing program, it requires other types of logistics ranging from knowing inventory availability to having sales associates trained and ready for click-and-collect items when the customer walks in the door.

But from a shopper's perspective, how necessary is an apparel item? Does click-and-collect solve a problem for them? 

The jury is still out. -Jacqueline