It was not so long ago that retail experts were gloomily forecasting a slow and painful death - or at least dramatic rationalisation - of the bricks ‘n’ mortar stores in our towns and cities.
Old school retailing simply would not survive the double onslaught of online retailing and the suddenly seemingly unstoppable discounters, they argued.
This view only gained traction in the downturn as both trends appeared to reach a tipping point, while the failure of legacy retailers transformed many of the nation’s high streets into ghost towns.
After all, we were now living in a digital world. Who in their right mind would want to schlep to the shops, battle through the crowds and heave loads of bags around when they could simply shop from the comfort of their living room and have the goods delivered to them?
Well, quite a lot of us, it transpires. While reports of the death of the one-stop shop were probably not exaggerated (as Waitrose MD Mark Price argued this week when he described the weekly shop as a “thing of the past”), a lot of us are shopping, who would have thought it, both online AND at the shops (albeit doing smaller, more frequent shops at the latter - hence all the death of the weekly shop talk).
Moreover, when it comes to the former, it turns out we don’t find home deliveries all that convenient. Whether because we have full-time jobs (and don’t want to sit around waiting for our deliveries all weekend) or simply because we want the best of both worlds, the ability to order online and collect from a store (where we can make further impulse buys and maybe even pop into a couple of stores nearby) is rapidly turning into the preferred option for many of us.
So it is no surprise there has been a recent increase in interest among retailers. Just last week, John Lewis opened the doors to its ‘click & commute’ store at St Pancras International Station. Wickes has also recognised click & collect’s growing importance, as we report in our coverage of last week’s Accessible Retail’s ‘Another click in the wall’ conference.
And perhaps most tellingly of all, online retailer Amazon has not only embarked on a joint venture with Smiths News to launch same day click & collect, it is also reportedly planning to open its first physical store in New York.
The message is: forget virtual shopping, think bricks & clicks (if you’re a digital native, clicks & bricks). Even online retailers will require a physical store presence, according to a new Harper Dennis Hobbs report. Conversely, interest in click & collect lockers seems to be cooling somewhat - perhaps because of the perceived security risk and question marks over the benefits to retailers, although Waitrose is trialling chilled lockers for food collection.
So who are going to be the winners in this click & collect revolution? Out-of-town rather than high streets, possibly; retailers that actually offer the service where their closest rivals don’t, probably; and those that offer the sort of ‘collect’ facilities their shoppers actually want, certainly - changing rooms that allow people to try before they buy, as Asos and New Look are planning to offer via Doddle, for instance.
And the losers? Click & collect may be difficult to do, but with consumers increasingly seeing it as a ‘need to have’ rather than ‘nice to have’ - and so many retailers now jumping on the bandwagon - they will be the ones who dismiss it as a fad and watch that bandwagon go by.