The postal strikes last month cost retailers a total of £53m in lost sales, but some retailers managed to offset customer concerns around delivery by offering collect in store services.
Argos is one example, reporting growth in use of its Check and Reserve service around the time of the strikes, and providing an example for other multichannel retailers of how to minimise the disruption caused by postal strikes.
In the last week of October, the volume of customers using Check and Reserve was up by 100% year on year. Now, the service has been growing anyway, as we reported earlier in the year, but the strikes have clearly had an effect.
Argos has seen growth in Check and Reserve orders over the past six months or so anyway, but this growth was at around 50%, so the effects of the strike on orders are clear to see.
Some Check and Reserve categories grew more than others; orders of small consumer electricals like iPods doubled during the last week of the Royal Mail strikes compared with earlier in the month, there were four times as many laptop reservations, while DAB radio orders grew 140% year on year.
As it happens, Argos wasn't as inconvenienced as some other retailers by the strikes, as it has an in-house delivery network, and only relies on Royal Mail for around 1% of deliveries.
Still, customer concerns about delivery resulting from the news coverage seems to have affected online retailers, whether they used a courier or not. Argos, like others, chose to add clear messages to the site to reassure customers about delivery, and also pointed customers towards the multichannel option.
Check & Reserve is the biggest multichannel growth area for Argos, and seems to be paying off, something other multichannel retailers should take note of.
Online sales represented 28% of total Argos sales in the first half of this financial year, and 18% of Argos’ total sales were from customers using online Check & Reserve, which grew by 50% in the period.
Other retailers, like M&S are starting to offer this option more, and if collect in store services are done well, by providing up to date information which allows customers to check stock levels at local stores, and not making customers wait too long before they can collect items, then they can be very effective as driving in store sales.
There are challenges for companies creating such services, such as joining up online and offline so that stock levels are accurate, something Halfords' Jon Asbury talked about in a recent Q&A.
It also offers those online retailers with reserve and collect options the chance to sell to customers right up to Christmas, when other etaier are unable to deliver in time.