We Click, But Will We Ever Collect?

Twitter was abuzz this week about Amazon’s next potential assault on the grocery market and, rather than their j0b-wrecking Amazon Go concept, it looks like they are going to be the latest to try a Click & Collect approach.

It’s incredible to think that retailers have been working on various collection schemes for almost 20 years now. In France, Auchan launched what became the “Drive” concept back in 2000, although Leclerc rapidly took over and drive-through grocery locations now number 3,000 locations across France and. By 2014, they were accounting for 4% of grocery sales. In the UK, we came late to the party after persevering with delivery vans as the best way to get grocery onto an online platform, but all the major players have some kind of scheme in place now.

I’m a big believer that most people who want deliveries are now already on board and that this part of the market is reaching a plateau as, after a steady increase, it seems to be levelling off at around 11% of grocery spend. Tesco, who stole a huge march on their competitors at the start of internet retailing, have now started to take a lead with click & collect services. Earlier this month, they extended their same day service to 300 sites, allowing shoppers to place an order by 9.00am which they could then collect after midday. As with their early forays into home delivery, it’s not been without setbacks though, as their use of tube stations as collection points didn’t last much longer than 18 months. There’s definitely an appetite for it though – a 20% increase in Click & Collect orders over the last year, with 10% of customers opting for the same day service where it was available.

Click & Collect makes perfect sense in a world where shoppers are becoming more promiscuous and, where they can afford to, mixing multiples with independent specialists for choice items such as meat, produce or bakery. I personally have always preferred to collect for this reason, as well as having control about when I collect. A two hour delivery slot blocks out too much of my time, and I’m sure I’m not alone on this! I like the idea of getting all the boring part of my shop picked and ready for me, freeing me up to browse the fun stuff – either in the store I’m collecting from or nearby.

I wrote a few years ago that Ocado were foolish not to consider click & collect, even from a depot. And now, Amazon look to be doing just that in Seattle with a concept you can be certain will be seen in the UK in the not-to-distant future. Whatever you may think about what Amazon’s tax evasion or what they are doing to High Street retailing (albeit without half the abuse Tesco gets from the indie lobby!), they are the undisputed masters of online fulfillment. They pioneered collection “boxes”, have changed the face of parcel deliveries by offering realistic options when you’re not in, and now look to be having a crack at something that has eluded the grocery trade worldwide for 20 years.

One thing traditional retailers can’t afford to do is repeat their mistakes in dealing with the Discounters when they started to gain traction in the market. Amazon are a ruthlessly efficient business and don’t seem afraid to take risks and make mistakes along the way. Amazon Go was a dramatic display of this – an incredibly radical execution, true, but very few ideas that hadn’t been considered by any major retailer before. So, being aware of the new arrival is key, as will be identifying what each operator can learn from them. Morrisons have already started working with Amazon, so that should give them a good start, but all nimble retailers will start to see what they can adopt themselves.

If Amazon “magic” does get click & collect to finally take hold as a viable method of shopping in the UK, it’s a great opportunity for independents too. One of the biggest blockers to indies is their inability (or unwillingness) to open longer and serve their local customers when THEY want to be served. I would dearly love to see a local traders group collaborate to provide a click & collect service. Either one site could host the collections, or they could take an evening each as pharmacies used to do with the late service.

Needless to say, the eyes of the retail world will be keeping a close eye on events in Seattle, although Amazon do tend to bring concepts quickly across to the UK market. I doubt Amazon could ever become, nor indeed want, to become a mass market grocery retailer, but in a world where the “mass market” has shrunk after losing share to Discounters, can it afford to shrink again?

As for the shoppers, even after 20 years of the digital “revolution”, people still love to browse and select in a shop. Yes, there’s been a decline and many have gone for the convenience of online, but it’s a small minority and one I doubt will grow much more without being forced, i.e. through store closures, etc. Click & Collect is a great way of combining both the convenience and our natural desire to “hunt” our shopping. Only a foolish retailer would ignore that opportunity.


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