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Marks & Spencer Overhauls Click & Collect. Will Foot Traffic Follow?

Marks & Spencer streamlined its digital click-and-collect scheme, a move that could help drum up foot traffic to dozens of stores.

The British retailer is testing the simplified, self-service initiative at 78 stores, eliminating the “traditional manned collection desks that typically have queues during busy periods,” M&S said.

Instead, customers who opt for the paperless process can manage their order pickup or item return using a digital screen. The new service, which makes returns 60 percent faster with a simple barcode scan, is expected to go live in additional locations in time for the holiday season, according to M&S.

“Customers are looking for quick and convenient solutions like the option to click & collect on their terms when they want—which is now the number one choice for orders on M&,” said Steve Kemp, head of digital retail at M&S. “At M&S we’re building a seamless omnichannel network so that customers can shop however they choose with us, and with the rollout of new digital click & collect and returns we’re making it even faster, meaning it’s never been easier to shop our range of fantastic products.”

Stores associates are alerted on a Honeywell handheld when shoppers check in digitally to collect their purchases. This message tells staff precisely where the order in question is located, allowing them to quickly retrieve the parcel and get customers on their way.

The newly updated M&S returns portal displays customers’ five options for returning items they bought through e-commerce, including apparel from the retailer’s 21 collaborator brands. Using the online portal, shoppers can decide whether they want to drop a return in an M&S Clothing and Home store or any of the company-owned food stores. They also have the options of posting their return through Hermes or the Royal Mail, the latter of which will also collect the parcel from their home.

“As we continue to grow M& it’s pivotal we utilise our omnichannel advantage—offering our customers seamless interaction between online and in-store touch points. Today the majority of M& orders are collected and, if needed, returned in a store,” Neil Phillips, head of post purchase experience, said.

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“Our new paperless returns journey means however a customer wants to return an item it’s simple, quick and works well on a mobile—offering efficient omnichannel shopping whether you’re buying M&S or one of our partner brands on our platform,” Phillips added. “Customers will always want to try different sizes & styles and making it easier to return means we’re making it easier to buy with M&S.”

M&S’s efforts to overhaul click and collect and inspire customer store visits come as U.K. retailers continue to contend with flagging foot traffic. Though last week’s retail footfall inched up 1.4 percent from the prior seven-day period, traffic is still lower than the comparable 2019 period, according to Springboard data.

In high streets, the increase for the week of Aug. 1 from the prior week was nearly double the overall result at up 2.6 percent. The uptick was more modest at up 1 percent in shopping centers, but traffic fell 0.6 percent in retail parks. In coastal towns, foot traffic rose by 2.4 percent and shot up 6.1 percent in Central London. Springboard said the Central London’s footfall lift was tied to the school summer holiday, which gave consumers the opportunity to “make trips to retail destinations further afield.”

“In market towns footfall also rose by 2.2 percent, which continues to reflect the benefit of home working to local high streets, whilst in regional cities outside of the capital footfall rose by a more modest 0.7 percent,” the data firm said. It also noted that footfall was stronger during the first half of the week when the rain wasn’t so persistent, which was indicated by the average rise from the week before between Sunday and Wednesday of up 4.9 percent across all destinations and up 8.1 percent in high streets.

“In sharp contrast, from Thursday to Saturday footfall declined by 2.3 percent across all destinations and by 3.6 percent in high streets,” Springboard said, regarding the data points during the rainy days of the week.

“With the school summer holiday period in full swing, footfall across U.K. retail destinations continued to improve last week. In overall terms it was a modest uplift from the week before, however, footfall rose in high streets for the fifth consecutive week for the first time since June 2020 suggesting an underlying strengthening of customer activity,” Diane Wehrle, Springboard’s insights director, said.

For the week beginning Aug. 1, footfall for all U.K. destinations rose 1.7 percent versus a year ago, but remained down 20.1 percent when compared with the same pre-pandemic 2019 period. At U.K. high streets, footfall rose 23.7 percent from last year, but remained down 26.2 percent from 2019 levels. U.K. retail parks saw growth at 15.1 percent, but down 1.9 percent using the two-year stacked measure, while U.K. shopping centers were up 23.7 percent from a year ago, but down 24.8 percent from 2019 figures.

Footfall in the U.K. has improved somewhat as the country began easing up on some restrictions. The U.K. removed all restrictions beginning the third week of July. While there was a slight improvement from the second to the third week, overall footfall worsened over the month of July to down 24.2 percent from June’s decline of 22.2 percent, according to Springboard’s July report.

Wehrle noted last month that the longer-term impact of Covid on stores and destinations is coming into focus. “The latest survey has identified that a greater number of stores are shutting their doors permanently; the U.K. vacancy rate rose once again to 11.8 percent in July from 11.5 percent in April, when it had improved from 11.7 percent in January, and it is now at its highest level since April 2013,” she said.

In addition to companies that have gone bankrupt, some firms like real estate player Hammerson plc are exiting the U.K. retail parks sector in a bid to bolster better-performing parts of their business.