Bringing home the bacon

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Last month’s ‘The Retail Business Show’ in London reinforced just how significant online shopping is becoming. Not only were a great many exhibitors focussing on search tools, affiliate marketing or clever little applications which rearranged the website on the fly to match shopper and store priorities, but seminars covering these same topics were packed to the gunwales.

When it comes to delivering all these web-ordered goodies two trends are notable – first, the move to “order and collect in store” and second, the use of technology and real-time information to streamline home deliveries.

As Conchango retail consultants Andy Morrey and Gill Hide stressed in their presentation on multichannel retailing, a growing number of retailers are adding that “collect” attribute. Not only can this be more convenient for shoppers who no longer have to wait for the carrier to deliver but can pick up their purchases as soon as they like, but it has significant advantages for retailers. ‘In the US 36 per cent of shoppers who buy online opt to pick up in the store,’ says Morrey. ‘And 40 per cent of these buy more when they go to collect.’

This is an interesting phenomenon and also demonstrated in research at pay-at-pump petrol stations. On these forecourts, motorists have a greater tendency to go into the shop after they’ve paid for their petrol and browse the shelves. If you have to wait to pay for your petrol, it seems, you’re more concerned about the time spent waiting in line. Paying at the pump means shorter queues so, perhaps subconsciously, we calculate that there is spare time to look for additional items. The same results were recorded by the Food Marketing Institute in the US many years ago – shorter supermarket queues mean we spend more time shopping the shelves as we know we can get out of the store quickly.

So too, it seems, with collect models. The goods we  want are waiting for us so we have time to wander the aisles and impulse buy, much to the delight of retailers. According to Morrey, Argos, PC World, Dixons and H Samuel are among a growing number of online retailers all offering the collect from store option.

And for those preferring home delivery, Walter Blackwood, managing director of Home Delivery Network has some ideas on how that can be made more efficient too.

First, he is pretty much against having parcels signed for. The cost of repeated attempts at delivery often far outweighs the value of the goods involved and he believes that almost everybody has a secure place in the garden (his favourite seems to be ‘under the barbecue’) or a trusted neighbour where goods can be left. Secondly, he is already planning his company’s next generation of hand-helds to allow drivers to contact customers in realtime and alert them of drop times or changes of plan, so making it a lot more convenient for those waiting at home for parcels.

It’s under the barbecue
Home Delivery Network – formed last year in a merger of Business Express and Reality – delivers getting on for 120 million parcels each year, almost a third of the UK’s total package traffic. Its drivers, says Blackwood, are assigned to specific areas on a long-term basis so know their patch and know in which districts it is safe to leave parcels. ‘Isn’t it better to come home to a card saying “Parcel under the barbecue” or “Left at number 23” than a note saying “Please call to arrange delivery”?’ he says.

Certainly I’d agree that unless it’s a new fridge or a sofa, there is nothing more irritating than having to wait in for deliveries that must be signed for, especially since most of the time we have no idea when the parcel will actually arrive. Equally, since I live in a comparatively safe rural area, I am quite happy for delivery drivers to leave packages in a secure location.

What I find irritating – and it was a problem with Reality before the merger – are drivers who simply dump the goods in the front garden without even ringing the doorbell. There are few things more annoying than opening the front door in the morning to find a package left the previous afternoon sodden from overnight rain. Similarly, I have frequently found parcels left in the garage (again no attempt to ring the doorbell) and no note thrust through the front door to say so.

Blackwood’s approach is great in theory, as long as staff training makes it practical or the technology immobilises the truck until the driver ticks a box saying ‘Card left’ on his fancy new hand-held.

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