The COVID-19 pandemic has sent shockwaves throughout the retail sector, with retailers suffering their worst annual sales performance on record in 2020, according to the British Retail Consortium.
With the UK in the midst of a third national lockdown, non-essential bricks and mortar retail stores are once again closed for business, though due to begin opening in England from 12 April. It is not clear if this lockdown will be the last. What is clear, however, is that uncertainty has become a defining feature of the “new normal” for retailers.
This was brought into sharp focus when John Lewis announced the temporary suspension of its in-store click and collect offer and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the restriction of all but essential click and collect options as a way of curbing the spread of the virus. The BRC’s response to this spoke volumes, as it warned that the move could prove disastrous and deliver a “crushing blow” for the struggling retail industry and — if the ban widened — the UK’s retail industry would pay the price.
Such measures undoubtedly lead to a spike in demand for home deliveries. But with delivery networks already stretched, how can retailers ensure they continue offering a frictionless, five-star and also COVID-secure delivery service to their customers in 2021
The answer revolves around one simple concept: out-of-store click and collect options.
No matter what, convenience and control will always be of the utmost importance for consumers. With COVID-19 accelerating the shift to online shopping, delivery is increasingly the difference between a sale and a dropped basket. Now, more than ever, retailers need to be agile to suit the current climate and put customers front and centre of their distribution models — or risk losing significant revenue.
At a time when social distancing is front of mind for all, out-of-store fulfilment options – which are self-service and located outdoors – are a straightforward way for retailers to expand their accessibility to shoppers, whilst adhering to existing COVID-restrictions.
Lockers and other out-of-store click-and-collect/PUDO points provide a safe and convenient way for them to pick up their purchases from a pre-chosen location – in many cases close to their home – which is especially useful for key workers who can’t wait in all day for deliveries. With lockers “open” 24/7, customers can skip the queues and make collections and returns or send parcels in seconds, at any time – night or day – that suits them best.
2020 was an extremely challenging year for the retail industry and with disruption set to continue for months to come, it’s pivotal for retailers to take stock and rethink their delivery service offering.
In 2021, retailers must do more to make sure they can put their best foot forward. There is significant work to be done when it comes to removing friction from parcel delivery and collection. By adding more out-of-store collection points to their suite of checkout options, they can not only add much-needed capacity into distribution networks; they can boost convenience to the next level – helping their customers collect and return their goods on their own terms. This will push them ahead of the competition in a difficult and hyper competitive market.
Jason Tavaria is the CEO of InPost.