Thursday 21 May 2015 8:44 pm

Clicks vs bricks is gone: Even savvy e-commerce firms need to do both

The retail industry is in a state of flux. Consumers and technology are driving fundamental changes. And now, the line between in-store and online is increasingly blurred.  
When online shopping began to gain popularity, the future of retail was painted by numerous commentators as being a battle: clicks versus bricks. But recent events and data prove that the digital revolution of retail is not the end of bricks-and-mortar retailing, but rather the beginning of mutually beneficial collaborations that serve consumers better than ever before.
Proof of this is in the opening of the first ever Google Shop on Tottenham Court Road. Google’s decision to partner with Dixons Carphone and enter the physical retail space with the “shop within a shop” concept, responds to consumers’ need to touch, feel and understand how products work when in their hands. In partnering with Dixons Carphone, Google capitalises on the opportunity to gain instant customer feedback, which is no doubt forthcoming in a store that enjoys such high footfall. If Google manages to execute its store roll-out effectively, having a presence on the high street could be a transformative move for the company in bridging their virtual origins into a physical format. 
And Google is not the only technology giant on the rampage when it comes to adding bricks to clicks. In the US, Amazon has already launched its first staffed customer order pickup and drop-off location at Purdue University. In the same week in February that Amazon@Purdue opened, it was also reported that Amazon was looking to acquire stores from collapsed retail chain RadioShack. A physical store presence for Amazon isn’t about being able to hold a product before purchase. Instead, it’s about being able to be responsive to consumer demand for immediacy and convenience. Manned stores give consumers greater trust that their goods will be ready, waiting and secure, for when they are ready to collect them – and it enables Amazon to offer consumers a faster, more efficient, delivery option. 
But it’s not just the online behemoths blazing the bricks-meets-clicks trail. Late last year, Argos launched its first Underground store at Cannon Street tube station. With the knowledge that over 4m commuters use the tube every day, the “Argos Collect” store is designed to offer customers access to 20,000 products – even as they travel around the transport network. With Transport for London’s wider plans to develop its commercial estate, you can expect your tube stations to become mini retail hubs over the coming years.
Moves like this – where shapeshifting retailers evolve their own long standing models to increase customer convenience – are further contributing to increased demands around the delivery of products. A recent survey from Ipsos Research revealed that 53 per cent of UK consumers now expect retailers to be so precise with delivery slots that they will only accept a window of three hours or less. And 40 per cent say that they would be willing to pay extra for the “perfect delivery”, in which they designate exactly where and when their parcel will be delivered.
It is with these kind of insights in mind that we embarked on our latest venture, Doddle. Doddle is a new parcel collection and delivery service, designed for this modern consumer. One in five shoppers have missed more than five parcels in the last 12 months alone. These experiences leave a bad taste in the mouth for consumers, and simply won’t cut it any more. 
We have reached a point where choice now firmly sits with the individual; retailers failing to deliver on time will rapidly lose ground to competitors. The disconnect between the online experience and the consumer having the product in their hands needs to narrow. It’s why Doddle has extended opening hours, to make it convenient for commuters to collect and return parcels with the online retailer of their choice. 
By offering a manned experience in high footfall locations such as train stations, retailers can be confident that their products and customers enjoy a desired level of service, even at the final stage – and this is vital. For too long, online retailers have considered that fulfilment at the online checkout is where their obligation to the customer ends. Amazon and Google are realising the opportunity in changing this way of thinking, so there’s clearly a sea change on the horizon.

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