Curbside Pick-Up: The Time Is Now

Long before COVID-19 came along and disrupted our way of life, the option to “buy online, pick up in-store” (BOPIS) was a popular perk that had begun to change the way we shop. Although shipping times are accelerating to meet online shoppers’ mounting appetite for convenience, retailers had begun to realize that giving customers the shortcut of ordering items online and picking them up in person—often within hours—was an essential way to boost their sales and future-proof their business.

Now that we have a deadly virus in our midst, giving consumers low-contact, immediate pick-up options is more than just a way to offer customers added convenience—it is a public health necessity. Customers are wary of spending too much time inside brick-and-mortar stores, and in the interest of limiting people’s exposure to the virus, the CDC and local governments have recommended curbside pick-up as a much safer way to buy. Businesses that already had BOPIS options in place for their shoppers but had not yet taken the extra step of providing curbside pick-up have rushed to implement it, in an effort to protect their revenue.

Not surprisingly, curbside pick-up rates swelled 208% in the U.S. during the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has become clear that if convenience was a big brand differentiator before, driving retailers to implement BOPIS technology, an even bigger differentiator has now emerged: safety.

What Customers Need in the Face of Uncertainty

Consumers want to know that the brands and retailers they shop with care about their wellbeing during this time of crisis. Those that can give them peace of mind by providing contactless and minimal-contact pick-up are quickly becoming “their” brands. In all likelihood, that sense of security will factor heavily in consumers’ minds as we move into a “new normal.” It could transform the retail landscape.

As more consumers get used to BOPIS and curbside shopping, it is likely that a growing number of them will begin to appreciate some of the everyday benefits these options offer as well. Those who haven’t tried BOPIS before will see how simple retailers are making the process, and they will experience that the advantages it provides cost little effort. The simple ability to avoid shipping costs and receiving their purchases the same day they order them—without having to do the footwork of visiting multiple stores to see what’s in stock—is an appealing choice that smart retailers will be providing on increasingly sophisticated levels for years to come.

How Retailers Are Responding

Retailers of all sizes have been actively communicating with their customers since the outbreak began, outlining detailed plans for how they can stay healthy while continuing to shop. Both retailers with established BOPIS systems and those who have had the agility to implement them in the wake of COVID realize that the keys to this type of offering are simplicity and ease of use. Some retailers limit points of contact by having customers pick up their items inside stores at a counter manned by associates. Others use unmanned lockers where customers can access and pick up their purchases.

Many retailers, such as Big Lots, Chico’s, Petco, Ulta, and Bloomingdales, have pivoted fully by providing curbside pick-up. From the customer’s perspective, this is truly going the final mile, allowing for a fully contactless or nearly contactless interaction. All these retailers provide shoppers with a 1, 2, 3 process to follow:

  1.     Order online.
  2.     Receive a confirmation text or email with a barcode for their order.
  3.     When the order is ready, receive their items at a designed parking spot.

There’s No Time Like the Present for Curbside Pick-Up

With no clear end to the coronavirus pandemic, retailers urgently need to find solutions that will enable them to offer seamless curbside pick-up in the coming months. What might have once seemed like the wave of the future is now a critical step to protect revenue today. Most importantly, retailers must know that to be competitive in the 2020 holiday season, having a curbside option will be imperative. Retailers can consider the virus a wake-up call to align their online and in-store inventory so they can optimize their operations in-store and out.

Provide a Seamless Shopper Experience

The number one key to providing a curbside pick-up service that shoppers will want to use again and again is to communicate accurate information that is easy to find. Central to this is having real-time, store-level inventory capabilities and a personalization engine that pivots according to the shopper’s location and preferences.

Personalization engines, such as Reflektion, can integrate with real-time inventory and pricing data sources at the store level to offer to-the-minute answers to the pressing questions, “Do they have what I want?” and “Can I get it today?” By offering personalization at the store level and store specific experiences, retailers can accurately communicate with their customers. 

Once the customer has placed an online order, Reflektion can go the extra mile to maximize the attention and effort the customer has put in. The engine can influence the cross-selling of related products via promotional emails that are sent to the customer ahead of their pick-up time. A robust solution like Reflektion can produce emails that are hyper-targeted for the customer’s precise profile up to the very minute the email is opened. Customers will feel like these recommendations have been curated just for them and will see the benefit of picking up these extra items along with their original order. They are already taking a trip out…why not make the most of it?

Lastly, it’s important to look at store specific and curbside specific analytics to measure this trending fulfillment phenomenon. Reflektion plans to release this reporting functionality soon, stay tuned for details! 

Convenience Is Paramount

As more shoppers begin to test the waters of curbside pick-up, the most important consumer preference retailers must cater to is the ubiquitous element of convenience. Consumers have plenty to worry about during this time of crisis, and your company’s offer to make curbside shopping easy on them will win you their loyalty. With the right technology, it is possible to take both the physical contact and customer effort involved to an absolute bare minimum. Your solution should:

  • Set crystal-clear consumer expectations about the pick-up process
  • Provide direct and easy pick-up instructions
  • Provide a support number to call or text when they arrive.
  • Involve as little physical contact as possible

With an AI and machine-learning-driven personalization solution behind it, curbside pick-up can really seem that simple from the customer’s perspective.

Don’t Wait Another Minute

Even after the pandemic comes under control and consumers’ lives transition to a new normal, retailers will have to face the reality that curbside pick-up is likely to play a permanent role in the changing economic landscape. The virus will only make shoppers fall more deeply in love with the convenient shopping experience, and the wise retailers will seize the day. Without a doubt, curbside is here to stay.

Rob Neibauer

With more than two decades of senior leadership experience in the retail sector, Rob Neibauer brings to Reflektion a seasoned expertise around cracking the ever-changing code of customer decision-making.

As the Vice President of Sales at GT Nexus, a cloud-based global supply chain management platform, he developed strategies which allowed customers to streamline the international supply chains that brought their products to consumers while also achieving working capital gains.

As the Chief Revenue Officer for CalmSea Inc., a next generation predictive marketing analytics platform, Rob developed and executed the company’s go-to-market strategy, in addition to leading all customer-facing functions.

His previous positions include: VP of Commerce Sales at RedPrairie Corporation; Senior VP of World Wide Sales at Escalate Retail Software; and VP of the Consumer Business Unit at Blue Martini Software.