How Retailers are Adapting to Curbside Pickup

National Retail Federation | May 13, 2020

Never before have retailers have had to change focus so quickly and on such a large scale. COVID-19 has changed everything in retail and many retailers moved to an exclusive model of curbside pickup that enabled consumers to shop online and pick up their purchases in the parking lot. As a safe and convenient option, half of consumers have used BOPIS as a result of COVID-19, according to an April consumer flash poll by NRF, and a quarter have done so more than once.

Now that some states are starting to loosen restrictions, consumers will once again walk the aisles and hold merchandise. Analysts say while shoppers are eager to return to the traditional bricks-and-mortar experience, retailers should take the opportunity to refine operations now to prepare for a future that involves greater use of Buy Online, Pickup In-Store and parking lot pickup.

Retailers like Best Buy, Kohl’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods had a curbside program already in place and are now taking the opportunity to refine it in a risk-free manner. Greg Portell, lead partner of Kearney’s global consumer practice expressed, “Everyone realizes retailers and employees are doing the best they can, so there is a tolerance and forgiveness that hasn’t traditionally been there. Retailers really have an opportunity to try new things right now.”

For some retailers, it has been their only option. Implementing a “crawl-walk-run” strategy to establish a rudimentary system and optimize it. While learning, retailers need a robust point-of-sale system, inventory visibility and flexible labor to manage it all. Managing these components has not been a problem, yet that could all change once doors open and they try to balance curbside orders with in-store operations.

With this new balance, Sucharita Kodali, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester suggests, “If they do offer this in the future, customers will have to belong to a loyalty program in exchange or pay a fee, buy a minimum amount. If the service isn’t profitable, it makes no sense to offer it.”

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