Curbside pickup has become indispensable in retail, especially for big chains. But what does it take to turn the safety-conscious service into a sales engine?
Retail executives interviewed for Deloitte’s 2021 industry analysis identified four top priorities for retailers this year: digital differentiation, supply chain resiliency, health and safety, and cost realignment. Combining digital capabilities with safety strategies, many have found that either establishing or expanding curbside pickup has enabled them to endure. Supermarket chains actually made gains.
Like many adaptations that sprung up during the pandemic, consumers have embraced the concept – one in two American shoppers used curbside or in-store collection last year, according to a survey from ShipStation. This means the hybrid shopping model will likely remain after pandemic restrictions are phased out.
Most stores that did not previously offer curbside pickup were quick to set it up. By some accounts, around 60% of American retailers now have the service, double the number from a year earlier. Big retail chains that already had it, such as Target, Walmart and Kohl’s, all expanded the offering. This helped power online sales. On March 2, Target reported record digital sales in the fourth quarter of 2020. The company’s “drive-up” purchases expanded more than six-fold, accounting for two-thirds of its revenue growth last year.
The hybrid shopping model even breathed new life into some of the country’s malls. Initially, when most consumers shifted most of all of their shopping online, the outlook appeared bleak. But Sarah Fossen, Director of Marketing & Experience for Minneapolis-area mall Rosedale Center, says she saw demand for curbside pickup rise dramatically. First offered at two of the mall’s entrances, the service had to be expanded to all five main entrances to accommodate ecommerce sales.
Clearly Target, Rosedale Center and many others are getting something right, offering lessons for others in the retail industry. Tom Enright of Gartner says that in addition to ensuring clear signage and sufficient parking, retailers can take the initiative, for example by encouraging consumers to purchase in bulk online, since they will avoid the burden of carrying bulk items to their cars. In terms of technology, retailers can minimize customers’ wait times by using location tracking to time their arrival, says Jean Chick of Deloitte. This can improve the experience.
Another idea is to make good use of the time consumers spend waiting in their cars for their purchases – analogous to the time traditionally spent waiting in line at the cashier. Mike Robinson, a consultant and former digital technology executive at Macy’s, says this is “the perfect time” to engage shoppers, for instance by promoting new products or placing potential impulse purchases like snacks and magazines near at hand.
The Economist notes that other aspects are more complex for retailers who are still making the transition, such as enabling shoppers to pay for last-minute items, or making returns and exchanges as easy as pickups. “If curbside is going to replace an in-store experience, it has to bring a lot of those in-store experiences out into the parking lot,” says Enright.