Despite its growing popularity, less than half of the UK's top retailers (including grocery, department stores, clothing, general merchandise and home improvement) offer their customers a 'click and collect' service, according to a study of the UK's top 50 multi-channel retailers by IVIS Group.
The company's first annual multi-channel benchmark study found that only 44% of the country's retailers currently allow shoppers to reserve or pay for products online and then collect them in-store later. And, while 77% of these give customers access to the service on both their web and mobile sites, the remaining 23% do so only via their main websites.
Many retailers, it seems, are currently providing an inconsistent customer experience across their in-store, online and mobile channels. When looking at how mobile devices are linking online and in-store shopping, consumers can access all 50 retailers on smartphones and tablets such as the iPad. And, while 54% of retailers do have a mobile app, more than one third (38%) still have not optimised their websites for these devices.
Of those with a mobile-optimised website or app, 84% have a store locator on the home page, but more than half (55%) do not yet allow customers to check in-store stock availability before going shopping.
"We selected the top 50 retailers across five categories because they are investing the most in multi-channel as a whole," explained Paul Bolton, director of product and corporate strategy for IVIS Group. "We found that, while some retailers are leading the way with flawless joined-up customer shopping experiences, these are rare. In-store and online crossover is a growing trend, but the number of retailers offering this service is low, even when taking into account that certain product types may not suit the click-and-collect model. Retailers must now start thinking like shoppers."
In examining the various elements of customer service, the study found that two thirds of retailers (66%) are happy to receive telephone calls from consumers about online and catalogue shopping queries and orders, while the other 34% are not, preferring instead to be contacted via email or web forms.
While 42% of retailers send email and text notifications for items ready to collect in-store, this shows that more than half (58%) are not yet taking advantage of cheap, efficient, automatable technology to keep customers informed, instead relying on call centres or in-store staff to do so.
The store front also looks very different in digital channels, with one fifth of the UK's top retailers providing little or no product information to their online shoppers.
In fact, 16% do not provide exact product dimensions, clothing sizes, and information on materials, and 4% give only patchy information about their product ranges. Looking at whether retailers show products in situ, such as clothes displayed on mannequins and furniture placed in rooms, only 12% show all products as they would appear. Half of the retailers leave customers to guess how items will look and 38% show only certain types of products in situ. Only one retailer currently offers product videos. Just over one quarter (26%) of retailers offer interactive screens in-store, allowing customers to browse products.
"Some retailers are leapfrogging the need for interactive screens as they look directly to the use of mobile in-store and invest in offering Wi-Fi internet connectivity," added Bolton. "Our research found that only 4% of retailers currently offer free Wi-Fi in-store, with another 2% planning to in the future."
The company also researched the top 50 retailers' activity on social media sites. All but one have a presence on Facebook, enabling shoppers to 'like' the retailer or share links. Only two have Facebook stores. Twitter is the next most popular social channel, with 92% of retailers tweeting. Of these, 87% respond to user queries, suggesting a small number use Twitter purely to push messages out rather than to engage with their customers.