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Plenty of shoppers are researching online and buying offline, so the 'reserve and collect' services offered by multichannel retailers are a great tool.
When done well, they can help customers check whether items are in stock before they actually go and visit a store, as well as providing another option when products are unavailable for delivery.
I was looking for a cheap PC over the weekend, and decided to check out these services to make sure my trip to the shops wasn't a complete waste of time.
However, I had a frustrating time of it thanks to too many items being out of stock, and have come up with a couple of suggested improvements.
Suggest alternatives that are available in store
After trying out a number of products on the PC World website, only to find that none were available within 30 miles of me, I ended up giving up altogether, only to find exactly the same problem on other sites.
When items are unavailable, you normally get the option of searching with a different postcode or town, searching a wider area, or choosing the same item for home delivery.
These are sensible options, but if customers are using the reserve and collect service, it's often to check out prices first and save a wasted trip to the shops, so why not suggest similar items that are in stock at local stores?
Customers could then see what is available in the same price range and be saved further wasted searches.
Allow shoppers to check availability before proceeding to checkout
To see if a local store has an item in stock, you have to go through part of the checkout process first on most sites, which can be time consuming, and is unnecessary if the item turns out to be unavailable.
On Halfords, for instance, I need to add the item to my basket, select the collect in store option, then proceed to the checkout, before entering a postcode or town to search for stock locally. This makes the process longer than it needs to be.
Better to let customers check availability as soon as items have been added to their shopping basket, or even before if possible.
Comet's system is better; selecting the collect option from the product page takes you straight to the local store search.
Remember postcode details for store searches
A further annoyance was having to enter my postcode again for subsequent searches. Leaving the previous details in the search box would be useful or, better still, if I'm logged into the site already, show me items that are available near me.
Offer to deliver items for store pick up
Shoppers may want to use reserve and collect services as they won't be able to stay in for deliveries, and picking up items at a local store is the only option.
If an item is out of stock at a local store but available online, customers should have the option of having it delivered to the local store for pick up in a few days, as Borders does.