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Smart lockers improve click and collect for customers and retailers alike

The retail industry has been under attack since e-commerce brands began disrupting shopping and raising customers’ expectations in the process. More than 200 UK retailers have failed since 2012 as the retail industry scrambles to meet constantly changing customer needs, according to the Centre for Retail Research.

Successful, surviving retailers realise that giving customers what they want requires changes to touchpoints and workflows across an online, mobile and bricks-and-mortar presence.

One fast and simple way retailers can start to adapt is by improving on their click-and-collect programmes, arguably the fastest-growing area within omnichannel retailing.

Apex is revolutionising the well-established click-and-collect model with a unique alternative to the rudimentary processes currently used in most stores and to the remote locker networks owned by the likes of Amazon.

The Apex self-serve, automated smart locker is an easy, secure way for customers to collect orders at their convenience and without the queues. This can all be done without adding staff or disrupting retail operations in the process.

“Consumers want the option to choose how and when they will buy, pay and receive their purchases,” says Jon Walkington, head of real-time retail at Apex Supply Chain Technologies. “Expectations are driven by a need for the utmost convenience. Technology like our smart lockers will help retailers respond more easily than they might realise.”

The rapid emergence of click and collect is sometimes attributed to the customer’s desire to avoid delivery charges and the inconvenience of waiting around for a delivery. As high street brands, such as Tesco, Argos, Next and Currys, adopted the counter-queuing model, the concept was initially well received by customers. In fact, John Lewis reported 56 per cent of its 2016 Christmas orders were bought online and picked up in-store.

Automated self-serve lockers can make purchase collection as frictionless as ordering and paying online

Since it is more profitable for retailers than home delivery, the click-and-collect solution is good for retailers as well. This is in part because customers tend to make impulse purchases when collecting their order. It is also because the cost to process and fulfil orders through an automated on-premise locker system costs less than counter-queuing click and collect.

Retailers often come up short with click-and-collect programmes, creating customer frustration instead of a seamless experience. Nearly a third of online shoppers, according to Forbes, said they endured “long waits” while store staff rummaged for their parcels in the back of the store.

This is usually the result of inefficient operations, from a lack of staff to assist customers and issues locating click-and-collect orders, to inaccurate inventory data making it difficult to fulfil orders from store stock.

“A shopping experience isn’t seamless if poorly conceived store processes don’t complement the overall omnichannel philosophy,” says Mr Walkington. “Retailers who succeed in offering click and collect without long collection queues will gain a greater share of customer minds and wallets. To be part of retail’s future, they must solve these problems – and fast.”

Eliminating the frustration and inconvenience of queues, by itself, is a significant improvement to the customer experience. But it’s just one of the benefits smart lockers bring to click and collect.

Once an order is ready, the customer is automatically notified by e-mail or text. At their leisure, they visit the store and simply scan a barcode or enter a pick-up code to gain access to the secure compartment holding their purchase. And with rugged, outdoor lockers, retailers can even offer 24/7 collection for the ultimate in collection flexibility.

For the retailer, smart lockers free up store staff and streamline the customer’s purchase journey. They also generate valuable insights into customer behaviour. Through the Apex Trajectory Cloud platform, which store managers can access online, every device action is recorded in real time. Retailers can identify customer trends, upon which informed decisions and improvements can be made to enhance the customer experience further.

“Our smart lockers offer a simple way for retailers to turn the issue of long queues into a competitive advantage,” says Mr Walkington. “Automated self-serve lockers can make purchase collection as frictionless as ordering and paying online.”

As retail continues to reinvent itself, using technology such as smart lockers for click and collect is critical to improving the customer experience and optimising operations.

Speed and convenience is a standard customer expectation, but current solutions were never developed with today’s volume of click-and-collect orders in mind. Smart lockers make it easy and cost-effective for retailers to extend the convenience of 24/7 online ordering to the kind of seamless pick-up services that customers expect.

Mr Walkington concludes: “The future of retail belongs to those who deliver what their customers want, when and how they want it, while driving out waste and cost from their operations.”

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