By Becky Clark, CEO, NetDespatch

For a time of year that is supposed to bring good tidings and cheer, Christmas is often an incredibly stressful period; too much to do in a short space of time and a deadline of the 25th December that can’t be moved! And it’s not just peoples’ time that is squeezed at Christmas; money can be tight, too. So when retailers slash prices to the levels we saw on Black Friday and Cyber Monday; it’s little wonder consumers rubbed their hands together with glee – discounted items delivered to the home in plenty of time for Christmas! Sounds simple, right?

Unfortunately, this year, this ‘too good to be true’ proposition has become a logistical nightmare for carriers attempting to handle unprecedented numbers of parcels going to millions of locations across the country. In the last week, two major carrier companies as well as some of the high street retailers with whom they work have announced that they have been ‘unable to cope with demand’ and are having to extend out their delivery times.

So, what can we do to make things better next Christmas?

In a recent survey polling UK shoppers on their plans for Christmas gift-buying, it emerged that, while there is clearly a growing appetite for online commerce, habits – such as leaving shopping to the last minute – endure. Over a quarter of those surveyed said they wouldn’t make alternative arrangements for Christmas gifts that don’t arrive on time. In addition, over 85% of people who shop online stated a preference for home delivery, yet 75% work full time and 25% say missing a delivery is the most irritating thing about online shopping.

To make peak deliveries possible, this mindset has to change. There are now many different ways to get a parcel delivered first time, on time- including in store Click and Collect, Locker Boxes and third party Click and Collect in locations near to home and office. But this survey is clear evidence of the lack of awareness of the extent of the alternative service offerings available to consumers today, and retailers now need to focus more effort on communicating those options in their check-outs, bringing benefits to consumers, retailers and carriers alike.

With tens of thousands of third party Click and Collect locations such as convenience stores, post offices and railway stations, now handling parcels across the UK, it’s as easy for consumers to collect, send or return a parcel as it is to purchase a newspaper, and in turn introduces a massive benefit for carrier efficiency, as a driver can deliver fifty parcels to a single store, rather than to separate locations - where the consumer may not even be at home.

Let’s take a look at some of the third party ‘Click and Collect’ options:

- A prime example is Collect+, a local convenience store-based, send, collect and returns service, providing retailers with the opportunity of putting consumers in complete control of when and from where they collect their parcels from multiple retailers.

- Royal Mail’s Local Collect service, enables consumers to collect from a Post Office close by offering retailers the opportunity to target an audience previously sceptical of online shopping, but which trusts the Royal Mail brand.

- Doddle – targets a demographic that is likely to shop online, but unlikely to be able to wait at home for a delivery; its shops are located in or around train stations, enabling commuters to collect, send or return as part of their daily journey to work.

- Most recently introduced, and with faster delivery times, is the ‘Pass-My-Parcel’ service from The Connect group (Smiths News) for Amazon, which enables customers to collect a parcel the same day, from a location convenient to them, when ordered before 11am.

The key action now is for retailers to make options such as these available and highly visible on their website. Encouraging and driving consumers to take advantage of these alternative options, both for parcel delivery and return, is essential to enable carriers to handle the exponential rise in online shopping in the future.

However, it’s not just the online shopping world which benefits from the convenience of Click and Collect; it also brings revenue opportunities for local business, too. Indeed, new research from eBay predicts the average Click and Collect visit will drive £27 in spontaneous spending, boosting the local economy as shoppers buy additional goods on impulse while out collecting or returning their parcels. Local retailers should plan for this and ensure their range includes items ‘ripe’ for this type of unplanned purchase.

If communicated correctly, the broader third party ‘Click and Collect’ service will help online retailers achieve a true omnichannel presence by providing customers with a convenient method of receiving their parcel and, of equal importance, ease of returning items too. The key here is in communicating to customers the range of options available to them.

To conclude, the true power of third party ‘Click and Collect’ needs to be broadcast and made available by both retailers and their website providers. It gives consumers what they want – choice, control and convenience – it enables carriers to get their job done in an efficient manner and, crucially, it enables retailers to protect their reputation. Getting the delivery experience right at Christmas allows a retailer to gain a customer for life.

Massive investment has been made into these innovative delivery and returns options, and into the technology - like the NetDespatch Integration Platform, that seamlessly brings together retailer, carrier and collection point technology - behind many of them. Only if retailers and consumers take advantage of this will we be able to produce a Christmas miracle next year.