You may or may not have noticed that House of Fraser has this week further rolled out its new service called Buy & Collect.
For the uninitiated, Buy & Collect is the latest incarnation of Click & Collect – where the consumer purchases an item online and then collects it at the store. It is not dissimilar to ordering and collecting a takeaway. Which is why it is difficult to understand the incredible fuss that has been made over House of Fraser’s new service. After all, Argos has been boasting the success of click & collect for a decade. So why all the sudden noise?
In this challenging retail environment multichannel operators in particular are embracing tried and tested methods of success. Retailers including New Look, Halfords and Marks & Spencer have all become evangelical about click & collect, seeing it as a major driver of future growth. Some have gone as far as to say that it will be become a major driver for sales growth over the next few years.
There is a marginal benefit of click & collect for footsore Christmas shoppers who would otherwise have to slog their way through crowds to grab an item off the shelf. But they still have to get to the store and queue to pick up their purchases.
House of Fraser has also introduced two concept stores that do not contain stock. Instead, shoppers go in and use computers to order from the retailer’s online store. Items are then delivered to the store or to their door.
It is certainly an interesting idea, but I am uncertain as to its long-term appeal. Broadband internet access is almost a commodity in the UK now. Why would you want to go into a store to do something you can do perfectly well from the comfort of your home? It just seems illogical.
And I am not sure click & collect will attract huge numbers of shoppers. Consumers who predominantly shop online do so for a reason. They are attracted by great service, or delivery to their door or they simply do not have the time or inclination to brave the high street. Are they suddenly going to go rushing back into the embrace of a high street retailer simply because they offer click & collect? Seems unlikely to me.
So then is click & collect aimed at high street shoppers? If this is the case, the introduction of the service could be seen as a defensive measure, designed by high street retailers to stop the erosion of their customer base to pure-play online rivals. Indeed, it seems possible that traditional high street shoppers, encouraged to use the internet for click & collect, could have their eyes opened to the endless possibilities that the online shopping experience provides.
Furthermore, the online shopping experience that legacy retailers tend to offer is typically uninspiring. The pure-play boys have long ago realised that it is not enough simply to offer an online shopping catalogue. The best e-tailers now provide a compelling shopping experience, laced with interesting content and sprinkled liberally with all the social media functionality that you can wish for. The multichannel brigade is generally lagging years behind the pure-plays in this regard.
There have been reports that the high street is clawing back some market share from e-tailers – a trend fuelled by click & collect. Really?
It might have more to do with the fact that we are still five weeks before Christmas and already we are seeing high street retailers getting very aggressive on price. It doesn’t look good for the sector if consumers are being offered some outrageous blanket discounting even before we’ve eaten the first chocolate from our advent calendars.
I can only speak for my business, and I am yet to see any real signs of a concerted fightback from legacy retailers. Sales at Feelunique.com are on course to rise 50 per cent this year to over £26.5 million and as long as there is not a Royal Mail strike, we are on track to have a merry Christmas.
Click & collect is not going to change that. As a hybrid sales model in a multichannel environment, it may appeal to a small niche of customers and therefore it is a useful service for high street retailers to provide.
But is it suddenly going to be a game changer in the contest between pure-play and multichannel retailers? No. Not for a second.
Aaron Chatterley is CEO of health & beauty e-tailer Feelunique.com