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5 Ways to Enhance Your Curbside Pickup Service

Posted by Amanda McLaughlin on Nov 22, 2021

In 2020, curbside pickup became so popular in retail one would think it was invented as a response to the pandemic.

But curbside service had been a feature for at least some retailers. At the beginning of 2020, just 6.6% of the 1,000 largest chains gave consumers this option. That number jumped to nearly 51% a year later.

Consumers embraced curbside as a safe, minimal-contact shopping experience that was convenient and quick. Numerous surveys show that shoppers who’ve tried curbside want to continue the practice. In fact, 69% of consumers expect store associates to meet them curbside. As a result, many retailers have set aside permanent curbside parking and assigned staff to this service.

BOPAC, “Buy Online Pickup At Curbside,” is here to stay. Brands that pictured it as a temporary service to protect public health must now optimize their resources as they make it a permanent store fulfillment option.

Here are five tips to improve your curbside pickup operation—this holiday shopping season and beyond.

1. Recapture Impulse Purchases

One of the elements retail brands have lost during the rise of curbside pickup is the impulse buy. Careful arrangements of impulse products at the POS often lead to as much as 10% of daily sales. When you’ve set up an arrangement for the customer to pick up and go, sometimes without even having to turn off their engine, you’re catering to their desire for a convenient process while missing opportunities to cross-sell or upsell. 

Communication between the customer and the pickup staff is usually by SMS, which presents an opportunity for additional sales. For a customer picking up a garden hose, you can say, “We have a new garden nozzle for $5.99, can I bring it out with your purchase?”

Ensuring that suggested purchases are on “Order Confirmation” and “Ready to Pick Up” texts and emails is fundamental, as is offering products that could be difficult for a customer to maneuver into the car themselves. These might be heavy items like furniture or large bags of pet food. One idea to ensure that impulse buy is to use display racks on wheels. This will allow customers to see an item and quickly add it to their cart if it suits them.

2. Streamline the Process

If you do add outside displays of impulse items, what’s the purchase process like? An associate taking a customer’s card and hustling back into the store to grab a register is less than ideal. Make sure you have a mobile POS you can use outside the store (but still on your network) and that the data you’re collecting syncs back to your system.

When an order comes through and the merchandise is picked and packed, keep it in a central staging area. Also be sure to ark bags clearly, preferably with the order number and the customer’s name. The idea is to reduce the time the curbside associate has to sift through the bags to find the one for the customer who’s just arrived. 

3. Ensure Fast Fulfillment

When customers place a curbside order they’re looking at the clock and timing your speed to fulfill, even if they don’t require the item immediately. They want the choice of when to pick it up. So, if your message to them is, “We’ll be emailing you when your purchase is ready,” it’s better to beat their expectations than to fall short. 

Dick’s Sporting Goods earned industry praise during the height of the pandemic for its phenomenal ability to get 90% of orders ready for pickup in 15 minutes. Speedy fulfillment was somewhat easier in the earlier parts of the pandemic when local regulations restricted the number of in-store customers. Now, with associates having to deal with crowded stores and a parking lot jammed with curbside pickups, maintaining quick pickup promises is more difficult.

Increasing floor hours for staffing purposes is the obvious answer, although in today’s tight labor market that’s not always practical. Another tip is to make sure all store staff from management on down know how to support curbside fulfillment. It is an “all hands on deck” job that everyone needs to pitch in on during heavy traffic periods.

Leveraging tech can also help with speed. Some brands have offered customers a coupon for later use if they go on the store’s app and click that they’re on their way to the location. GPS calculates their arrival time so their purchase is ready when they pull up.

4. Problem-Solve Before the Problem

If you’re already offering a curbside service you’ve probably experienced hiccups in the process. Customers tended to be a little forgiving of retailers rolling it out during the pandemic. Now they’re expecting a seamless process from their device to taking the product home.

If your inventory system isn’t ready for an uptick in curbside, you may be seeing plenty of disappointed customers. An accurate real-time look at store inventory is necessary to ensure that the product bought exists IRL and can be found and packed by an associate.

Parking lot traffic can also cause some frustration during peak hours. Curbside spots fill up and customers are left wondering if they should park and walk in, wait for a spot, etc. Here’s where keeping the text message conversation open can help. If there’s a rush on the curbside spots (or, non-curbside users are taking them, which is a whole other problem) and you know which customers are due to show up, the associate can text them to wait in a loading area or other safe parking spot to complete their transaction.

5. Partner Up

Curbside works great if your operation has a clean, efficient parking lot with lots of convenient spaces for waiting customers. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Modern retail parking was planned before the curbside revolution, making pickup difficult in areas with limited parking or heavy traffic.

If curbside space is an issue it’s probably also a problem for stores around you. It makes sense to connect with retail neighbors to see if sharing a joint location in the parking lot reserved for curbside pickups could work and benefit everyone’s business.

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