A version of this article originally appeared in the digital edition of Retail Dive
On 21 April 2021, the Wall Street Journal reported that Walmart, the largest retailer in the world by sales, had started to wind down operations of the large, automated pick-up towers the company had previously installed at over 1,500 outlets across North America. The phasing out of these towers signals the end of the “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS) era across Walmart’s North American store network. Consumers have increasingly made it clear they prefer a different click-and-collect service model: curbside pick-up. According to a Walmart spokesperson, “The customer told us they want one pick-up spot, and they want that pick-up spot to be outside.”
Of all the competing service models in the e-commerce space, the curbside pick-up model is perhaps most uniquely suited to the realities of the North American retail landscape, where automobile ownership rates are high and driving is viewed by most residents as a necessary part of life. Although the curbside pick-up model was already growing in popularity prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, adoption of the service skyrocketed in 2020. Many consumers found they enjoyed the convenience the service provides, and a strikingly high share of consumers indicate they will continue to utilise curbside pick-up beyond the pandemic.
Retailers of all types would do well to develop their curbside pick-up capabilities further, but some retailers have had more success in rolling out the service than others. Below are a few practices that retailers may utilise to improve their prospects.
Nothing dampens enthusiasm for curbside pick-up faster than when a customer orders a product online only to find it is out of stock when they arrive at the store to pick it up. Retailers must ensure that they update the available inventory on their websites and mobile apps in real time, so customers cannot place an order for an item that might be out of stock when they arrive. This can be a tricky feat for small and independent retailers to manage on their own, but utilising an e-commerce platform like Shopify that enables real-time inventory tracking can certainly help.
Although more North American consumers than ever before have now used curbside pick-up, many have yet to try the service or may not be familiar with the specific protocols and procedures in place at certain retailers. It is therefore vitally important that retailers provide clear instructions on their websites and mobile apps outlining how to use curbside pick-up at their stores. Retailers should also send a personalised e-mail with detailed instructions on how to use the service to first-time curbside pick-up customers.
Convenient pick-up locations
While it might be more convenient for a retailer to designate an area around the back of the store near the loading dock as a curbside pick-up location, this is rarely more convenient for the customer. Curbside pick-up access points should be located in designated parking lot areas in front of the store, with signage clearly indicating where customers are expected to wait. Retailers located in suburban and rural areas should make this a top priority.
One of the biggest drawbacks to adopting curbside pick-up is that it eliminates impulse purchasing occasions. As a result, retailers – particularly those in the grocery space – should ensure they provide suggestions for additional items to purchase on their websites and mobile apps during the online checkout process. Retailers should also consider allowing customers to add items to their basket once they check-in via the mobile app when they arrive at the store.
North American retailers that follow these curbside pick-up best practices will find they have an important competitive advantage in their fight to survive in the transformed post-COVID-19 retail landscape.