Tuesday, 10 July 2012
Bricks, Clicks & Cars
Click & Collect is THE buzzphrase in retail at the moment, and it shows no sign of abating as the focus moves onwards from non food to grocery.
The concept is well established for non-food and clothing now with Tesco Direct counters even in Metro stores, Asda offering it from the previously under-used George counters and Next pretty much driving their business from it.
Grocery is still in its infancy, but Tesco now have 45 stores with its little wooden (obviously) cabins in its car parks and Asda are trialling it in 6 stores. Based on what I have observed in Asda’s Leeds Killingbeck store, they are opting for a lower cost option of painting some lines in the recycling bay near the petrol station rather than a full cabin solution. Whilst this is arguably a sensible approach while they try to prove the model, it does seem to lose a bit of the point when you see the orders being driven from the store in an Asda.com van.
Worryingly, this trend is being led by French retailers, perhaps showing that 15 years of constant price wars have finally knocked the innovative streak out of the UK industry. Auchan, Casino and LeClerc have all got "un drive" solutions which, at their extreme, are effectively dark stores with a place for cars to pull up instead of delivery vans. These have really proven popular with French shoppers and could be part of the reason why Carrefour’s much vaunted Planet hypermarket concept has stalled. Carrefour themselves are offering Click & Collect through their very credible “City” urban store format.
The idea is almost perfect. I'm sure I'm not alone in getting frustrated waiting 1 hour 59 minutes into a delivery slot before the man in the van turns up smiling as he tells me there are 8 substitutions. Click & Collect gives you the full benefit of internet shopping – the easier ways to find the deals, the lack of other shoppers getting in your way, etc – but gives you control of exactly when it gets to your house. And it gets you out of the house, so when you have the inevitable out of stocks, you can do something about them.
I'd love something one stage further where you could order the bulk online and you pop in for the stuff you want to pick yourself and add it to the online bill, paying only once. You could also imagine a hybrid store with all dry grocery, frozen and non-edibles pre-ordered and packed for you while you go in to get your hit of retail enjoyment as you browse fresh food and maybe select some wine. The ultimate modern shopping experience? Maybe, but I won't be hanging around waiting for it to happen.
With all these developments, it brings us to the age-old question of Ocado. Its very likely to take more online share away from them, but these new ways of accessing online services are often going to be incremental to the existing market. Of course, there's no reason why Ocado could not create its own "un drive" service attached to its existing dark stores. Very little investment and suddenly access to a whole new group of customers. A little bit more investment and you could have some small portakabins served by the depots to quickly increase coverage. Far-fetched? A couple of years ago, you'd have said the same about the French standalones!