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There's a real debate to be had as to whether retailers' omni-channel hopes are realistic or delusional.
But for retailers clinging to the idea that there will always be a place for physical stores, click-and-collect capabilities are often touted as evidence that a brick and mortar presence still offers advantages.
New data, however, suggests that click and collect might not be as important as some retailers believe.
According to a new study based on survey data of nearly 12,000 online buyers in the US and Canada conducted by Bizrate Insights, which is owned by Connexity, nearly a third (31%) of online shoppers have taken advantage of click and collect in the past year.
But just 13% indicated that they'd have abandoned a purchase because an item wasn't available to retrieve in-store.
Furthermore, the most common motivations for using click and collect suggest that the value proposition could become less and less compelling in the near future.
According to Bizrate Insights' data, over half (55%) of shoppers who use click and collect do so to avoid shipping charges.
Another 43% and 36% used it for convenience and because they needed the items quickly, respectively.
Let's address each of these...
1. Free shipping.
Free shipping isn't ubiquitous but it is quite common and, thanks to Amazon Prime and Walmart's new ShippingPass service, millions of consumers have access to free two-day shipping through retailers that offer hundreds of millions of products for sale and are usually price competitive.
Is traveling to a store to collect an order convenient? Some consumers probably believe so.
But thanks again to Amazon Prime, Walmart ShippingPass, ShopRunner and the like, it's arguably getting harder and harder for click and collect to claim a significant convenience advantage.
This is especially true in cases where retailers have poor or inconsistent click and collect experiences.
Click and collect is still attractive for scenarios in which a customer needs a product now, but even here, online retailers are closing the gap.
For example, Amazon Prime offers free same-day shipping on more than 1m products in 27 metro areas and, through Prime Now, free two-hour shipping on more than 10,000 products in two dozen markets.
As Amazon and others build infastructure to faciliate super-speedy fulfillment, click and collect's speed advantage could be eliminated completely in some cases.
Bizrate Insights did find that 29% of click and collect purchasers used click and collect to ensure that items they wanted were available in-store when they arrived.
But there's an argument that this segment really represents customers who planned to make a purchase at a brick and mortar location and used the web to reserve inventory.
While that might support the omni-channel vision, as more and more retail transactions move online, this segment of click and collect buyers could very well shrink.
Ultimately, physical stores will only be viable so long as they're profitable, and the data seems to suggest that retailers operating them shouldn't count on click and collect to drive those profits over the long term.