Getting involved with the burgeoning online trade may not be an obvious consideration for forecourt retailers the business is, after all, geared around drivers on the go and convenience shopping.
But just as those qualities such as opening hours and parking space lent themselves very nicely to the convenience business, so they also make themselves attractive to parcel delivery companies.
CollectPlus is one such example. It describes itself as a delivery and returns service giving online shoppers greater freedom and flexibility with the choice of collecting and dropping off parcels at local convenience stores and petrol stations. The company claims there are now over 4,500 stores in the CollectPlus network, taking it to a third of the size of the Post Office’s parcel delivery estate.
The company is working with a growing number of forecourts including some belonging to MRH and Snax 24, according to CEO Mark Lewis, who was previously UK managing director and European director of marketplaces at eBay. "We love forecourts," he says. "We love their convenience factor. It’s a really good fit for them. It works for both parties. For the end user it means they can choose a time and place convenient to them say on their way to or from work. They can fit it in with a trip for other things, say refuelling, buying milk, groceries and so on.
"It is also great for forecourt operators. It helps to generate footfall, and convert more drivers to use your petrol station. Our research shows that 40% of visitors dropping off or collecting parcels wouldn’t have gone there otherswise.
"On average one visit generates £3.50-worth of shop revenue. And in the case of forecourts it’s not just the shop side of the business but the potential of gaining more fuel sales as well."
On top of these potential benefits they also get commission on all the parcels handled. The commission rate is agreed as part of the contract.
CollectPlus is in its second full year of trading, and Lewis acknowledges that there have been lots of attempts at this kind of operation in the past that have not succeeded.
"The reason we have been successful (we delivered four million parcels last year, doubling our 2010 figures) is because we have the backing of partners retail payment network PayPoint and parcel delivery company Yodel, which means the service is secure and easy to administer. The parcels are tracked all the way through."
Stores use familiar PayPoint terminals to provide quick, secure transactions and capture digital signatures as proof of delivery. "The operation is very easy for retailers to set up," insists Lewis. "Staff in different locations choose different ways to run it. We vet every store, and are very careful how we plan them. They must be well located. In terms of space the reality is that retailers don’t need as much as they might think.
"Parcels don’t spend much time in the retail environment. They tend to be collected the same day. Transaction times are pretty quick. The size and weight limits are equivalent to cabin baggage. It’s important that one person can lift it."
Lewis says customers love the service because of its flexibility and convenience. Certainly one particular customer did who came in to collect his parcel from a forecourt at 1.14am on Christmas Eve.
"It was our last Christmas delivery," smiles Lewis.