Should retailers set time guarantees for curbside delivery?

Sources: Facebook/@OfficeDepot;
Oct 12, 2021

Office Depot has raised its own bar for curbside delivery with the launch of a “20 Minute Pickup Promise.”

When the retailer is unable to make good on in-store and curbside pickup within 20 minutes, it will send the customer an email within 48 hours of placing their order with a $20 coupon off their next purchase.

Office Depot initially introduced a 30-minute pickup guarantee in June that offered $5.00 off the next purchase in the case of a shortfall.

“We know our customers value convenience and friendly, helpful service, especially during the holiday season, which is a stressful time of the year for many,” said Kevin Moffitt, EVP and chief retail officer for Office Depot, in a statement. “Whether purchasing items to prepare your small business for the holiday rush, upgrading a home office, or thanking a favorite teacher with a holiday gift, our store pickup program is an industry-leading promise to customers to get them what they need in 20 minutes or less.”

Among larger chains, the only other pick-up pledge backed by a guarantee comes from Domino’s, which in July rolled out a promise to hand over orders within two-minutes of car arrival or provide the next pizza free.

Walgreens promises that orders will be ready “in as little as 30 minutes.” A number of retailers, including Apple, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s, Nordstrom and Staples, say curbside/store pickup orders are typically ready within one hour of placing the order, but make no guarantees.

Gap and Macy’s promise to have orders ready within two hours. Walmart’s pickup orders are available within four hours; Target says select stores may take up to six hours.

Taking a different approach, The Fresh Market last December rolled out “The Friendliest Curbside Experience in America” program that features a “100% satisfaction guaranteed” promise on every item in the curbside basket backed by managers, who double-check and verify orders with their personal signatures. The experience also includes “surprise and delight” moments, such as personalized thank-you notes from personal shoppers with recipe suggestions, free bottles of water on hot days, free bananas for the kids and costumed Santas who bring out orders during the holiday season.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is the wait the biggest pain point around in-store or curbside delivery? Would time guarantees be beneficial or create havoc for retailers?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Retailers who go this route are only going to hurt themselves when they disappoint customers."
"Yes. I believe that time is of the essence for customers. But the ice gets really thin when time guarantees are missed."
"The critical component in this area is to be able to commit a time for availability and meet that commitment."

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15 Comments on "Should retailers set time guarantees for curbside delivery?"

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Melissa Minkow

A standardized time guarantee isn’t necessary and can create un-needed stress on the retailer. As long as the shopper gets what they ordered when they want it, they’ll be happy. A better approach would be to tailor the wait window to when the consumer actually expects and needs the items. Retailers should just ask consumers when they need the item(s) by, and have them ready by then. That approach would allow the retailer more flexibility while satisfying the consumer. Omnichannel solutions should be about the individual consumer, not about speed just for speed’s sake.

Neil Saunders

In theory this is great. In practice I have mixed views about it. First, it could create enormous pressure on retailers, especially during busy times. This may not be so much of an issue for Office Depot, but for bigger retailers like Target it may be unrealistic. Second, giving a voucher for not meeting the guaranteed time is great and all, but it doesn’t always make up for the frustration. Third, given so many retailers can’t even guarantee the things ordered for pickup are actually in stock, this may be a case of learning to run before they can walk.

Shep Hyken

It’s not the wait that is the problem. It’s the expectation that isn’t met. This erodes customer confidence. If they know their order won’t be ready when promised or expected, what makes the retailer think they will keep coming back for more of the same? Retailers must create expectations that are met or exceeded. There was a bank that told its customers that if you have to wait in line for more than five minutes, they will pay you $5 for every five minutes they have to wait. Some people avoid retailers because of their long checkout lines. Curbside pickup is no different.

Dr. Stephen Needel

Retailers who go this route are only going to hurt themselves when they disappoint customers. Staffing issues alone are going to lead to failures, never mind if a store is busy and the order is big. Seriously, if you can’t wait 30 or 40 minutes before picking something up at Office Depot, either go in and get it yourself or get a new life. It’s not a pain point when we’re talking minutes rather than hours.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

I’m not certain the actual wait time is as critical as navigating to the store and parking or circling the parking lot until your order comes out the door. To do a scheduled pick up retailers need to offer a manageable queue or designated pick up location for customers arriving at the promised pick up time.

Besides the logistics of designing and executing the 20 minute window, the grab and go benefit for the customer may mitigate some of the potential add-on purchases created by BOPIS.

Perry Kramer

Making a blanket guarantee to have products available in a very short window is an appealing approach to many customers. From a retailer’s point of view, it sounds like a lot of risk when considering the challenges hiring and retaining staffing and in-store sales traffic. The critical component in this area is to be able to commit a time for availability and meet that commitment. Consumers expect a time commitment to flex up and down. However they also expect accurate and frequent communication and meeting those commitments. Grocers are often going to an appointment-based approach which I think will continue to proliferate for larger purchases.

David Spear

Time guarantees present an interesting situation. For retailers who are delivering one to three SKUs for nearly every order (think pizza, c-stores, office equipment), a 20 to 30 minute guarantee is appropriate and exciting. However for grocery retailers who are typically fulfilling 10 to 30 SKUs, this presents an extreme challenge. Would a customer rather have a 100 percent complete order and pick it up in an hour or experience a flawed order that is ready in 20 minutes? The difference is HUGE on so many levels. I contend that the “wait” for pickup is not the biggest pain point. It’s out-of-stocks. It’s incorrect product substitution. It’s poor engagement with the employee who places the items in the car.

Dave Bruno

Rather than 20-minute guarantees, I would much rather see retailers focus on programs similar to the Fresh Market “surprise and delight” program. Add-on sales lost when shoppers don’t come into the store are significant, and it’s critical that we find ways to encourage return trips. Related item offers, small tokens like water bottles on hot days, and other ways to encourage another visit are much more prudent investments, in my opinion.

Rich Kizer

Yes. I believe that time is of the essence for customers. But the ice gets really thin when time guarantees are missed. The first time a retailer misses a guarantee — “well, ok.” The second time is the one they share with friends — not good. One more time and customers can become raging evangelists against you. If you make a promise like this — BE READY TO PERFORM. Get it right, and you’re a hero.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

While a time guarantee sounds impressive, it’s expensive, stressful and hard to implement and doesn’t necessarily deliver a commensurate consumer benefit. Most customers would rather have a time frame and real-time update. I think setting and meeting expectations is more important.

Ricardo Belmar

This isn’t so much about the amount of time you ask the customer to wait for an in-store or curbside order to be ready for pickup, it’s about the commitment and keeping it consistently, regardless of the actual timing. If a retailer promises an hour from the time the order is placed, then be ready in an hour. If you promise 2 hours, be ready in 2 hours. That’s what customers want — consistent expectations.

Is 20 minutes achievable? For Office Depot, if the average basket size is only a few items, then probably, yes. For other retailers, where there may be 10 items in a basket, this becomes tricky, and the probability of disappointing a customer becomes high. Offering a voucher when you fail to meet the expectation is a nice consolation for the customer, but is unlikely to sway their sentiment in a positive way. Again, the goal is to meet or surpass the expectation — surprise and delight at its simplest.

Ananda Chakravarty

Curbside delivery is a convenience that comes with a promise of availability. Faster availability is a nice to have, and for customers this can be attractive, but not always the main reason for purchasing curbside. The convenience is the selection and pre-purchase online in most cases.

Time guarantees work if kept. A wider time range is usually adequate as customers who are interested in picking up the item don’t necessarily benefit from the short timeframe — based on a 2007 study, even for nearby grocery shopping the travel time is ~20 min for 2-4 miles on average in the US. Essentially, the customer sees a product, purchases it online then goes to the store to pick it up. The problem is that most curbside pickup is designed for the delayed customer, larger basket sizes, or even a convenient times such as pickup on their commute home from work. The costs will increase for retailers attempting to deliver with limited long-term conversion. Add to that the risk of not keeping their promise.

Craig Sundstrom

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver … in this case literally! Unrealistic time frames are an open invitation to either frustrated customers or massive amounts of credit given out (or both). Far better to set reasonable expectations — with few conditions — and perhaps some kind of compensation for clear breakdowns; a “promise” of as little as 30 minutes seems particularly useless as it doesn’t really assure you of anything: i.e. or as long as…,which is likely more important.

Kai Clarke

Guaranteed satisfaction has long proven to be one of the key building blocks for any business. Putting this as a key component for customer communications ensures both reasonable communications as well as establishes clear, well-defined goals for both consumers and retailers both on what to expect (and achieve).

Karen Wong

So many questions.

How did they come up with the need for a 20 min guarantee vs 30 min? Is there a significant or lucrative market of people for whom that extra 10 minutes makes or breaks the purchase decision?

Is Office Depot the only retailer without staffing issues? What did they implement in-store to make this a net positive or are they simply chalking up any issued vouchers to the cost of conversion? If so, you’re buying customers whose first impression is that you under delivered.

Very curious to know who’s managing their omnichannel tech for real-time inventory.

"Retailers who go this route are only going to hurt themselves when they disappoint customers."
"Yes. I believe that time is of the essence for customers. But the ice gets really thin when time guarantees are missed."
"The critical component in this area is to be able to commit a time for availability and meet that commitment."

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