LONDON: Christmas trading figures suggest that 'click and collect' has become an important driver of sales, with more than half of online orders at some of the UK's most successful retailers being processed in this way.

"We'd love shoppers to continue to shop at our big supermarkets but we also realise online will only keep rising and you need to be prepared [for every scenario]," said Mike Coupe, CEO of Sainsbury's.

The supermarket chain reported online sales up 9% for the 15 weeks to 7 January; and when figures from Argos, the catalogue retailer it acquired in April 2016, are added, 18% of the business's sales come via online.

Sainsbury's offers click-and-collect options at more than 200 stores, as well as at 38 Argos concessions within its supermarkets; Coupe told Marketing Week that "well over" half of transactions at these latter stores were through click and collect, or a transaction that started online.

"We have created our entire strategy around the fact our customers want us to be there whenever and wherever they want," he explained, adding that those consumers using click and collect tend to spend money in-store at the same time.

"Click-and-collect is crucial," he added. "And if you take Argos, which now has nearly £1bn of its sales through a mobile device, it's clear that would have been inconceivable just five years ago."

The combination of mobile and click and collect also appears to be paying dividends at Marks & Spencer, where, CEO Steve Rowe recently reported, more than 30% of traffic now comes via its mobile phone app.

"Mobile is the fastest growing way of connecting with our online channel and 62% of what is sold online is picked up in stores," he added. "We think digital all the time."

At John Lewis, meanwhile, online sales were up 11.8% during the six weeks to 31 December, and accounted for 40% of total sales over the period; sales from mobile devices were up 80% and now account for 37% of all traffic to the retailer's website.

Sir Charlie Mayfield, chairman of the John Lewis Partnership, sees investing in online as a priority, but added that the focus was not on digital-only customers so much as those shopping across multiple channels "as they tend to spend a lot of money with us". And, just like Sainsbury's, click-and-collect customers are more likely to buy something in-store.

That has implications for marketers. "Digital-first thinking will become paramount, especially within the marketing side, as being able to entice people to do click and collect makes the best business sense," advised Bryan Roberts, global insights director at retail marketing firm TCC Global.

Data sourced from Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff