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Online shopping's future: Click, then collect your local train station

By Jim Boulden, CNN
September 3, 2014 -- Updated 0952 GMT (1752 HKT)
  • "Click and collect" is becoming an increasingly popular way to collect good bought online
  • More than a third of Britons use click and collect, far more than their European peers
  • Newcomer Doddle is now partnering with National Rail to provide shopping pick-up spots

Editor's note: Jim Boulden is a correspondent for CNN International based in London, where he covers a wide range of business and news stories. Follow Jim on Twitter.

London (CNN) -- In May, I experienced what's known as a "failure to deliver." Then again last week, it was "failure to deliver."

The first fail was a maddening experience with FedEx, the next a worse experience with Amazon.

These occurred after I relocated to a flat, and discovered the pain of not having a front porch, plant pot or friendly neighbor. How do you apartment dwellers handle this?

Jim Boulden
Jim Boulden

Thankfully I bullied Fedex into a Saturday morning delivery at no charge, and Amazon reprinted the book I ordered and delivered to my office. But many companies ban personal deliveries -- and this is where what's being called "click and collect" comes in.

Click and collect allows shoppers to pick up their shopping when and where it suits -- and Britons are leading the way. According to Planet Retail, 35% of Britons who shop online click to buy, then have the goods delivered to a location that suits. Only 5% of Germans and 13% of Americans do the same.

When consumers first started online shopping, the collecting wasn't expected to be harder than the clicking. "Even five years ago, the concept of ordering something online and then having to collect it at a store seemed ludicrous," Natalie Berg of Planet Retail told me. "It takes the whole concept of convenience out of online shopping."

But by 2017, according to Berg, the number of Britons collecting after clicking will soar to 70%.

Companies including Argos, CollectPlus, MyHermes and The Post Office are capturing this trend, as are newcomers such as Doddle.

In a joint venture with National Rail, Doddle is using the rail stations' extra space as delivery shops, which will be open between 6:00am and 9:00pm seven days a week. This will allow millions of commuters to collect and -- maybe more importantly -- return products bought online.

"Most of the people who travel by rail, to big cities, aren't at home during the day," Tim Robinson, CEO of Doddle told me. "They have that 'sorry you were out' card when they get home. There is a big opportunity to fill that gap."

Ebay will soon allow its online shops to deliver goods through the thousands of Argos outlets. The Post Office also plans to deliver to small independent stores, some of whom have joined the delivery networks CollectPlus or MyHermes.

Doddle is touting a twist though. Robinson says 40% of clothing bought online is returned. Many of the 300 Doddle stores planned around rail stations will have changing rooms. "You don't actually have to take the goods home. You can try it on here and send it straight back."

No more calling in sick, waiting for that new purchase to arrive.

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