Put To The Test, U.K. Retailers Suffer Merged-Channel Hiccups

Editor's Note: Buy-online-pick-up-in-store—along with its opposite cousin—is arguably the most popular merged-channel element. But it's also the most complex, with the greatest number of potential points of failure. How likely is some type of failure? Our media partner, Retail Week, decided to find out, at least as far as the most important chains in the U.K. go.

Most fared well, with a few exceptions. Coast's "service was a failure, and defied the objective of convenient click-and-collect." For Marks & Spencer, "a faster turnaround would be welcome." Homebase shoppers find that "the tight deadline for pick-up and limited availability is a drawback." ASOS's delivered "confusing delivery selection process during online checkout." And Very suffered from poor customer service. These lessons learned certainly apply to the U.S., and this report offers an opportunity to avoid the hiccups suffered by our European counterparts.

Multichannel delivery is at the top of the agenda for many retailers, as they try to supply the 'any product, anywhere, anytime' service that customers increasingly demand and expect.

The click-and-collect model of delivery has become a key part of this approach, both for bricks-and-mortar retailers and online pure-plays. It promises customers the convenience of browsing and purchasing online and picking up items at their leisure at locations of their choice.

However, with the increasing sophistication and flexibility of delivery, making the most of collect-in-store is also a challenge. Aurora Fashions, for example, is looking to replace its 'reserve online, collect in store' service with a 'pay and collect' alternative that leverages the success of its new Anywhere Everywhere stock management system and delivery options.

So how convenient are retailers' click-and-collect services? Retail Week tested a selection, in an unscientific trial, following the purchase of one item from order to pick-up.

John Lewis offers a free service that promises collection at a chosen shop from 2pm the following day, if orders are placed before 7pm. The addition of Waitrose stores to the line-up of collection locations last August boosted the service: It offers more than 230 pick-up points, according to its Web site.

User experience: The service featured prominently on the homepage alongside other John Lewis appeals such as 'Never knowingly undersold.' Selection during checkout was easy.

Communication: An instant E-mail confirmed the order and collection details and included clear instructions and maps showing how and where to pick up. Notification of dispatch arrived within the estimated time, and a text message on the day confirmed that the parcel was ready for collection.

Pick-up: Picking up home furnishings from behind the fruit-and-veg aisle at the local Waitrose supermarket might be a bit counter-intuitive, but prompt customer service made the process speedy, without the need to queue at the tills.

Verdict: Throughout the buying process the click-and-collect option was clearly highlighted, with logos and instructions making selection easy. The number of participating stores made this service particularly attractive. The speed of the delivery to store, and Waitrose opening hours of 7am to 10pm on weekdays, as well as weekend opening, offered great flexibility.

Boots' 'order online and collect in store' is available on most items across 2,400 stores, according to its Web site, but requires a minimum spend of £20 for the service to be free. If you spend under £20 it costs £1.95. An order is usually available in three to five working days, and will be held for 14 days after the delivery date.

User experience: The 'collect in store' option was highlighted during the product search process. The store search found three locations within two miles, the closest 1.25 miles away.

Communication: An order acknowledgement E-mail arrived immediately, although a promised text message confirmation never arrived. Notification of dispatch was within a day, but there was no follow-up confirmation of delivery, making pick-up a bit of a lottery.

Pick-up: The local Boots pharmacy had strict opening hours, with no service on bank holidays, so pick up choices were slightly limited. Nonetheless, the process went without a hitch.

Verdict: The order arrived at the chosen store earlier than expected, making the service even more convenient than advertised. Communication could be improved to make pick-up opportunities more obvious, and the £20 minimum spend might put some off.

The fashion retailer prides itself on its multichannel fulfillment, offering customers many delivery options, including 'reserve and collect.' This service is available on most items in the U.K. and Ireland, in standalone stores only, excluding concessions in department stores.

User experience: The service was clearly highlighted on product pages, while the store search generated three options for the selected postcode. The closest store, 1.86 miles away, wasn't available, so delivery was to the busy Regent Street store, 2.89 miles away.

Communication: After prompt E-mail acknowledgement of the order, communication ceased. According to the Web site: "Clicking on the reserve button will notify the store of your request and they will locate your order. You'll receive an availability confirmation shortly to let you know your order is ready for collection." That confirmation never arrived. Contact with customer service a week later resulted in a standard response promising an investigation. Finally, two weeks later and after more pestering, the item was ready for collection.

Pick-up: The item arrived too late for the event it was ordered for, so wasn't picked up.

Verdict: This service was a failure, and defied the objective of convenient click-and-collect. Possibly a one-off blip, it was nonetheless surprising that it went so wrong.MARKS & SPENCER
Marks & Spencer offers a store collection service on clothes, beauty and homewares to participating shops. It promises availability within three days for orders placed before 5pm, though it may take five days if the item needs to be sourced from further afield.

User experience: M&S highlights its collect-in-store option across the Web site, although choosing it at checkout was a bit confusing. The next available delivery date was a Sunday three days later, and the system offered bank holiday pick-up.

Communication: At checkout, the system reminded the customer to bring the order confirmation when collecting items. M&S also sent prompt and helpful E-mail updates about the status of the order, notifying of dispatch and delivery, as well as sending a reminder. The pick-up information was clear, with reminders of the deadline clearly highlighted.

Pick-up: Picking up the order was straightforward. A customer service member found the item quickly.

Verdict: An efficient service but a faster turnaround, as offered by John Lewis, for instance, would be welcome.

Homebase's 'reserve and collect' logo is clearly visible at every step of the online purchase path, although you have to check each individual item for availability in your preferred store. The service promises collection three hours from reservation, with items held until close-of-play the following day. The choice of products depends on your local Homebase store, as stock is sourced directly from them.

User experience: The first item selected was out of stock at the three closest stores, the second was only available to buy online, but the third was in stock at the closest Homebase, 2.87 miles away. The sign-up and checkout process was user-friendly.

Communication: Homebase was markedly swift in its confirmation of the order, an E-mail and text message alert confirmed the order was available for pick-up within two hours. A text the next day reminded of the order's imminent expiry. To extend the deadline, shoppers have to call customer service, somewhat negating the convenient aspect of a click-and-collect service.

Pick-up: Within the store, the 'reserve and collect' area was clearly signposted, although it took staff a moment to locate the parcel on the messy shelf. This didn't delay the process significantly, however.

Verdict: The service worked well, although the tight deadline for pick-up and limited availability is a drawback.

Tesco is one of the most vociferous proponents of multichannel retailing. The grocer expanded this last year, aiming to double the number of stores with non-food click-and-collect to 600 and widening its service to include clothing and groceries. The service costs from £2, and customers can choose a two-hour pick-up slot at a store of their choice, although these do not include smaller local shops.

User experience: A straightforward process made checkout and choice of delivery option very easy. However, the service only delivers to larger stores, making pick-up choice limited.

Communication: The retailer sent an instant confirmation E-mail, with clear details on the location of the store and pick-up point. It also highlighted the option to amend the order up to four hours before the pick-up time.

Pick-up: Due to the tight two-hour delivery slot and distance of store, pick-up wasn't as convenient as hoped.

Verdict: This service is most likely not aimed at public transport-bound central Londoners, as the distance of stores makes the prospect of pick-ups less attractive. In addition, the retailer's great choice of delivery slots makes home delivery potentially the more attractive option. Nonetheless, the service does add a useful level of choice and flexibility for the customer.

Asos launched its Asos Collect service this year. Through third-party supplier Collect+, it allows customers to choose next-day delivery to local convenience stores. Customers can choose from thousands of shops, with convenience strongly underlined on its Web site.

User experience: Asos Collect is not highlighted during product browsing, or even during the checkout procedure. Customers have to input payment details before being able to select the service, through counter-intuitively clicking on next-day delivery. The store search initially located the postcode in the South Pacific. After manually adjusting the location, there was a good selection of nearby stores.

Communication: Asos was meticulous in communicating order confirmation, dispatch and delivery via E-mail and text message, through the Collect+ service. The order was ready for pick-up the next day, as promised.

Pick-up: Dropping by the local Budgens to pick up fashion purchases was novel. However, staff were efficient, and a significant pile of Asos and Very parcels behind the counter indicated that many customers are already using the service.

Verdict: The opening hours and ubiquity of local corner shops, coupled with the speed of delivery and flexibility, make this service an attractive option, despite Asos's confusing delivery selection process during online checkout.VERY
The experience with Very.co.uk was surprisingly different from the one with Asos, despite both retailers using Collect+. Very was one of the first online retailers to offer click-and-collect to the Collect+ network of local convenience stores. The Shop Direct-owned retailer said that 18 percent of all orders over Christmas last year were delivered to the network. And 10,000 products are available via Collect+, according to the Very homepage. However, it took five attempts to find a product with the Collect+ option.

User experience: Customers have to register for the 'deliver to a Collect+ store' option, but the choice is clearly highlighted. There were five stores within one mile of the selected postcode, the closest at 0.59 miles.

Communication: Confirmation of the order was instant and notification of dispatch followed promptly via E-mail and text message, with a clear reminder of forms of identification to bring to collect the product. Confirmation of delivery, however, arrived three days later, despite the retailer's promise of next-day delivery.

Pick-up: At the East London corner store, initially staff were indifferent to the collection request. A more helpful member finally took the order reference, but after repeatedly claiming that the reference was wrong, realized that the Collect+ system was down and advised to call Very customer service or come back later.

Verdict: Using a different store from the Asos order highlighted the lack of control retailers have over face-to-face customer interaction when using the Collect+ service. The customer service was poor, and staff did not seem concerned about a customer leaving empty handed. Such experiences reflect badly on the retailer, and a shopper might think twice about using the service again.

In September 2011, House of Fraser launched its 'buy and collect' service in response to customer demand. The service is free and available seven days a week. Any order placed before 3pm will be available as early as noon the next day, and the department store guarantees that the ordered item will be in stock. For stores in Belfast in Northern Ireland and Dundrum in the Irish Republic, the retailer requires 48 hours, while its Cirencester store currently doesn't allow pick-up on Sundays. The 'buy and collect' logo is prominent on the homepage and throughout navigation.

User experience: House of Fraser has clearly thought through navigation, and the checkout process was smooth.

Pick-up: The second-floor collection area in Oxford Street's House of Fraser is clearly signposted throughout the store. Customer services staff located the package quickly.

Communication: House of Fraser communicated in clear, neatly designed and informative E-mails, making the collection process very easy.

Verdict: The speed of House of Fraser's communication and product availability was impressive. Collecting items from House of Fraser 'buy and collect' is as exciting as such an experience can be. Signs on escalators and shop floors point the way in bright House of Fraser livery. The collection area was prominent and gleaming, rather than a back-of-store afterthought.

Sainsbury's click-and-collect service promises delivery of general merchandise to a store of choice from 4pm the next day, if the order is placed by 2pm. The supermarket has rolled out the service to more than 800 shops during the past year, and last year Christmas week was the retailer's strongest for its click-and-collect offer, with almost 75 percent of online general merchandise orders made via this channel.

User experience:Click-and-collect is clearly signposted on product pages, integrating it effectively with other delivery options. A Sainsbury's Local, 0.4 miles from the selected postcode, was among the pick-up options, and there were four available locations within a mile, and 14 under two miles.

Communication: Instant E-mail confirmation of the order was followed by a notification of delivery the next day—ahead of schedule. It also gave clear instructions of what documentation and ID to take to pick up the order.

Pick-up: Customers collecting items have to join the checkout to ask staff to locate parcels. However, staff were helpful and located the item quickly.

Verdict:The inclusion of local stores makes the service very convenient. If only it also offered it on groceries.

—Retail Week is the U.K.'s leading provider of retail industry news and insight, top retail jobs, key retail market reports and data, from across the entire retail sector. Visit www.retail-week.com for the latest breaking news, views and analysis on the U.K. retail sector.