Collection trend gives high street retailers advantage over e-commerce rivals

There was something of a sea change in the retail industry this week with news that eBay is partnering with Argos for a click-and-collect service.

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For the past few years, the concern has all been about how the high street can adapt to the internet and use it to its advantage. Yet here is an online retailer moving in the other direction, looking at how physical stores could boost its business.

The deal serves to highlight the limitations of e-commerce. You might be able to buy a huge range of products and get amazing offers, but somehow the purchases have to get to you.

The fact is home delivery often isn’t convenient or cheap. It forces people to wait around at home for something to be dropped off, or get it delivered to work, which can be disruptive. Plus there is often a fee involved, particularly on smaller items.

That is why busy customers are turning to click-and-collect, choosing to collect an order from a local shop at a time that suits them. Figures from Econsultancy show that 40 per cent of British shoppers used click-and-collect over the Christmas period last year and eBay claimed at an event this week that it was becoming people’s “favourite way to shop”.

E-commerce also doesn’t have one of the other huge advantages of the high street: person-to-person interaction. As Tanya Lawler, eBay’s VP of UK trading, highlights, online shopping is impersonal and lacks the personal touch of going into a store.

The tide might be with the big players in e-commerce, from eBay to Amazon and Google, but here are two areas where retailers can push home their advantage.

This means high street shops are looking more closely at shopping habits and preparing to build in flexibility to boost their brands and profits. Giving people options on how they get hold of their goods is a great marketing tool to prove they are listening to what customers want and reacting accordingly.

A huge range of options are springing up. For the high street, the way click-and-collect works is obvious. But what about for firms without a massive store footprint?

They can ink deals with the likes of CollectPlus, letting consumers pick up goods from its network of more than 5,000 local convenience stores. John Lewis has recently done just that, boosting it potential audience to the 88 per cent of people that live in cities who are within a mile of one of its stores.

In the grocery market it is more complicated because products are both perishable and need to be chilled. Yet supermarkets are testing the waters with models including drive-throughs joined to existing stores, refrigerated lockers and warehouses dedicated to online orders, known as “dark” stores.

Collection trends give bricks-and-mortar retailers an advantage, for the first time, over pure e-commerce companies. They already have the store network, warehouses and logistics to make it work. Smart retailers can make the most of e-commerce to improve their relationship with customers, market their options to shoppers and increase the overall share of their market.

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