Has COVID-19 revealed pickup’s pain points?

Photo: Getty Images/Osarieme Eweka
Sep 08, 2020
Tom Ryan

Asked about their experiences with businesses that have added curbside pickup options since COVID-19, 55 percent of consumers chose the description “fast & easy” in a survey from Medallia Zingle, 35 percent said “a little rocky” and 10 percent “poor.”

A survey from Rakuten found minimal wait times were particularly important for pickup from retailers or restaurants, but other factors also weighed in. Asked what is important when picking up their order, the top four answers in the Rakuten survey were:

  • “My order is ready when I get there,” 78 percent; 
  • “Social distancing protocols are obvious,” 69 percent; 
  • “I want to see visual cleaning,” 52 percent;
  • “Prioritized parking or pickup areas,” 41 percent.

Demand for a seamless in-and-out experience was evident in the Rakuten survey that also showed 62 percent wanted to learn details on how to pick up their order and 65 percent were open to predictive arrival technology that lets businesses know when a customer is approaching so they can have orders ready when they arrive.

In the order prep process, consumers in the Rakuten survey ranked “employee safety” as most important, cited by 75 percent, followed by “implementing the latest health and safety guidelines,” 71 percent.

Both surveys confirmed that pickup has significantly expanded in popularity amid the pandemic. According to the Medallia Zingle survey taken in May, 87 percent would like businesses to continue to offer options like curbside pickup that limit the need for in-person visits.

Asked what types of items or businesses they would like to shop at or interact with using curbside pickup, the top five answers were: restaurant, cited by 69 percent; grocery, 68 percent; pharmacy, 54 percent; home goods/supplies, 45 percent; pharmacy, 54 percent; and pet supplies, 37 percent. Non-essential categories ranked lower, with fashion/apparel at 20 percent.

In a new survey by North Carolina-based automobile dealership Leith Cars, the majority of shoppers found curbside pickup to be less stressful, more convenient and safer.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What are the major shortcomings still hampering the curbside and in-store pickup experience? Do you see most issues being solved mostly through technology or execution?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Retailers looking to win the last mile must remember that the experience starts at the point a consumer selects and ends when the transaction is satisfactorily completed."
"Most of the challenges for retailers as a result of the increase in demand for curbside pickup were process and people related."
"Consistent communication is the key to great execution for curbside, and how a retailer communicates to the customer matters."

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27 Comments on "Has COVID-19 revealed pickup’s pain points?"

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Mark Ryski

The key challenge with curbside is in communications from the time the order is placed to get the order processed and ready when the customer expects. It sounds simple, but executing this can be very complex logistically, and it’s clear that many retailers are still working out the issues. I suspect that this will continue to be an ongoing challenge through the holiday season. However I do believe that technology along with better processes for handling and processing these orders will eventually become better and more streamlined.

Neil Saunders

Although curbside is very popular, the service quality is variable between retailers. Some, like Target and Best Buy, already had systems and procedures in place so the offer mostly works smoothly. Others, which have only just put provisions in place and don’t have robust operational control, have some deficiencies. From a recent survey we undertook with retailers, a lot in the latter group are formalizing and investing in curbside operations and systems.

Ben Ball

Curbside pickup certainly still has growing pains. But the lasting issues are the same ones retailers struggle with in-store. Out-of-stocks (and poor substitution choices); wait times and, for those few still doing it — added fees (price). Grocery shopping hasn’t fundamentally changed no matter how the milk gets into the refrigerator.

Al McClain

In general, my experience with curbside pickup has been very good. However, there are some places here in South Florida that will not do it. J. Alexander’s, a chain restaurant, is one. They reverted from having a “pop it in the trunk” option early in the pandemic to only doing in-store pickup now. With restaurants open at 100% capacity, that’s not an option for some. Another glitch in many systems is retailers and restaurants not knowing which order goes with which vehicle. That is easily fixed by having a field in the app or online to enter one’s license plate number, or it can be confirmed upon arrival by phone. No fancy technology needed.

Shep Hyken

If you want to have a successful curbside and in-store pickup, several things must be considered. First, teach customers how to use the system. Second, the system must be consistent. This is really important. Once customers know their expectation, it must be consistent every time. Third, no mistakes (which is a goal). This ties into the actual order. If the customer gets home and realizes the order was wrong, it only takes two or three times before the customer won’t use the service. If you want curbside and in-store pickup to be successful, it must work.

Ryan Grogman

In the short-term, the majority of the curbside pickup challenges should be addressed via better execution. Retailers should focus on the following three C’s: Communicating the process simply, clearly designated parking spots/lanes for pickup, and compliance with pandemic-related health measures and distancing.

Customers we have polled indicate that the most positive experiences are those in which the process is clearly outlined, they have the ability to text their arrival and parking location, and the order arrives promptly with minimal interaction. Because curbside pickup will likely remain a long-term service, retailers should also start building the right supporting technology solutions that can streamline communications between the customer, the order pickers, and the order delivery person, while investing in customer identification options to further automate the verification and location of an arriving consumer.

Ananda Chakravarty
The experience is still new for many, and not always routine. Retailers offering curbside pickup haven’t mastered the essentials. Timing of orders is off in many stores and processes for customer service during an automated service aren’t managed well. Some examples include some of the following discussions: Hearing over the PA system at a grocery store: “E-commerce in aisle 2, please pack to spec.” By a new user of curbside pickup: “I waited for half an hour then went into the store to check. An associate said they would take care of my order, even though they couldn’t see it on their list. After another half hour I went back in and the store manager asked what I had ordered an when. Afterwards he mentioned that I needed to download the app and notify the store. People parked next to me had their stuff delivered in a few minutes while I sat waiting for over an hour.” From a regular customer of curbside pickup:”I got home and took out my bags from the car and… Read more »
Gary Sankary
The core issue for retailers is capacity. How do we provide level of service commitments to our customers that meet their needs while at the same time implementing operational efficiencies needed to provide this service at scale, profitably? I think Target and Best Buy have done a great job with this, but with caveats. Best Buy I suggest has smaller baskets in terms of number of items per basket. This makes it a bit easier to fulfill orders when they’re selling higher ticket items in eaches. Target has put some limits on perishables (in my experience) and makes items with low inventory in a store unavailable for curbside. But they counter that with four-hour — and in my experience it’s often less than that — lead-time from order placement to pick up. That’s important. Their competition in town offers full service for all grocery items, but requires customers to book a pickup window in advance. I find that their windows are typically three to four days out which, for my grocery trips, doesn’t work. I… Read more »
Brian Cluster
Curbside can be a challenge for specialty big box retailers in the pet or office channels or other specialty retailers with smaller staffs. It can also be both an executional and a technology opportunity. From an executional perspective, the retailer may have five people in the store with two at the register and two in the back, and a manager. Many of these retailers are fairly thin spread and are challenged to complete a curbside order within a few minutes when they already have a few customers inside the store that they are supporting. From a technology perspective, it may be helpful for the local retailer to select a busy mode to allow at least an hour for an order to be ready by the curbside, and then when they slow down in the store they can switch to the un-busy mode which would allow for almost immediate pickup options. While software companies focus on the consumer experience, the ordering system also has to be very seamless and easy to use for retail employees. Success… Read more »
Dave Wendland

Generally speaking, some are working out kinks more quickly than others. However consumers expecting a seamless experience have often been disappointed from an expectation standpoint.

Why is it I can order a pizza and see exactly where it is in the process and have it delivered nearly to perfection or watch my Uber driver or Postmate delivery at every turn as they approach my doorstep — and have no idea where my curbside pickup is in the process or what items may be “out-of-stock” or “substituted” upon arrival?

For retailers looking to win the last mile they must remember that the experience starts at the point a consumer selects and ends when the transaction is satisfactorily completed (and that may mean it starts on mobile, online, in-store or in the parking lot and may not end until the customer is delivered the final product).

Phil Rubin
21 days 14 hours ago

Not surprisingly, technology is lagging for those retailers new to this type or degree of curbside fulfillment. Considering the overall state of retail CX pre-COVID-19, these numbers aren’t terrible! The bigger issues are with customer support which, for many retailers, is just terrible and slow to catch up with customers’ needs.

Bindu Gupta

Issues like long wait times and missing stock items are still prevalent in local grocery stores. Retailers need a combination of technology and execution to resolve such issues and provide a seamless and pleasant customer experience.

Kevin Graff

Communication. Technology. Safety protocols. All keys to make curbside work for the customer.

I’m going to step aside from the “service” angle here and turn to what I’ve called the “devil in disguise” argument. My fear, which has been supported by many retailers I speak to, is that curbside pickup turns your store into just a warehouse with a pick up option. No discovery. No brand experience. No relationships. No impulse or add-on sales.

I accept the reality of needing to provide this service (for now), but the true cost to the retailer is unbelievably high.

Ken Morris

As with all things in today’s retail operating model it is an orchestration of people, process and technology. It is hard to coordinate this to harmonize in a way that has customers singing the praises of a retailer or restaurant. The model is under a lot of stress with COVID-19 and the volume of business has highlighted everyone’s shortcomings whether it’s not being able to get in the queue for customer grocery pickup/delivery or waiting for curbside takeout long after your promised time. These problems are incredibly frustrating to customers. There are a number of new technologies that are making inroads but in the end we must bring together the people, the process and the technology to improve the customer journey.

Ralph Jacobson

In most cases the technology is not the issue. Good old-fashioned business process improvement is the opportunity here. Store-level execution has always been and will mostly likely always be the challenge.

Ricardo Belmar
Consistent communication is the key to great execution for curbside, and how a retailer communicates to the customer matters. Consistency in the sense that if a customer makes a purchase via the retailer’s mobile app, notifications should follow from the app vs. other mediums, like email. If you purchase from the web, then email or text messages are likely expected. Likewise, when the customer arrives at the store for pickup, they expect a seamless experience, which means having a mechanism in the retailer’s app to detect the customer’s arrival and offer a confirmation that “you are here” from the app. With that confirmation, speedy service with little wait time is expected which implies retailers need to have associates ready to take items out to the customer’s car without waiting for an associate to become available. Where this typically breaks down is from having rapidly moved to implement curbside across disparate systems. Some retailers for example lack the in-app integration, so communications arrive via email or text. Then when the customer arrives at the store’s designated… Read more »
Jeff Sward

I’ll give curbside or BOPIS a try one of these days, if only for the learning experience. But at the first hint of bad execution I’ll be back in the store myself. I have the luxury of living in an area of low COVID-19 incidence right now, so I can be a little more flexible with my choices. If I lived in a high incidence area, I am sure I would have to rethink my choices.

David Naumann

Most of the challenges for retailers as a result of the increase in demand for curbside pickup were process and people related. As the pandemic immediately spiked the demand for online orders, many grocers had a week or two lead time for placing online orders and some hard goods retailers had order pick times as long as 72 hours. Now that retailers have refined their processes and adjusted staffing, technology can further optimize the processes to improve customer satisfaction.

Ken Cassar

Historically the biggest problem with click and collect was that retailers insisted that consumers go into the store to pick up their online orders with the hopes that they would buy something else. The pandemic changed all that as consumers wanted to avoid going into stores, likely changing their preferences permanently. Retailers need to resist the urge to revert back to in-store pickup when the pandemic has passed.

Curbside pickup or buy online pick up at curb (BOPAC) has come a long way in a short amount of time. A few shortcomings — Many retailers still have disparate systems (app, POS, notifications), clunky processes, and implement them quickly without much QA to ensure a smooth customer experience. The sudden high volume for omnichannel orders has put a strain on the less-than-ideal time frame to launch. For example, I recently ordered takeout from an established restaurant and ran into the following snags: The app had incorrect information of what was available; Since the item I wanted was marked “unavailable/out-of-stock,” I called to place my order over the phone; I went through an automated system (which was pretty impressive) but I was never able to speak to an associate to ask about the unavailable item; I went back to the app and placed my order (sans my favorite food), to pick up curbside. (Note: only because I am on a strict diet did I not consider going to another vendor.); Somehow the two bags of… Read more »
Peter Charness

Communications … once a provider sets the bar, the consumer expects the same level of service everywhere. Instacart, for example, tells you when your order has started to be picked, where the shopper is on your list, and when the order is cashed out (and delivery en route). Having the same level of status on a BOPIC order needs to be the new normal, so the consumer can manage their arrival time accordingly. If it’s all about convenience, then messing up the pick up ruins the experience.

John Karolefski

My experience with curbside pickup of groceries in the Cleveland suburbs shows how a worthwhile service can deteriorate. Months ago, the service was prompt and the orders were complete with perhaps a few substitutions. Nowadays, the orders are slower to deliver to the car. The substitutions or out-of-stocks are not reliable and I proved it. When told some branded items were out of stock or were substituted by another brand, I checked out the store myself. The items were indeed in stock.

Why is the system deteriorating? The increased popularity of the service puts pressure on speed, so shelves are not checked thoroughly. Also, new employees, who are largely young people, are not trained well enough on what is in stock or where it is located in the store.

I have called customer service to complain. The problems remain.

Craig Sundstrom

I’m in that group that sees this as primarily an emergency measure, so the problems will be “solved,” as it were, by the practice (i.e. “curbside”) going back to being a curiosity. If you look at the resources (time and space) necessary to deliver items one-by-one to people siting out front of a store — frequently obstructing other traffic — I don’t see how that can ever be viable at any greater scale; and I don’t see many technological “fixes” other than providing more space. The shortcomings are inherent in the method.

Mel Kleiman

The major shortcoming of curbside pickup is that it is not done correctly; it becomes a major pain for the consumer. The biggest mistake is easy to correct but hard to repair if done wrong — that is, an incorrect order. All orders need to be check for accuracy, and the customer should NEVER need to come back because something was wrong.

Kai Clarke

Communication, communication, communication are the top pickup’s pain points. The consumer needs to communicate when they want the order. The retailer needs to get the order ready before the consumer arrives. The retailer needs to communicate when the order is ready and where to have it loaded into the consumer’s car. The consumer needs to communicate when they arrive to pickup the order at the previously communicated pick-up spot. The retailer needs to communicate and confirm that they are loading the order into the vehicle and thank the consumer for their support.

Jeff Baskin
Enhancing the curbside experience is twofold. You must have a completely frictionless experience for the customer and more importantly for the staff inside the store. Predictive arrival technology (if done right) can help solve for both of these. Retailers who put up a sign with a phone number or text message to alert the store are throwing up a curbside process and not creating a convenient and repeatable solution. Brands like Target, Giant Eagle, and Ahold Delhaize who are using their customer application to locate customers when they are on their way to the store create a great customer experience in their app. However unless you have a process and technology for staff to operationalize the data they are receiving from the customers device it won’t matter much. If you can operationalize it so staff are receiving alerts along the customer journey (ETA, five minutes out, on property, in a curbside pickup zone) you can marry a great customer experience with a really efficient staff experience to create almost zero wait times and help staff… Read more »

If you’re not going to invest the time and technology in making sure the curbside experience is seamless for both the customer and the store employee, it’s not worth doing at all. Not much is more frustrating than a bad curbside pickup experience; customers don’t like it and store employees hate it.

"Retailers looking to win the last mile must remember that the experience starts at the point a consumer selects and ends when the transaction is satisfactorily completed."
"Most of the challenges for retailers as a result of the increase in demand for curbside pickup were process and people related."
"Consistent communication is the key to great execution for curbside, and how a retailer communicates to the customer matters."

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