All That Glitters is Not Gold

Man is a credulous animal and must believe something; in the absence of good grounds for belief, he will be satisfied with bad ones. – Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

While the pandemic has recently pushed the trend into overdrive, has been steadily growing for years. And by all accounts, it will continue to grow in the years to come.
 
The two main reasons most often cited for why is so popular with consumers (versus home delivery) are:

  • Avoidance of delivery charges
  • Faster fulfillment (i.e. they can most often get the items they’re looking for at a nearby location on the same day, rather than waiting for it to ship from a remote fulfillment centre)

What seems to have escaped notice is that there’s another fulfillment method that delivers both of those benefits to customers: Driving to the store, getting the product themselves and bringing it home.

In fact, with regard to the second benefit (faster fulfillment), the “go get it yourself” method is superior. Depending on how far away the store is, a customer can have an item in his/her possession within minutes of deciding they want it, without having to wait for a pickup email.

This begs the question (that nobody seems to be asking, at least as far as I can tell): For customers who are looking to avoid delivery charges and fulfillment delays, why would they choose versus just picking it up themselves, given that both methods require a trip to the store anyhow?

In the absence of surveys or studies on this topic, I’ll postulate an explanation based on my personal experience. I do frequently use click & collect, but not because I find it convenient. I use it as a tool to avoid inconvenience.

Here is an early version of my personal “ customer journey”:

  1. I determine that I have a need for Product A.
  2. I know that Retailer X sells Product A and that Retailer X has a location (Store 1) near me.
  3. I check Retailer X’s website and it shows that they have 6 on hand at Store 1.
  4. I drive to Store 1 to pick up one unit of Product A.
  5. When I get to Store 1, the shelf is empty. I ask a team member to help me, but after 10 minutes of searching, they can’t find it either.
  6. I angrily drive home and look up Product A at Store 2. It’s not as close, but still within a reasonable driving distance. The website shows that Store 2 has 4 units on hand.
  7. Before driving to Store 2, I place a order for Product A and wait for the pickup email. Even though I have time to go get it now, I’m not in a particularly trusting mood – I’m not willing to spend more time and gas driving there only to find that Store 2 is too.
  8. The pickup email doesn’t arrive that day, so I go to bed.
  9. The next afternoon, I receive a “your order has been cancelled” email from Store 2. I check the on hand balance on the website and it now shows that Store 2 is on Product A. Clearly they went to pick it, couldn’t find any and zeroed out their on hand balance.
  10. I give up and order Product A from and just wait for it to be delivered to my home (so much for the benefits).


On the basis of that experience, I’ve streamlined the process to jump straight from step 1 to step 7 – let the retailer spend their time and energy trying to find it before I waste any of mine.
 
To be sure, there are some customers out there who do find click & collect “convenient” in its own right – being able to (hopefully) get what they want on the same day without having to push a cart through the aisles, even though they still need to make a trip to the store.
 
But in many cases,  may not be the “win-win” that everyone is claiming it to be. Customers aren’t necessarily rewarding retailers for providing added convenience – they may be punishing them after being burned for poor in stock performance now that click & collect has given them the opportunity to do so. And retailers now need to pay staff to perform tasks that customers used to do for free, in addition to losing out on impulse purchases and cross-selling opportunities in the store.

Perhaps retailers should be working harder on the basics (keeping stock accurate, in stock and on the shelf) to make it truly convenient for customers to get what they want where they want it and when they want it.

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