Parcel collection at heart of McColl's services expansion

Offering in-store parcel collection and return points has brought new customers into McColl's stores and helped the bricks and mortar retailer benefit from the burgeoning online retail industry, according to the business's chief operating officer Martyn Aguss.

The group, which operates 1,279 shops across the UK, offers CollectPlus's online retail delivery collection terminals in just under half of its stores – and Aguss told Essential Retail that it serves the dual purpose of providing "all important customer service" and generating extra footfall.

On Tuesday, McColl's announced its first trading statement since becoming a publicly-listed business, and the company indicated that it has the potential to acquire 30 new stores while it continues to upgrade its existing estate over the coming months. The convenience retail chain operates 430 post office sites, too, and it plans to complete 191 conversions of these stores during the course of 2014.

As this work is rolled out and new stores are opened, the retailer is also looking to develop its service offering.

"We will obviously look to ensure we get either post office or CollectPlus into any store," Aguss explained.

"Post Office or CollectPlus are key parts of our service expansion where we are growing the store base."

McColl's does not sell goods online, but another way it has aligned itself with eCommerce is through the introduction of Amazon delivery lockers in around 30 of its larger stores. Through this, as well as its post offices and CollectPlus terminals, Aguss says the company has the relevant coverage in terms of parcel-related services.

Commenting on attracting online shoppers into store, the COO added: "If we have Amazon or CollectPlus facility in-store, it is a case of customers identifying with our stores in a way they might not have previously done."

Industry intelligence provider Planet Retail published in-depth research, this week, showing that the number of UK shoppers using click & collect is poised to more than double by 2017.

Currently, 35% of online shoppers in the UK buy online and self-collect, which is significantly higher than other established eCommerce markets such as the US and Germany, but this figure is expected to jump to 76% in the next three years.

Natalie Berg, global research director at Planet Retail, commented: "Click & collect is poised for explosive growth in the UK.

"Shoppers are already accustomed to browsing and transacting on their own terms – choice in fulfilment is the final piece to the puzzle."

Some of the leading grocers in the UK have recently started trialling new collection points for eCommerce orders, with Waitrose and Asda among the businesses allowing customers to pick-up their goods at a number of London Underground stations.

Last year, the UK's largest retailer, Tesco, launched a service where its customers were given an opportunity to collect online orders at schools, libraries and sports centres

The trial, in York, marked the first time that the business had extended its click & collect service beyond its store network.

Berg added: "Retailers should be readying themselves for this massive shift in shopping behaviour and thinking beyond traditional collection points. Train stations, schools and even shoppers' own cars could be the collection points of the future.

"Retailers must be prepared to forge relationships with some unconventional partners in pursuit of better serving the customer."

Despite the growth in "unconventional" order pick-up points, the traditional retail store is set to remain a key player in the evolution of click & collect. Online orders made at department store chain John Lewis can be picked up at its sister retailer Waitrose's stores, and eBay orders can now be collected at Argos shops across the UK.

McColl's, which this week indicated that like-for-like sales for the 19 weeks to 6 April were up 1.4% year on year, continues to see click & collect as a key customer service offering.

"The key thing for customers is that click & collect allows them to collect and return packages all the hours the store is open, which in most of our convenience stores is a 6am-10pm service," said Aguss.

"It provides significant flexibility to manage their day – in particular around the working day – and they can collect packages when it suits them."