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.

Graham Charlton

Published 1 December, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Comments (4)


Jody Gibbs, Marketing Manager at eCircle

It seems like the postal strike wasn’t all bad news for the online industry then, perhaps the strike has actually helped highlight some alternative methods to shopping online. We’ve been discussing some similar points on our blog, Inside the Inbox in these related posts: ‘The postal strike – good or bad news for email marketing?’ and ‘Do we really need the Royal Mail?

over 8 years ago


Dan Champion

Bad news for affiliates though. Argos offer a relatively poor 2-3% standard commission for affiliate sales, but only for home delivery orders. For Check & Reserve they offer a paltry 25 pence, regardless of the order value.

Because of this we took the decision to stop promoting them (sometime before the mail strike) and they no longer feature on our site. Other retailers are more generous: for example B&Q offer a flat £2 per collect-in-store order, making it just about worth our to promote them.

over 8 years ago

Chris Hoskin

Chris Hoskin, Chief Marketing Officer at MetaPack

I know when I still have lots of Christmas shopping to do - alas with a few days to spare when postal fulfilment is no longer an option or a risk I am prepared to take - that I will choose to spend my money at merchants that offer online reservation for store pick up.  

So as well as turning the Postal Strike into an 'opportunity' to still offer a great / differentiated service, merchants that offer these kind of buying options will be the Xmas winners as well [unless I am alone in leaving shopping until the last minute ;-)]

That's more great news for the likes of Argos & Halfords etc.  But bad news for my bank balance.

[disclosure: Salmon is heavily involved in developing the types of services described in Graham's post, but these thoughts are my own!]

over 8 years ago


Helen Catterall

Check and reserve has undoubtedly been a big winner for Argos over recent years, but I do believe that they can go still further in their efforts to provide greater flexibility to customers. Future enhancements will not only benefit customers but should also help to boost Argos's profits. 

over 8 years ago

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