A recent survey found that fewer than half of the UK's top 50 retailers currently offer a click and collect service for customers. Of those that do, less than a quarter extend this service to mobile.
Given the success of these services, and the rapid growth of mobile commerce, this represents a real missed opportunity for retailers.
Even for those retailers that offer reserve and collect, there is an opportunity to optimise the experience for users and improve revenues.
Here are some arguments for offering this service, and ten tips for creating the best possible click and collect experience...
Why offer reserve and collect?
Because it works
Retailers that have adopted it are driving a significant proportion of sales by using click and collect.
Argos is the original success story for reserve and collect, having launched its own service more than ten years ago. Check and Reserve accounted for 29% of Argos' £819m sales in Q1 2012.
Its business model lent itself perfectly with reserve and collect, and it perhaps had fewer challenges than some to implement the service, but that doesn't mean it can't work for others.
Halfords introduced a click and collect service, and now 86% of all its online sales are for in-store collection.
It fits with consumer behaviour
Large numbers of consumers research online with the intention of heading to the high street to eventually make the purchase. For example, more than a third of Homebase customers fit into this pattern.
By providing click and collect, retailers are ensuring that, if a customer hits their site to research products, they can 'lock them in' for the offline purchase by making sure a product is there for them to collect in the store.
It saves time for consumers
It's a busy world, and if you can save customers some time and thus make their lives easier, they'll appreciate it.
Reserving products for them means they needn't go from shop to shop looking for a copy of the latest games console, gadget, or whathever. They can just head to your store and pick it up.
The potential for cross selling
Reserve and collect can drive footfall into your store, and this brings with it the potential to add incremental sales to the original reservation.
Let's say they've reserved an iPad. While they're picking this up, they may see a case they like, or useful add-ons like keyboards and headphones.
It helps to give multichannel retailers an edge
Reserve and collect is one tactic that pureplays like Amazon don't have. Perhaps it's inconvenient to wait in for a home delivery, or you would rather get the item sooner.
It can appeal to the 'want it now' mentality. Rather than waiting for delivery from Amazon, you can reserve and collect in store that day.
Tips for improving your reserve and collect service
Simple really, but if customers are aware that the reserve online, collect in store options exists, they are more likely to use it.
Also, it can be a sales driver. At Christmas for example, I find it's a useful option for last-minute gift shopping (as mine invariably is). The hell that is the high street on Christmas Eve is reduced slightly if all you have to do is head in to one or two stores to pick up reserved items.
Therefore, I tend to favour sites that offer reserve and collect at that time of year.
Make sure customers know this is an option. It can drive sales, so there's no sense in waiting until customers are in checkout before you present the collect in store option.
Next is one site which does nothing to promote the service, while Halfords, by contrast, makes this clear on every page:
Show local stock levels
A quick stock level check saves time for customers, and avoids the frustration of heading to checkout only to find that the item is unavailable nearby.
Here's a good example from Sears, which provides the stock check option on its product pages. Also, by showing how many items are left it adds an element of urgency which may just push the customer towards a purchase.
Suggest alternative stores
If the most local store doesn't have the item in stock, customers may be willing to travel further afield, so give them options if stock is available in other stores.
Sears does this in the screenshot above, as does Argos here. The local store has none, but if I'm willing to travel a few miles, I can pick up a new iPad:
Allow shoppers to enter postcodes to check before checkout
As in the two examples shown above, customers should be able to check stock levels before they add items to their basket. This avoids any wasted time and the resultant customer frustration.
Suggest alternative products when selected items are out of stock in local stores
I've yet to find an example of this, but this is a feature which could be useful to customers.
For example, Argos has no 64GB iPads in the nearest ten stores, but perhaps I'd settle for a white iPad, or the 32GB version if suggested, especially if it's a last minute gift.
Make products available for collection ASAP
This is one area where retailers can gain a real advantage, as well as appealing more to mobile searchers.
In this example, items reserved at Comet can be collected 30 minutes from reservation, while other stores make you wait until the next day or longer:
This satisfies the customer who is eager to get his hands on his purchase, and is more likely to appeal to people on mobile who are searching for a specific item.
By contrast, if I select reserve and collect on Next, I have to wait three days to collect the item unless I pay extra:
Be clear about timings
I know from experience that Argos tends to have items available within the hour, but it doesn't make this clear on the confirmation page:
If the item is available straightaway, make this clear. If nothing else, it's a good sales-driver.
(On a separate note, I would question the wisdom of using the Webloyalty reward scheme and offering this to customers after purchase).
Set a default store
This is useful for returning customers and users of mobile apps, as it saves time re-entering postcodes and makes repeat ordering much easier. Also, detecting a user's location can fulfil the same purpose for new visitors.
Make the reservation process nice and easy
Reserving for in-store collection should be much easier than ordering for home delivery. Keep form-filling to a minimum, and only ask what is necessary to complete the purchase.
Make it mobile
This is essential. Mobile is a vital link in a retailer's multichannel strategy, and people will increasingly use their phones for product searches and stock checking while out and about.
If you can display stock levels and allow customers to reserve items for collection, this gives you a big advantage over rivals.
For example, I have Comet and PC World stores within a few miles of my location, both offering a similar range of products. However, Comet has a mobile site which allows me to reserve items, and PC World doesn't. A big mistake.
Mobile is vital not only in terms of convenience and gaining an edge over rivals, but also in mobile search results. Google is integrating more and more local information into shopping results, and if you can show stock levels (and allow reservation) then this makes your result stand out: