How to make click-and-collect a Doddle for retail e-commerce

SUMMARY:

Getting new Doddle stores up and running now takes 14 days or less, down from six weeks, thanks to the development for in-store staff of a new Android app running on Couchbase.

Gary O’Connor

For the UK’s online shoppers, it’s fair to say that the ‘click-and-collect’ experience can be a mixed bag.

When it works well, click-and-collect can be a convenient way for customers to get their hands on e-commerce purchases and side-step home delivery charges. It’s often faster than home delivery too.  Recent research by analysts at Kurt Salmon (now part of Accenture’s retail industry practice, Accenture Strategy) suggests that customers opting to collect online orders in-store from a sample of 54 UK retailers receive their goods almost twice as fast, with 3.8 days being the average time for standard home delivery, compared to 2.2 days for click-and-collect.

When it goes wrong, chaos ensues. In an online poll of over 2,000 British adults conducted by YouGov last year on behalf of supply chain management company JDA Software and logistics company Centiro, more than one third (36%) of respondents reported issues with the collection of their online orders during the 2015 Christmas shopping season. Of these, 31% complained about the lack of dedicated collection areas in-store; 31 percent encountered long waiting times due to lack of staff; and 24 percent said staff took too long to locate their items.

Enter Doddle, a company looking to give online customers other collection options and opening up new outlets to serve them at blistering speed. Instead of dashing to Marks & Spencer, House of Fraser or The Gap on their lunchbreak to pick up purchases, customers of these stores, as well as a bunch of other multichannel and online-only retailers, can instead have orders delivered to a Doddle store near their office or located at a train station they use regularly, in a ‘click-and-commute’ approach. Many larger Morrisons supermarkets now contain a Doddle concession, too.

The success of this approach, of course, depends on two-year-old Doddle covering as much ground as possible, as quickly as possible, in the race to meet customers’ demand for total convenience – no long walks, no long waits. As of Christmas 2016, the company had just over 80 stores in the UK. The plan is to grow this presence tenfold over the course of 2017, according to Doddle chief technology officer Gary O’Connor.

Naturally, that raises some difficult technology challenges relating to the ‘time-to-open’ of a new branch. In the past, it took around six weeks to get a Doddle store in a new location up and running, he explains:

The underlying problem we had was the idea of going in [to each new store] with a dedicated data line and relatively high footprint of physical comms kit – it was tricky. We needed resilience and we weren’t confident that a single DSL [digital subscriber line] would deliver on that front. Putting in two lines, however, would be quite an expensive business.

So last year, we decided to re-engineer our systems to allow us to adopt Android as a platform, giving us a greater variety of devices that staff could use, but with a view to building out a capability that would also allow us to operate on an offline basis.

One reason for this is that a lot of the tasks carried out in-store are pretty self-contained, and are suited to being run locally, with updates to our back-end as and when suits. But it’s also worth mentioning that, in high footfall areas like major train stations, we often see periods of cell saturation at particularly busy times, so that offline capability, with synchronisation taking place at the most convenient times, was really important to us.

Parcelistas

The NoSQL database, Couchbase, meanwhile, underpins the Android app used by Doddle staff (or ‘Parcelistas’, as the company calls them) to check parcel status and customer details and to input specific instructions for the return of parcels back to retailers. Couchbase’s mobile technology eliminates the need for bulky fixed equipment and connections and increases the flexibility of Doddle’s in-store teams, O’Connor explains. The upshot is that the company can now get a new store up and running in less than two weeks, he says.

Doddle’s technology team committed to building out the new Android/Couchbase system in early 2016, on a relatively tight timeline, as the next tranche of new store openings was scheduled to take place in September 2016. The system was delivered on time and was rolled out to around 30 new stores over the final three months of 2016. The plan has been to retrofit existing stores to the new system, a process that is now underway and should be completed within the next six weeks. Says O’Connor:

We can now open new, smaller-format storefronts faster and maximize the ROI of each new location, without needing a continuous, high-speed connection to a central server that our previous system required. This ensures our teams can continue to serve customers online and offline, providing a more consistent customer experience.

Not only that, but the Android app and its Couchbase database now form the basis of Doddle’s ‘Powered by Doddle’ offering to retailers. In short, the company is ‘shrink-wrapping’ the technology bundle and the best practices it has developed in the two million pickups and returns it has handled so far in its short history, and is offering these as a service to retailers that want to set up click-and-collect operations within their own stores.

‘Powered by Doddle’ was launched in mid-January 2017 at the National Retail Federation’s Big Show in New York. So far, one retailer (yet to be announced) has gone live on ‘Powered by Doddle’ and others are trialling it, according to the company. In this way, the new Android/Couchbase system isn’t just an anchor for Doddle’s own bold expansion plans, says O’Connor, but also of an entirely new revenue stream for the fast-moving company.

Image credit - Doddle