It’s 2019 and companies no longer need to sell consumers on the basic premise of eCommerce. The benefits are clear and they’re mutual. Consumers are able to access a vast array of goods. They can compare styles, brands, functionality, and other characteristics. Then they make the decision that is right for them. They’re no longer limited to whatever products a nearby retailer happens to have in stock. For product makers, there are also benefits. They can protect their margins against the cuts and complications that go along with an on-the-shelf presence. But there are two massive, lingering problems.
- How do you get the stuff, on time and reliably?
- What if local retailers go bust, eliminating jobs and the very option of an in-person, spur of the moment shopping experience?
The last-mile problem is formidable. And much newspaper ink has been dedicated to the bankruptcies and closures of old, beloved retail brands. Some companies in the click-and-collect space are trying to address both of these issues, through the strategic deployment of high-tech locker units.
Click-and-collect is also sometimes referred to as BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store). In some instances, this concept doesn’t require a third party. Just today, I reserved a router at a local Best Buy and then picked it up. Best Buy offered the same price as Amazon so there was no reason to use a courier service, which would have added a delay to the process as well as CO2 to our atmosphere.
But in other instances, consumers want specific, competitively priced products from online merchants. They have no intention of making their purchase through a big box store. Brick-and-mortar retailers can still endure, and even derive benefit from this. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. They could dedicate some store space to a high-tech locker unit. And when the customer comes in to pick up their package, they might find themselves tempted to browse. In that respect, it isn’t all that different from a “loss leader,” which is a business practice that predates computing.
Dan Nevin is CEO, North America at a company called Doddle, which describes its service as a “tech-enabled delivery ecosystem.” He told me that the collapse of certain retailers has painted a false narrative.
“Things are evolving, it’s not that they are failing,” he said.
According to Nevin, click-and-collect is one of the few solutions a retailer can offer that actually benefits everybody in the supply chain — the customer, retailer, and carrier.
“We like to sit in the middle of online and offline and help connect those two worlds,” he explained.
Doddle still faces obstacles to its growth. Some people have personal packages delivered to their office buildings, so that there’s someone present to greet the courier, sign, and set it aside. (Nevin told me that certain companies are phasing this out due to liabilities and the additional stress that it puts on employees in receiving departments.) Residential buildings with doormen can also receive packages on behalf of tenants. Some businesses already work with couriers/eCommerce to provide package pickup points. And Amazon has its own self-service kiosks, called Amazon Locker. There are more than 2,800 lockers located across 70+ major metropolitan areas in the United States, including at Whole Foods stores. (Whole Foods is now owned by Amazon.)
In spite of this, Nevin said that his company has been able to work well with “forward-thinking, innovative retailers” and noted that business is growing substantially year over year.
When asked for specific figures, Doddle’s publicist said that the company does not give out the total number of locations.
They’re particularly active in the UK. Doddle’s service is available through a large grocery chain called Morrisons. Nevin said that his company is driving a meaningful volume of customers in store, and surveys indicate that over 50 percent of those customers are making additional purchases once there.
The process of returning a package is also streamlined. When using a Doddle self-service return kiosk, a customer doesn’t need to interact with anyone. They scan a QR code and the kiosk prints out a label that they can affix to the package. A door opens automatically, through which they can drop in their returns.
When asked about Amazon Locker, Nevin said that users of the eCommerce giant are also able to select Doddle locations. “We are not competing with Amazon, we find it encouraging that they’re in the same space,” he said. “They leverage our network in the UK and we leverage their volume.”