A look at some recent results shows interesting diversity in the world of online retailing.

A look at some recent results shows interesting diversity in the world of online retailing.

On one hand, there is a rush to gain pace in the most multichannel of all propositions - reserve and collect. In France, claiming a 30 per cent year-on-year growth in multi-
channel, Darty has launched a “retrait en magasin” service.

Here, John Lewis has joined in, albeit with a slightly clunky execution. Way ahead of the curve is the seamless experience at Argos, where just under 20 per cent of sales involve online reservations for store collection.

You could conclude that people are happy to make their choices at home but don’t want to wait around or pay for home delivery.

Then again, in the pure-play world, more customers than ever are willing to buy from an increasing Amazon range; Asos has doubled year-on-year sales selling A-list inspired clothes and Net-a-Porter is reported to have tripled profits selling Bottega Veneta handbags at over £10,000 a piece.

So what does that tell us? It tells me that customers choose products first, and they do this on the web. People are usually after one of two things: iconic products, whether a Birkin bag or a Samsung laptop or, more frequently, a generic requirement such as pink shoes or a washing machine. They shop within a set of criteria and, particularly in a recession, look for value. The web allows customers to research, shortlist and, most importantly, compare prices.

So how do you go about execution? At the factual end, retailers should be generating content: product specifications backed up by buying guides and good comparison tables for electronics, trans-European size translators for clothing and storage information in grocery are examples.

At the emotional end, retailers should be encouraging interaction with its customers: whether it’s the extensive review capability Argos has on electronics or the healthy number of fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter that Asos has amassed.

So if the web, whether in a multichannel or pure-play context, is predominantly the place where the product is chosen, then the choice of whether to collect the goods in-store or have them delivered to the customer’s home ultimately comes down to price and convenience.

If you need a few books to read on holiday, waiting a few days to have them delivered at a discount to the high street price makes sense. If the kettle explodes one morning, choosing at home and collecting in-store will be the quickest solution. If you are going to the shopping mall anyway, popping in to collect something pre-reserved will be useful; but if you have children with you, the prospect of trying on clothes in peace at home rather than in a store will be pretty attractive.

Ultimately, those retailers that can use their websites to guide customers’ product choice and then offer convenience for as many scenarios as possible in acquiring
the product, will create a compelling and winning proposition.