Long before COVID-19 came along and disrupted our way of life, the option to buy online, pick up in-store was a popular perk that had begun to change the way we shop. Although shipping times are accelerating to meet online shoppers’ mounting appetite for convenience, retailers had begun to realize that giving customers the shortcut of ordering items online and picking them up in person—often within hours—was an essential way to boost their sales and future-proof their business.

Now, businesses that already had BOPIS options in place for their shoppers but had not yet taken the extra step of providing curbside pick-up have rushed to implement it, in an effort to protect their revenue.

Not surprisingly, curbside pick-up rates swelled 208% in the U.S. during the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has become clear that if convenience was a big brand differentiator before, driving retailers to implement BOPIS technology, an even bigger differentiator has now emerged: safety.

What customers need in the face of uncertainty

Consumers want to know that the brands and retailers they shop with care about their well-being during this time of crisis. Those that can give them peace of mind by providing contactless and minimal-contact pick-up are quickly becoming “their” brands. In all likelihood, that sense of security will factor heavily in consumers’ minds as we move into a “new normal.” It could transform the retail landscape.

As more consumers get used to BOPIS and curbside shopping, it is likely that a growing number of them will begin to appreciate some of the everyday benefits these options offer as well. Those who haven’t tried BOPIS before will see how simple retailers are making the process, and they will experience that the advantages it provides cost little effort. The simple ability to avoid shipping costs and receiving their purchases the same day they order them—without having to do the footwork of visiting multiple stores to see what’s in stock—is an appealing choice that smart retailers will be providing on increasingly sophisticated levels for years to come.

How retailers are responding

Both retailers with established BOPIS systems and those who have had the agility to implement them in the wake of COVID realize that the keys to this type of offering are simplicity and ease of use. Some retailers limited points of contact by having customers pick up their items inside stores at a counter manned by associates. Others used unmanned lockers where customers can access and pick up their purchases.

Many retailers, such as Big Lots, Chico’s, Petco, Ulta, and Bloomingdales, have pivoted fully by providing curbside pick-up. From the customer’s perspective, this is truly going the final mile, allowing for a fully contactless or nearly contactless interaction. All these retailers provide shoppers with a 1, 2, 3 process to follow:

  1.     Order online.
  2.     Receive a confirmation text or email with a barcode for their order.
  3.     When the order is ready, receive their items at a designed parking spot.

There’s no time like the present for curbside pick-up

What might have once seemed like the wave of the future is now a critical step to protect revenue today. Most importantly, retailers must know that to be competitive over the next few years, having a curbside option will be imperative. Most retailers considered the virus a wake-up call to align their online and in-store inventory so they could optimize their operations in-store and out.

Provide a seamless shopper experience

The number one key to providing a curbside pick-up service that shoppers will want to use again and again is to communicate accurate information that is easy to find. Central to this is having real-time, store-level inventory capabilities and an individualization engine that pivots according to the shopper’s location and preferences.

Individualization engines, such as Sitecore Discover, can integrate with real-time inventory and pricing data sources at the store level to offer to-the-minute answers to the pressing questions, “Do they have what I want?” and “Can I get it today?” By offering individualization at the store level and store specific experiences, retailers can accurately communicate with their customers. 

Once the customer has placed an online order, Sitecore Discover can go the extra mile to maximize the attention and effort the customer has put in. The engine can influence the cross-selling of related products via promotional emails that are sent to the customer ahead of their pick-up time. A robust solution like Sitecore Discover can produce emails that are hyper-targeted for the customer’s precise profile up to the very minute the email is opened. Customers will feel like these recommendations have been curated just for them and will see the benefit of picking up these extra items along with their original order. They are already taking a trip out…why not make the most of it?

Lastly, it’s important to look at store specific and curbside specific analytics to measure this trending fulfillment phenomenon. Sitecore Discover plans to release this reporting functionality soon, stay tuned for details! 

Convenience is paramount

As more shoppers begin to test the waters of curbside pick-up, the most important consumer preference retailers must cater to is the ubiquitous element of convenience — your company’s offer to make curbside shopping easy on them will win you their loyalty. With the right technology, it is possible to take both the physical contact and customer effort involved to an absolute bare minimum. Your solution should:

  • Set crystal-clear consumer expectations about the pick-up process
  • Provide direct and easy pick-up instructions
  • Provide a support number to call or text when they arrive.
  • Involve as little physical contact as possible

With an AI and machine-learning-driven individualization solution behind it, curbside pick-up can really seem that simple from the customer’s perspective.

Don’t wait another minute

Retailers will have to face the reality that curbside pick-up is likely to play a permanent role in the changing economic landscape. Recent events have only made shoppers fall more deeply in love with the convenient shopping experience, and the wise retailers will seize the day. Without a doubt, curbside is here to stay.