How can retailers differentiate curbside delivery?

Photo: Getty Images/halbergman
Jul 29, 2020

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Aptos.

The “new” last mile of the customer journey emerging from the pandemic is positively rife with opportunity. Once curbside execution is mastered, attention can be turned to surprising — and, yes, delighting — your shoppers.

Already, a few retailers large and small are smartly innovating:

  • Target’s execution of curbside pickup in the U.S. would make even a finicky Nordstrom shopper happy. Instructions are easy to follow and everywhere. Communication is consistent throughout the process. Location tracking alerts the store as the shopper approaches and, in my experience, an associate is waiting in their reserved space with the order as the car approaches. No great surprises, but flawless and seamless execution.
  • Rather than stickers on the sidewalk to mark two meters of separation for social distancing guidelines, London’s Notting Hill Fish Shop has set up folding chairs to let people sit and socialize while waiting in line. Shoppers have taken to the idea and fallen in love with the ability to socialize while social distancing. Low effort, low tech, but lots of surprise, and lots of delight, apparently.
  • Hatch, a maternity wear retailer with stores in Los Angeles and New York, is experimenting with shortening that last mile by opening a pop-up shop in the Hamptons exclusively dedicated to curbside pickup. Taking the cost of shipping and the long trek into the city out of that last mile is sure to delight many “moms to be.”

Regardless of how orders are fulfilled — whether they are delivered from the store, shipped from the warehouse or picked up curbside — there are numerous legitimate, tangible and attainable opportunities to not only improve the experience, but differentiate the experience.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How would you assess the transition to curbside pickup that has taken place at stores in recent months?  In what ways can retailers bring “surprise & delight” to curbside pickup?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Figuring out how to easily add last minute or quick needs would be great, including impulse items."
"This article tells retailers exactly what they need to do to create a positive curbside pickup experience. Simply put — BE EASY."
"I wouldn’t consider this a differentiating factor. It is a needed part of how retailers now must do business."

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30 Comments on "How can retailers differentiate curbside delivery?"

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David Naumann
David Naumann
Marketing Strategy Lead - Retail, Travel & Distribution, Verizon
2 years 3 months ago

Retailers should consider some of the creative ways that subscription services have delighted customers. For example, adding a free small gift of a trial-sized sample of a product that complements the products the consumer purchased. Offering special coupons or discounts off their next purchase are also great ways to surprise and delight curbside pickup customers.

Dick Seesel

I’m seeing two evolving approaches to curbside pickup. First are the stores like Target and Kroger that are adapting to this “new normal” even as they see more traffic inside their stores. These stores have focused on ease of execution (if not always perfect fulfillment rates), and have developed a stronger omnichannel presence as a result.

But a lot of retailers and restaurants were forced into curbside while in “survival mode,” and viewed it as a temporary fix instead of a permanent strategy. These are the outlets whose execution was haphazard — and in some cases they are taking their eye off the ball as they permit customers inside. In “hot zone” areas running the risk of a second shutdown, some of these retailers will need to take curbside more seriously as a sustainable strategy.

Bob Amster

Curbside pickup is going to be an integral part of the new normal. In fact we looked at this concept and associated technology from a German start-up years ago, back when Corona was the name of a beer and the name of outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere. There are nuances that can be introduced into the general concept that may/will differentiate one version from another but the concept will be a staple, at least for supermarkets and other grocery stores.

Raj B. Shroff

The places we shop have been doing curbside for a while now. They have opened up more pick up time slots to handle the demand. I think they could do a better job using geo-location to know when we are there but calling or texting has been fine.

I think before surprise and delight, they have to get the blocking and tackling right. Figuring out how to easily add last minute or quick needs would be great, including impulse items. More on-demand curbside would be helpful versus having to plan a window a day in advance.

If they could throw orders into our cars as we drive by, that would be a surprise AND a delight!

Ben Ball

Hmmm — sounds like a recipe for broken eggs. But how about a “transporter” to beam the groceries into our vehicle? Why not? We’ve done just about everything else Star Trek taught us.

Dr. Stephen Needel

This should be simple. Sorry Dave, but who cares about surprise and delight with curbside? Make it quick, make it simple, make it accurate (do you hear that, Jersey Mike’s, who hasn’t gotten an order for me right yet?). It’s not a point of differentiation and it’s not meant to surprise or delight, and none of it is a reason for people to shop there.

Kathleen Fischer

I love the idea of lawn chairs to offer customers a place to sit and socialize safely while they are waiting in line – what a great way to turn a negative into a positive! Curbside pickup is now the norm for many shoppers who expect a smooth, efficient process, so now it is up to retailers to use this opportunity to build further brand loyalty by offering ways to surprise and delight their customers.

Joel Rubinson

I wouldn’t consider this a differentiating factor. It is a needed part of how retailers now must do business. However the drivers of choosing one store over another are still the same — brand preference, proximity, prices, selection, etc.

Ken Cassar

CommerceNext and BizRate Insights just released survey data yesterday showing that 43 percent of consumers used curbside pickup for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic. To be at least competent in curbside execution is mission critical for retailers today. Once through the pandemic, retailers will be tempted to try to drive consumers INTO the store to pick up online orders (rather than picking up curbside) in the interest of driving store traffic and incremental sales. They must resist this temptation and give consumers the convenience that they’re coming to expect.

Brian Cluster

Curbside pickup can be confusing for many consumers that are trying it for the first time or going to a different store than they normally do. The process has to be crystal clear so the shoppers are prepared when they arrive at stores. Customers should receive a simple step by step set of directions of what to do when they arrive at the store so they can make the store visit as frictionless as possible. By getting the communication right and actively seeking to improve the process, retailers will be able to get this process down and start to move to “surprise and delight” once the basics are streamlined.

Ananda Chakravarty
The transition to curbside has been messy and is far from complete. Retailers have consistently struggled to move to curbside pickup, as it extends BOPIS. Retailers were not ready to train, hire or repurpose current associates into pick and pack laborers who could also greet, service and engage customers. But the twist of the pandemic and fate has pushed this onto many retailers – so the going has been and continues to be a challenge. Grocery chains who had never thought of e-commerce delivery and are now working through Instacart and other vendors for e-commerce are trying to find ways to introduce curbside pickup and are integrating solutions that are easy to digest and low in cost. Before “surprise and delight,” retailers will need to get the basics right – on-time, fast presentation of the correct products in a safe manner at curbside or their car. When they’ve mastered this at high efficiency and low cost – which hasn’t been the case yet – retailers can move onto innovation. Like the hospitality sector at its… Read more »
Mohamed Amer, PhD

Don’t underestimate the power of solid execution of a customer-desirable plan. Call it flawless, smooth, on-time, easy and simple, but whatever it is be consistent in every single interaction with NO surprises – that means all expected items are accounted for, no substitutions, priced accurately, and delivered in a friendly, contactless way.

Neil Saunders

Curbside is really all about ease, simplicity and flawless execution. Plus service with a (remote) smile! Ensuring that customers can track and monitor orders on their mobile devices is critical here. If you get those things right – as a retailer like Target has done – you win customers and keep them.

David Weinand

The drawbacks cited around curbside always include the elimination of the “impulse buy” or product attachment. Leveraging the location services and knowing customer arrival is impending, why not use SMS to suggest additional items related to the order or, using weather as the guide, suggest a coffee or a water and a snack? That would be beneficial to both the retailer and the customer.

Oliver Guy
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
2 years 3 months ago

There is huge opportunity to differentiate. For a start, retailers can eliminate any form of queuing and have orders ready when customers pull up. This can be facilitated using geofencing and/or number plate recognition technologies. Combining this with no-contact friendly service where you do not need to get out of your car provides something great. Technology has a part to play in this – things that people have talked about for a number of years are now coming into focus.

Ryan Mathews

It’s all about execution. Get me in without friction. Get me out without delay. Get the order right the first time, every time. Full stop. Putting out chairs in the middle of a pandemic? Great if you want to spend a fortune in labor hours constantly sanitizing seating for people who’s only goal is to chat with strangers. But for the rest of the planet, I say it’s all about the basics.

Jason Goldberg
Retailers have done an amazing job offering curbside pickup at all, often deploying the experience in a fraction of the time it would have taken them pre-pandemic. However there is still huge room to improve all those experiences. The following strategies can help: Geo-fencing to know in advance when the customer is arriving, can make the pickup experience much more seamless for shoppers, but it’s much harder than it sounds (many customers drive in close proximity to the retailers parking lot many times during the day, when they don’t intend to visit). Express traffic routes to pickup areas (don’t make customers wait behind shoppers trying to park). Clear visual indicators of if/when a customer’s order is available for pickup, and progress indicators if it’s not ready. Opportunities for impulse purchases at curb-side. Do I want a cold drink for the drive home? Put my groceries in the trunk for me, but let me inspect the produce you selected at my window side before I accept it. With in-store traffic likely throttled for the next 18… Read more »
Joe Szala

I love this contribution, Jason. Retailers/grocers have location sharing/geofencing on their radar, and solution companies like Glympse have the technology/software to allow for clear customer communication throughout the process, as well as down to the parking space proximity sensing capability.

The spontaneous purchase capability – a “cold drink for the way home” – is more challenging, as most don’t have the tech in place for add to order via mobile. Perhaps an operational, service-oriented workaround could be put in place, where the delivery person runs the errand after asking the shopper about other needs. Of course with the above software, loyalty or situational based offers can be automatically triggered and delivered to the customer at pickup, although as of today it would require the shopper to leave the car and go into the store. Less than ideal.

Brett Busconi
2 years 3 months ago

As with most of the leaders in this transition, the companies that are putting out winning efforts were the companies already working on these solutions well before the pandemic. I think Domino’s is the best example I have seen. The app does it all — takes care of identifying your car, the customer decides where the pizza goes, they don’t have to get out of the car. Upselling is part of the app process. This is a dunk and a model for others to look at, in my opinion. The “surprise” or “surprise and delight” is not needed — just make the app interaction smooth and the processes/tech leading the proper hand-off at the store location smooth and the “delight” portion carries the day.

Ken Morris

Curbside pickup is maybe the only way restaurants can survive in this nightmare. One of my clients, an Ethiopian restaurant called Blue Nile in Boston, has simplified their menu to five items and created a bundle of products within each menu item. They are thriving in this pandemic because they created a curated selection of their best loved products, packaged in a kit form featuring multiple courses and including wine at an attractive price point. It’s all about the customer journey.

Brandon Rael

Flexible micro-fulfillment options, such as BOPIS, curbside pickup, lockers, and ship from store have been emerging pre-COVID-19, yet have gained so much momentum since the pandemic has put us all into a quarantine-like state. Ultimately, curbside pickup is fundamentally about execution, efficient communication, coordination, and getting the customer in and out of the store parking lot safely, with the right products, in a timely manner.

There is, however, little to no room to “surprise and delight” consumers when retailers have to shift their entire store operations operating model to enable speed, efficiency, and accuracy around the curbside pickup process. It’s all about getting the fundamentals right before thinking of any differentiation strategies.

Shep Hyken

This article tells retailers exactly what they need to do to create a positive curbside pickup experience. Simply put — BE EASY. Look at what Target is doing. Actually, look at any retailer that has a good curbside delivery experience and ask yourself, “What do they do that we don’t?” Then determine if what this retailer is doing will work for you. We have to learn from others, so why not learn from the retailers who have figured out how to make this growing-in-popularity option work?

Doug Garnett

I have not been impressed with curbside delivery. Whether at large shops or small shops, I’ve found it clunky. So the biggest gain would be to deliver exactly what curbside implies.

I’ve also found too many retail food shops which required advanced online orders — yet made their websites nearly impossible to navigate on the phone to sort out how to order.

Curbside “surprise and delight” is all about delivery on the details.

Liz Crawford

How about “self serve” curbside pickup? There would be an associate manning the area, where uniform boxes or bags would be marked with either names or order number identifiers. Shoppers could come by and pick them up without much fuss. A problem? Talk to the associate manning the curbside.

Ralph Jacobson

What is the best way for retailers to differentiate overall, not just with curbside service? The key is “service”! Leverage the last source of differentiation… your staff! Make it unique, compelling and convenient for customers.

Brent Biddulph

Back to the future, when leading traditional retailers (decades ago) were obsessed with customer service, having plenty of associates on hand to ensure an excellent customer experience throughout the entire in-store journey. However, in the most recent decade (pre-COVID) associates had been viewed as labor and subject to “cost control” measures leading to less than impressive customer experiences in the end (let’s be honest here).

Perhaps multi-channel retail leveraging brick and mortar stores and COVID has put a spotlight back on the business impact and valuation of the in-store human element to compete more effectively and “own” the customer experience in retail today — and of course, this includes fulfillment and last mile delivery.

Curbside delivery is not only a competitive advantage versus pure-play retailers by significantly reducing fulfillment costs for traditional retailers, so why not extend this to curbside returns — especially for fashion and apparel brands where up to 40% of online purchases are returned?