Doddle announced this month that it has secured fashion e-tailer Missguided as a partner for its pick-up, drop-off (PUDO) service, which is continuing to expand across the UK and edge closer to its target of 100 stores by the end of 2015.

The click & collect service, which launched at the end of last summer and is backed by Travelex founder Lloyd Dorfman and railways operator Network Rail, has opened 30 stores already and has linked up with the likes of Amazon, Asos, TM Lewin and Hawes & Curtis as it looks become an official fulfilment partner for big volume retailers nationwide.

Consumers making an online order can choose to have their purchased item sent to a Doddle store of their choice, where it is securely held until collection.

CEO Tim Robinson says the company has a list of around 150 retailers it is initially targeting for its network, primarily in the fashion world but ultimately across all sectors of the industry. He is also confident of adding a first grocer in the coming weeks.

"Every week we bring another couple of retailers on," Robinson told Essential Retail.

"We are working with Debenhams and a whole bunch of others. The unique thing about our product is that you don't have to be integrated with the retailer's checkout, because customers can sign up for free to be a member. You can use the membership number and use your local Doddle store as a secondary delivery address."

The new click & collect service launched a pilot store within Milton Keynes station last year, before opening its first set of sites in London Waterloo, Bromley South, Brighton, Chelmsford and London Cannon Street. Since then, stores have been opened in the likes of Manchester Piccadilly and Glasgow Central stations, and one will be arriving at Liverpool Lime Street in the coming weeks.

Doddle stores are predominantly located in or around railway stations, and although there has been a core focus on the major cities since the launch it has been expanding to provincial commuter towns. Robinson and his team aim to be the convenient delivery option for online shoppers who commute to work.

"As you get further out into the provinces it's harder to find 1,500 sq ft on a railway station, so we look for retail units that are right in the eye-line," noted the CEO.

"We're either in the station or adjacent to it – within and around stations."

There are some exceptions, as highlighted by Doddle's desk at Westfield Stratford City, where it effectively acts as an outsourced click & collect operator for all the stores at the shopping centre.

"The challenge we have is that we must convince retailers we can add value to their product and add value to their customers," Robinson added.

Click & collect has grown exponentially over the last few years and represented more than half of some retailers' online sales over the recent Christmas period.

John Lewis has seen a strong take-up of its click & collect service over recent years

John Lewis said that 56% of its online sales during the festive period were for click & collect orders, while Anthony Thompson, CEO of high street fashion retailer Fat Face, spoke of a strong upturn in deliveries to store. It is certainly a shopping behaviour that continues to gain pace, and Doddle views its service as a way of easing the burden on stores and enhancing convenience for commuters.

Kate Ormrod, retail analyst at Verdict Research, said the Doddle approach may have a number of benefits, compared to other more established PUDO options such as CollectPlus and MyHermes Parcelshop, which rely on partnerships with local shops and garages.

"Opening stores in transport hubs/high footfall locations ensures Doddle does not need thousands of collection points – while other pick-up, drop-off providers strive to open as many as possible," she explained to Essential Retail.

"The fact Doddle operates its own stores will be appealing to many consumers who are using PUDO services for the first time and remain anxious about how secure their goods will be. Additionally, there is greater control over customer service and the experience shoppers receive."

Many of the Doddle stores feature changing rooms so customers have the capacity to try the product before they take it away. If they are not happy with the item, they can leave it for the Doddle staff – known internally as 'parcelistas' – to complete the return.

Currently with around 20,000 members and having conducted approximately 30,000 transactions, Doddle is encouraged by its start. Members can pay £1.95 on collection of their product, or they can buy an "unlimited" subscription which equates to around £5 per month.

Robinson said that around 80% of its volume comes from members, but he is hoping the balance will shift towards its retail partners during the first half of this year.

"It's safe to say we're expecting to see growth in take-up from the integrated retailers in the next few quarters – we only integrated with Amazon on 19 September," he remarked.

"As we bring on more partner retailers we'll bring our subscription prices down."

He added: "This time next year I expect to be saying that businesses like mine are a far more integral part of the retail sector. Black Friday, Cyber Monday and managing peaks are big issues for the industry, and PUDO operators are going to play a big part in the delivery network."

Click & collect purchases in the UK are expected to be worth over £4 billion to the retail industry by 2018, according to Verdict Research. 

The report, which was published last year, suggested that clothing & footwear has the highest penetration of click & collect, with 23.5% of total online shoppers and 46.5% of total click & collect users having used the service in this particular sector. 

A growing number of players are looking to grab their share of the market, and retailers are beginning to understand that the key to keeping their customers happy is to provide choice around product range and fulfilment. Verdict's Ormrod argues that Doddle needs to keep adding official retail partners if it is going to continue its early growth story.

"Having fewer collection points, does mean stores must handle a higher volume of parcels – and bringing in more retail partners can make this more complicated, however it is necessary to be seen as a viable option by consumers," she said.

"Integrating the Doddle service into the checkout on a retailer's transactional website is crucial if consumers are to take the business seriously and for it to become top of mind – important if it is to stand out in the PUDO market which is becoming more and more crowded."

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Doddle

Verdict Research

CollectPlus

MyHermes Parcelshop