Curbside Pickup: Mind the Moving Parts

Just how big is curbside pickup? eMarketer recently predicted curbside pickup to be a $58 billion market by the end of 2020. It’s a whole new ball game now in 2020. Retailers such as Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Kohl’s have scrambled to adapt to a new consumer journey by offering services that make it possible for people to call stores and go online to place orders and then pick up their purchases in front of stores. Thanks to differing customer experiences, some curbside offerings have been more successful than others, and there is still a lot of opportunity for retailers to take ground from competitors in the space.

However, curbside pickup is not a slam dunk. What happens at curbside is just the tip of the iceberg. Businesses need to manage many moving parts to ensure that a customer who arrives at curbside to pick up an order actually receives what they requested in a timely fashion. Done wrong, curbside pickup can create a confusing and frustrating customer experience. 


The Rise of Curbside Pickup

Before 2020 unleashed a sudden wave of disruption, curbside pickup was already gaining popularity for an increasingly mobile society demanding convenience on the go. Curbside pickup was also catching fire because it eased the burden of a shopper needing to go into a store, push a cart around, schlep through check-out, and load the trunk. A store with curbside pickup could do all that for you.

Big-box stores such as Home Depot, Target, and Walmart didn’t wait for COVID-19 to launch curbside pickup. They were already there a long time ago. Walmart offered grocery pickup at 3,200 of its more than 4,700 U.S. stores by the end of 2019.  

As 2020 dawned, curbside pickup emerged a classic case of one of those improvements that make shoppers ask, “How did I manage without this?” even though people had been making do without the service for many years. 


How Curbside Pickup Has Changed in 2020

COVID-19 has changed things in two big ways: 

  •     Changed the nature of customer demand. Convenience remains important. But of course life during COVID-19 means that shoppers are more cautious about visiting a physical store. Shopping in a building now means increasing one’s risk to being exposed to a deadly virus by getting too close to other shoppers and touching germ-filled check-out screens – not to mention the discomfort of breathing through a mask for several minutes. 
  •     Accelerated the adoption of curbside pickup. Retailers, already reeling from the financial blow of shelter-in-place mandates, have scrambled to adopt curbside pickup in order to encourage reluctant shoppers to visit their stores as America slowly re-opens its brick-and-mortar economy. 

And these trends will continue. Once the new normal emerges, consumers will still continue their old habits of curbside and pick-up. Brands and retailers need to take a long view of these changes and not just make offerings for the short-term, but rather make long-term changes that allow them to continue offering these services profitably. 

In addition, Google has helped businesses adopt curbside by adding “curbside pick” as an attribute to their Google My Business (GMB) listings and a curbside pickup badge to local shopping ads. Now, as always, it’s critical to ensure your Google listing is correct, with business hours and curbside services.


Many Moving Parts Involved

But adopting curbside pickup isn’t like flipping on a switch. Businesses have to get it right the first time and every time so customers will continue to return. Any curbside offering is not the only game in town, and a poor experience may encourage customers to try a competitor. To ensure that they deliver a successful customer experience, businesses need to manage many moving parts, such as:

  •     Setting up the ordering and fulfillment process. A retailer needs to add “pick up at curbside” to the online ordering functionality on its website and apps, adapt its phone ordering process, and manage the integration with online fulfillment. 
  •     Managing the process. A retailer needs to create a new workflow for confirming an order, communicating to a customer that an order is ready for pickup, making it easy for customers to notify a store that the customer has arrived, designating a spot to retrieve items, and a host of other details. In addition, stores need to create a process for how customers will verify their identity when they arrive to pick up merchandise – and what if a customer wants to send a friend or family member in their place? Stores need to be ready to manage every possible way an order will be managed safely and securely.
  •     Communicating the process. Businesses need to create easy-to-understand instructions for how exactly curbside pickup works, especially given the potential process complexities mentioned above. Here, for example, is how a Best Buy location communicates the process on its website:


Stores also need to be ready to manage associated costs and time it takes to prepare employees. As a recent Modern Retail Research article notes:

As some states eventually allow retailers to move from just offering curbside pickup to reopening while allowing limited foot traffic in-store, retailers may also have to decide if they can sustain having enough employees to help guests in-store and serve curbside pickup orders. They’ll also have to think about the related costs they may incur. “If you are scaling [curbside pickup] out across very different stores, there’s probably going to be some IT-related costs,” Rees said. He also added that retailers may have to dedicate part of their stores to only fulfilling curbside pickup orders. 

But the reward can be great if a business figures out the moving parts. Curbside pickup can make the difference between staying in business and closing down permanently during these challenging times. Curbside, done well, also means creating a better online/offline experience that helps lock in customer loyalty. And right now creating a safe experience is crucial to winning that loyalty.


What You Should Do

Here’s good news: if you have not yet established a curbside pickup function, Isobar can help you get up and running in weeks with our Curbside Pickup Manager solution.

We ensure that you add curbside pickup to your online commerce capability quickly and efficiently. We offer complete setup and management, including:  

  •       Same-day appointment scheduling and rescheduling.
  •       Pickup slot management.
  •       Text and email alerts for order processing and fulfilment.
  •       Self-check-ins and associate check-ins.
  •       Integration with existing order processing.
  •       Store capacity management for delivery promise and customer experience.
  •       Optimization of store operations and capacity planning.
  •       Workflow management for curbside pickup, including appointments.
  •       Customer validation, dispensing, inventory updates, and more.


We do all the heavy lifting, like connecting curbside pickup with order management to make sure you provide a great customer experience.

We tap into our relationships with partners such as Adobe, Oracle, and Salesforce to make it easy for you to extend your online commerce operations with a seamless curbside pickup experience. Isobar can help you succeed now.