Click-And-Collect’s Collective Sins

Click And Collect Not As Easy As It Looks

There’s no doubt that the average retailer is still struggling to wrap its mind around how best to integrate omnichannel operations into its own brand of in-store or online shopping, but it’s an almost universal opinion in the industry that, when it comes to low-risk, high-reward options, click-and-collect programs deliver plenty of bang for retailers’ bucks.

If that was true, Target would never have had to discontinue its brick-and-mortar curbside pickup pilot for online orders. Citing a lack of returns and a desire to allocate resources towards more traditional in-store programs, Target’s shortlived, almost-in-store omnichannel fix was given the axe.

While this may very well be an isolated aberration in a sea of retailers edging toward a higher plane of omnichannel competency, a recent study conducted by omnichannel firm Kibo and Multichannel Merchant paints a less optimistic picture — especially for retailers that think the cure to their omni ails is a turnkey click-and-collect program. The two groups recruited a team of mystery shoppers to test out how the click-and-collect experience differed between 30 different retailers, and while some findings were marginally encouraging — the pickup location in stores was easy to locate 83 percent of the time — the majority of insights on 85 different metrics related to the consumer experience were decidedly not.

For example, the time it took in-store employees to retrieve purchases varied wildly. Half of all mystery shoppers reported waiting between one and four minutes for an associate to fetch their orders, and while 43 percent said their waits were under 60 seconds, employees had to stop and ask for help retrieving products or checking inventory databases 27 percent of the time. Moreover, when customers wanted to return or exchange an item, associates only tried to save the sale a paltry 7 percent of the time.

And just in case automation is the savior of these unevenly handled click-and-collect programs, the mystery shoppers reported the presence of self-service kiosks in just 10 percent of the transactions, leaving already overtaxed associates to shoulder the burden.

The findings paint a somewhat depressing picture for retailers hoping to make a quick buck off of click-and-collect. As Chris Petersen, president of Integrated Marketing Solutions, told RetailWire, retailers are finding their get-rich-quick schemes falling apart by failing to adequately invest in these programs.

“Far too many retailers view [click-and-collect] as a means to capture sales with minimal costs in-store,” Petersen said. “Nothing will kill [click-and-collect] faster than the lack of properly trained associates equipped to help and provide quality service. Studies to date show that stores require additional staff and resources to execute [click-and-collect] in ways that meet consumer expectations. Given that trips to stores have been declining, retailers cannot afford to properly invest to make the pickup experience both efficient and positive in ways that make the customer want to return.”

It’s something of a catch-22 for retailers already feeling the weight of omnichannel pressing down on them. It’s becoming clearer by the day that, rather than a new revenue stream that’s easily exploitable by even the most luddite brands, effective click-and-collect offerings require the same blood, sweat and tears of every other retail operation that generates revenue. You have to spend money to make money, ostensibly, and spending none on click-and-collect seems to yield none in return.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow when in-store retailers are already playing catch-up to online brands siphoning their traffic, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. While far from a panacea, Walmart’s decision last year to spend about $2.7 billion increasing the starting wages for in-store employees has had an observable effect on how shoppers evaluate their customer service experiences. A Cowen & Co. study from November found that scores for both overall shopping experience and customer service had increased to their highest levels since 2013.

A few bucks above minimum wage isn’t the silver bullet for improving click-and-collect, but if in-store brands are serious about getting their omnichannel programs up to speed, there’s increasingly less time to wait for that perfect solution.