Explore the future of curbside pickup in retail. Has it become a permanent fixture? Learn about the current trends and potential long-term impact.
Curbside pickup exploded in popularity in 2020 as COVID-19 spread globally. Businesses across several industries fast-tracked the deployment of this relatively new practice in an effort to minimize the transmission of the virus among customers and employees.
But even as the virus loses its national emergency status in the United States and other parts of the world, curbside pickup remains a popular way for consumers to shop with their favorite brands.
Curbside commerce is a standard part of many businesses’ operations today. When a popular bagel shop in New York almost completely stopped due to the pandemic, the owner swiftly introduced a new curbside pickup option, which calmed customers’ concerns and actually increased sales. Customers could fully avoid face-to-face interactions by ordering and paying through mobile apps or SMS and MMS text messages before picking up their items curbside.
Since then, many large retailers — like Walmart, Kroger, and Whole Foods — offer curbside pickup and have used innovative in-app check-in processes to streamline the experience for their customers and their staff.
Maybe you’ve returned to shopping in-store in some regard, but curbside pickup’s form of contactless commerce has taken off and shows no signs of slowing despite lockdown restrictions being completely absent in many regions.
PYMNTS and Cybersource recently conducted a study, titled The 2023 Global Digital Shopping Index: U.S. Edition, that examined the growth of the global pickup economy.
Per the study, “the U.S. is home to the largest and fastest-growing pickup economy of all six countries in our study per capita. Nearly one-third of U.S. eCommerce shoppers — a projected 16.4 million consumers — picked up their most recent online purchase via in-store or curbside pickup, and that number represents a 37% increase from the share of eCommerce shoppers who did so in 2021. No other country has seen anywhere close to this rate of growth in their pickup economies in the past year.”
When done right, the curbside pickup model provides an efficient, cost-effective, and contactless experience for both the customer and the business. It can be applied to almost any business type — as proven by the variety of retailers and restaurants using it today.
Curbside pickup kept many businesses open and serving their communities during the COVID-19 global pandemic, and as we have transitioned out of quarantine, it has become a convenient and easy way to purchase goods.
Here are the reasons why curbside pickup is here to stay.
Customers launch a website or mobile app to browse and evaluate a brand’s offerings, and it’s on the brand to craft customer experience (CX) and digital experience (DX) in such a way that motivates the customer to complete a purchase.
Businesses can improve the purchase experience by gathering CX data and identifying weak touchpoints in the customer journey. After all, the purchase experience may be the most important in the customer journey and thus needs to be seamless.
Touchpoints range from a website visit to an email survey to a mobile app session to a text message with the business. With the vast number of channels in which interactions take place, it’s important to monitor customer experience metrics and use the insights gained in order to improve CX strategy.
One of the biggest pain points of curbside pickup, in the beginning, was how to address concerns raised by customers. By instantly informing the appropriate person or team to respond to customer feedback, you can convert detractors into promoters. Utilizing role-specific procedures, push alerts, and automated escalations makes sure that customer concerns are effectively handled and resolved.
One of the biggest perks of curbside pickup is how streamlined the process is. There’s no need for customers to spend time in the store shopping. Instead, they simply place their order from afar and pick it up at a designated time.
While phone calls were the norm to check in upon arrival, it’s now possible for customers to simply allow a mobile app to track an order and inform the business that they’re arrived and are ready to pick up.
It’s a scalable process, too. With most businesses choosing options such as checking in from a mobile app or an email link, curbside pickup eliminates the need for customers to call when they arrive. This eliminates the need for staff to answer phones and simply focus on getting the orders to the customers efficiently.
Consumers and employees felt concerned about close, physical contact — especially indoors — when the global pandemic emerged. Curbside pickup, however, utilized digital channels to facilitate communication and handle processes including ordering and paying to pickup. It thus eliminated any person-to-person contact that would risk the health and safety of individuals.
Data obtained by Statista found that, in 2022, around two-thirds of millennial consumers in the U.S. chose curbside pickup as the delivery type for their online purchases.
COVID-19 isn’t going to disappear from the world anytime soon, but health organizations have continued gaining better control of the virus. Even so, other illnesses such as the common cold and the flu are prevalent. Curbside pickup reduces the transmission of many illnesses, including those.
When businesses seamlessly facilitate fast and contactless transactions through curbside pickup, customers are provided with an extremely convenient option compared to in-store pickup or home delivery.
Retail and restaurant customers purchase and pick up orders within minutes or hours, if not immediately. Often, they have the ability to choose specific time slots convenient to them and receive updates via email or app notification. For shoppers who don’t want to wait (or pay for expedited shipping), same-day pickup from their favorite retail brands can be a much-needed return to normalcy. For dining options, curbside pickup prevents the need for going inside the restaurant, the unpredictability of waiting in long lines for drive-thru orders, or the additional costs that can come with delivery.
While delivery is still the preferred method for online orders, there’s a meaningful rise in consumers’ use of curbside pickup. Curbside pickup allows customers to simply relax in their car and get caught up on the latest TikTok trends, talk on the phone, stay cool or warm in their climate-controlled cars, and let someone else brave the elements to bring them their order.
Curbside pickup is faster than in-store shopping, too, because customers don’t need to navigate store aisles, wait in line to check out, or fiddle with an awkward self-checkout. Also, inventory tracking is made easier with curbside pickup. Customers simply need to check their app to see if the item they want is in stock or not. Although this method isn’t 100% accurate, it at least gives customers an idea of where to find the items they want.
Curbside pickup has increased profitability for businesses — courtesy of increased customer satisfaction, loyalty, and retention. Businesses that have executed curbside pickup successfully and improved their digital channels typically lead their respective industries.
It’s likely that many of your customers had never tried curbside pickup prior to the global pandemic. Once they were forced to do it due to health and safety restrictions, consumers found it to be an easy, efficient, and convenient method to get their purchases.
Curbside pickup provides an opportunity for the business to interact — albeit digitally and from a distance — directly with the consumer throughout their buying experience. When a business effectively converses in real-time with the consumer to coordinate a seamless and contactless pickup it can create a more personal and satisfying experience than a package delivery — and one that builds loyalty. Not to mention, the customer is also curbside and sees the brand — and any marketing — in person.
With package delivery, businesses are often at the mercy of whatever delivery service they choose. Unfortunately, this can end with a bad experience for the customer and a detractor for a business.
With curbside pickup, a business controls every aspect from ordering to processing and delivery directly to the customer, making it easier to manage the customer journey without an outside company potentially tarnishing the brand image companies work hard to cultivate.
With cutting-edge software for customer experience management (CEM) and business texting, brands bring together multiple data sources and technologies to create seamless, engaging experiences across the entire customer journey.
Businesses can use new and improving technologies to continuously inform, support, and engage in the moment. So when a customer is ready to order, they’re able to receive information and answers that motivate them to complete a purchase knowing they can pick up the order shortly.
While many businesses offered a form of curbside pickup before COVID-19, it was done for convenience, not out of concern for health risks. As COVID-19 fears continue dissipating over time, businesses are executing an efficient and seamless curbside pickup experience and find they’ve earned a set of customers happy to continue enjoying the convenience and flexibility of their contactless service.