Where are curbside and BOPIS services falling short?

Photos: Sam’s Club
Oct 26, 2020

The core fundamentals of assuring a positive curbside and in-store pickup experience are: having a designated pickup location, easy online account creation, providing contactless order pickup and having orders ready when promised, according to a study from Ipsos.

The study, which involved a survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers as well as mystery shops, comes as BOPIS and curbside pickup usage have increased significantly since COVID-19 began, with shoppers planning to use the services at the same or higher levels after the pandemic subsides.

Among chains tested:

  • Walmart performed the strongest across all measured attributes in the grocery category for BOPIS. Visible signage directing consumers to the grocery pickup area was found in 86 percent of locations audited.
  • Target performed “exceptionally well” in grocery against the categories surveyed with orders ready when promised at 98 percent of visited locations. Target also led the pack in the apparel category with clear, visible signage directing shoppers to the in-store pickup area at 83 percent of locations.
  • Sam’s Club ranked first in curbside pickup with designated parking at 100 percent of locations audited.
  • Kroger was seen to have orders ready when promised at 97 percent of locations.
  • Nordstrom offered a contactless pickup experience at 65 percent of locations, making the chain one of the best in the category for contactless pickup.

Recommendations from Ipsos included focusing on clear communication, as more than a quarter of respondents said there is room for improvement in that area. Twenty-seven percent said BOPIS pickup spots were poorly marked or difficult to find. Order accuracy, also critical to customer satisfaction, was noted as being deficient by 9 percent of respondents.

A recent survey from Incisiv found shoppers rated their recent pickup experiences poorly across a variety of parameters — from the availability of pickup slots, to wait-times for pickup once at the store. Eighty-five percent rated the ease of completing an order four stars or higher, but significant friction was found in getting there, both online and in-store. Eighty-one percent gave a rating of three stars or lower when asked about stores’ availability of preferred pickup date and time.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What pain points in the curbside and BOPIS experience have become more evident during the pandemic? Can you think of any new features or processes that could take the pickup experience to the next level?

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28 Comments on "Where are curbside and BOPIS services falling short?"

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Mark Ryski

BOPIS and curbside will be one of the defining features of this year’s holiday winners and losers, and it will come down to one thing: execution. The really challenging part of executing BOPIS/curbside relates to the unique physical challenges each store has. Some stores are simply better suited for delivering these services than others, like providing access to the curb for example. BOPIS and curbside continue to evolve as the pandemic continues to place new constraints on retailers, but the best operators find ways to turn these challenges into competitive advantages.

Neil Saunders

While most online aspects of BOPIS work reasonably well, the in-store execution can be a pain-point. The biggest complaints are around orders not being ready on time, a lack of clarity on where to collect orders, and wait times when collecting orders. Although it happens less often than some of the main complaints, one of the most upsetting ones comes from orders being cancelled due to a lack of stock in the store. This underlines the necessity for a near-perfect view of stock and having some buffer of a checking system built in so that consumers are not let down.

Shep Hyken

It’s always a goal to execute flawlessly. When BOPIS works, and it usually does, the customer is elated with the ease and convenience. Friction comes when there is a delay or the order is wrong; wrong items, missing items, etc. The process for managing the problem becomes as important, if not more so, than the original service being offered. There must be an easy way for customers to communicate a problem and have it resolved.

Dr. Stephen Needel

My biggest issue is out-of-stocks, which we’ve experienced enough times that we’ve stopped using BOPIS. If I have to go into the store every time or to a different store every time to fill out my shopping list, BOPIS is not saving me much time.

Bob Phibbs

Other than the biggest retailers Target and Walmart, the promise of curbside as seamless and friction-free pales in comparison to just going into the store. As Neil pointed out, there is nothing worse than getting to the store and finding out the realities that no one has perfect inventory and what “should” be there just isn’t — causing much confusion and extra work to deliver. I saw a post earlier about people being upset associates would stick their head in the car or try to converse. I don’t envy any retailer trying to be superhuman and all things to all people but showing they’re only human.

Michael La Kier

One word: logistics.

For larger stores with larger inventory (mass merch, department, home improvement) the speed at which individual items can be found must be improved. Wait times are still too long.

Handling substitutions for food-related products, especially where special requests and needs are concerned, remains an issue for BOPIS/curbside. It’s not as much of an issue for mainstream products, but you can’t simply replace a gluten-free item with gluten-filled.

Bob Amster

Since I have not used it (yes, I admit it) I can only visualize the optimal BOPIS execution model. Among the very important components are: clear parking-lot/street signage directing the customer to the proper pick-up area; smooth traffic pattern design so that customers can access and leave the designated pick-up area without battling other traffic flows; pick-accuracy (this can be supported by technology), and preventing out-of-stocks (this can only be partially supported by technology). BOPIS is not optimized yet but it will continue to improve as retailers become more inventive and others follow and, since BOPIS is here to stay, continuous improvement (kaizen) is in order.

Ryan Grogman

Over the past seven or eight months, retailers have ironed out many of their curbside process wrinkles and gotten progressively better as the year has gone on from an execution standpoint. The ordering process, wait times, location designation and car loading have increased as retailers have become smarter about balancing internal efficiency with customer convenience. The biggest obstacle and ongoing sense of frustration is accurate inventory visibility. By not having a good sense of true product availability to promise, retailers are going to disappoint customers with either out-of-stock notifications or substitutions. Some of the visibility concerns are around the still being repaired supply chain, but retailers must do a better job of implementing real-time inventory that can be promptly reserved for BOPIS and BOPAC orders.

Zach Zalowitz

Here’s a running list of problems, throughout the process. 1.) Not giving clear communication as to how/when to pick up the items at the onset, 2.) Poor notification and remediation of an out-of-stock, 3.) Lack of SMS alerting for pickup (with link to notify you’ve arrived), 4.) Lack of dedicated and clear pickup parking areas, 5.) No dedicated fulfillment specialist, rather they are designated along with all the other responsibilities at the store.

Add those five things up and you have a very clunky process. The two big issues I’ve seen in the half dozen BOPIS projects I’ve done in the last three years are; First, showing the wrong SKUs as available or choosing the wrong inventory protection level for the SKU and, second, trying to meet customer pickup SLAs using designated capacity from the stores vs. having a full time picking and pickup crew.

Gary Sankary
Scaling these capabilities continues to be the most acute pain point. As the demand for online pickup picks up, some retailers are struggling with level of service commitments. I’ve seen two approaches to mitigating this, neither of which are great – requiring the customer to schedule their pickup during a open window sometime in the future, or limiting items available for pickup to non-perishable items. I’ve also seen inventory issues that affect the online and in-store experience. I think the inventory issues have more or less resolved. Replenishment tools have adjusted for increased demand and product availability is much improved. The good news in my opinion is that it will get better as demand signals are more predictable. I also think retailers have built more flexibility into their inventory planning on key items to better react to volatility in demand. To scale I see retailers thinking about their fulfillment processes in-store more like they do in their warehouses; they’re consolidating orders, routing pickers through the stores to be more efficient and they’re doing a better… Read more »
Paula Rosenblum

I think for me, it’s not on the list provided. It’s simply about doing these things profitably. That takes tech investments that companies like Walmart and Target made pre-pandemic. Others are still racing to catch up.

Brett Busconi
2 years 3 months ago

Getting the orders right and being timely. Systems need to be in place to make sure to limit the frequency with which items are sold as in-stock and are unavailable when picking takes place. Retailers need to get the right technology in place — including one that better connects the picker with the shopper.

Ken Morris

Inventory accuracy has been a problem. With the hoarding mentality still in place it is still a problem. Items not being available because of safety stock issues and substitutions are rampant in grocery, and we need real time perpetual inventory information across platforms to truly make this a frictionless experience.

Raj B. Shroff

The pain points are what fellow panelists have already mentioned.

As for new features and processes, I can think of a handful. For those of us in cold climates, a vestibule or another type of covered structure would be great. Lockers outside with orders ready to go. Using geo-location so the store knows I’m there versus calling or texting has to come soon.

I also think future site selections will consider where BOPIS/curbside can be optimized. Our Kroger put theirs out back whereas most shoppers shop from the front of the store. Since they are in a strip mall, this is the best of the alternatives but not ideal. And we will see more store designs factoring this new way of shopping from the ground up.

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

This is really tough. We have seen how things have needed to change dramatically in the past eight months. Making things operationally efficient becomes more and more difficult.
Some potential options that could aid operations for both the customer and the retailer exist in some places but are not necessarily mainstream. Things like contactless, whereby the trunk is opened and you do not need to get out of the car, is one thing. Where there are many pick-up stations at a facility, automatic registration plate number recognition systems could well usher vehicles to specific pick-up points where the customer’s goods are. A form of automation whereby the completed order is presented in a tote for the customer to pick up could well be combined with this in order to eliminate any form of human contact.

Brandon Rael

There are compelling competitive advantages of offering BOPIS and curbside pickup services. However it all comes down to excellence in execution across the store operations and technology teams. Pre-pandemic, companies such as Target, Walmart, Home Depot, Best Buy, and others already were investing significantly in the BOPIS technology space, infrastructure, and capabilities at both the store level and back office.

Seamless BOPIS execution is not a simple undertaking, as there are far more complexities involved to balancing resources, meeting the customer expectations, and not negatively impacting the in-store shopping experience. Those companies that have preemptively invested in the BOPIS space have a competitive advantage against those who only started their initiatives when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Andrew Blatherwick
This is still new ground for many retailers. While it seems like an age ago that the first phase of COVID-19 struck, it is just over seven months since retailers had to try and adjust to a new channel or to major increases in that channel. When you think back to how long it took to get online home delivery right these channels are still in their infancy. However customer expectation is high and retailers have to rise to the challenge, Walmart and Target are the standout performers and given their scale this is not surprising. They are setting a benchmark to which others have to rise. When customers complain about order accuracy, this includes availability and substitutions which has always been an issue and is one that retailers really do need to get on top of. While we were in the crazy throes of the first wave of COVID-19 it was understandable, as retailers were hit with panic buying, but it is now not excusable to be falling short on availability — that is… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson

Analyze the source of delays in the process. Delays are the chief reason for customer dissatisfaction. Delays can be from inaccurate order picking (and having to replace items), long customer wait times in front of the store, etc. Look at each element of the process and eliminate the sources of delays.

Ananda Chakravarty
From a consumer perspective, curbside and BOPIS continue to be powerful conveniences – but their promises are not always being met. A snapshot from a local Target is proof positive that these operations are in full force. Consumer expectations of speed and delivery are dependent in part on a time delay and email or text communication to the customer indicating their stock is ready for pickup. The retail challenge is containing the costs to introduce and maintain the services, where added labor, supplies, and management costs have built up the processes but reduced margins. Also the customer service expectations are inconsistent- even within similar chains. There are added costs for holding and managing the inventory as opposed to delivery (higher costs) and many retailers haven’t yet figured this out. In-store BOPIS management becomes more challenging with pick, pack, store, and restock issues. Retailers don’t seem to be out of the woods when it comes to no-shows, but it has improved. The consumer expectations are being met – whether through a manual process or technology investment,… Read more »
Steve Dennis

While consumers have developed curbside enthusiasm, the execution against it by retail chains is decidedly mixed. As others have pointed out, those that have been working in this area pre-pandemic, largely through having been committed to BOPIS in prior years (like Nordstrom) are hitting the mark most of the time. The sheer traffic spikes in busy stores can really throw a monkey wrench in the delivering on an overall harmonized and profitable experience. To effectively handle increased volumes, process improvement and physical store layouts will need to evolve considerably. As just one example, there is a big difference between H-E-B’s Central Market chain (who redesigned their stores completely to do this well, anticipating where the customer was already headed pre-COVID-19) and other grocers who are bolting on the service and don’t have good traffic flow. It’s going to take a fair amount of capital on top of process change, on the part of those that were slow to embrace the blur to get the customer experience and the ROI where it needs to be.

Kathleen Fischer

Order accuracy plus ensuring that the processes are in place for efficient product substitution or an alternative fulfillment method, so the customer is satisfied with their purchase – these pain points reverberate in customers’ heads long after they have picked up an order.

2 years 3 months ago

I’ve been using Walmart curbside pick-up for groceries since it first became available in my area (Hudson, FL) and have noticed something new recently. Not to be confused with “Out of stock” the new designation is “Not available for curbside pick-up.” I’ve contacted Walmart and spoke to a rep and was unable to get an explanation, in fact, the rep was not even aware of this new designation and had to go to their website to see it himself.

These items are available in the store and until recently, at the curbside. For instance, you can get Great Value canned tomatoes but not Great Value stewed tomatoes, same can (weight, size), in stock and side by side on the shelf? This new designation is now common enough throughout their whole grocery website as to make you question the value of curbside pick-up, considering that you will eventually be forced to enter a store, Walmart or not, to acquire those items.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

As noted by others, execution is the key. However, the BOPIS and curbside systems need to be fully addressed before execution comes into play. Need to focus from the inside out. What is the process for picking orders, including OOS substitutes? Do you have enough knowledgeable staff on the inside, picking the right product in a timely fashion? Next is the pick up point. Is it clearly defined with enough spaces to accommodate peak periods? Is it covered? Finally, the transition from the store to the customer is critical. Are items placed directly in the car? Is the pick up process seamless? Are issues of payment and OOS clearly addressed? The devil is in the details for both the system design and execution.

Rachelle King

BOPIS and curbside are the future of retail shopping. It’s a convenient luxury that, while accelerated by the pandemic, will still be around long after the pandemic is gone. The challenge is, the more convenient luxuries consumers have, the higher their expectations on service. As retailers are literally figuring out this new service everyday, consumers may be impatient thanks to a progressive environment of insta-everything.

Still, retailers need to plan for the long-haul, listen to customers and adapt frequently until they get it right. The best way to understand how to satisfy customers is to simply ask them what they want and ask if your services delivered on expectations. While retailers can expect pretty candid feedback, it’s the actionable insights from this kind of feedback that will help remove pain points and continue to delight customers for years to come.

John Karolefski

Here is my personal experience with Giant Eagle in the Cleveland suburbs: curbside pickup worked well a few months ago, but the service has fallen off since. Upon arriving at the store, I am told certain items were not available. But when I walked into the store, I found those items on the shelf. Not a good show.

Why is this happening? I suspect that as the popularity of curbside pick up has increased, the store had to add more people to pick the items and bring them to the curb. These people have not been trained enough to know where to find certain items in the store. Plus, there must be pressure to fill baskets quickly.

Add all this up equals a decline in service. I suspect this is happening elsewhere with other shoppers in other stores.

Ricardo Belmar

Poor communication is the most significant factor hindering a great curbside pickup or BOPIS experience for the customer. As with any customer-facing service, the execution is critical, down to the last interface detail. For example, if the customer makes the purchase from the retailer’s mobile app, they will expect to get notifications via the app when their order is ready for pickup. Once arriving at the store, the customer expects the app to detect their arrival and communicate where they should park, or where in the store to go for in-store pickup. For curbside, the customer also expects a notification when the associate is bringing the order out for a contactless pickup. Those little communication details matter to deliver a great experience. This holiday season, more than ever these details are what consumers are expecting when they shop.

Kenneth Leung

I think, besides technology, the other part of BOPIS is the parking lot and people flow. Big format stores like Walmart and Best Buy have their own parking lots and it is easier to reconfigure with dedicated spaces and stack personnel with mobile devices to greet customers upon parking to ensure services and parking compliance. Fast food service drive through would be a great learning for that. For stores that don’t have dedicated parking, that becomes an issue for customer service and expectation.

Casey Craig
BOPIS has played an important role for retailers throughout the pandemic and without a successful BOPIS system customers would have struggled to purchase what they needed/wanted during this uncertain time. An important aspect of BOPIS that many retailers still need to refine is keeping their inventory up-to-date across all of their platforms. If a customer is able to shop online with confidence that the item they want is available at the time of purchase, then there is a greater chance the customer will make a return visit. If a customer finds that the item they requested requires a substitution, after they had already purchased it, then that could lead to a bad shopping experience, potentially losing any future business with that customer. Another challenge retailers are facing with BOPIS, is how a customer returns items. As the survey points out, there will be a flood of returns for many brick-and-mortar stores. If retailers can figure out an easier way for customers to return an item, whether it’s supplying a pre-paid return label or creating a… Read more »
"It’s simply about doing these things profitably. That takes tech investments that companies like Walmart and Target made pre-pandemic. Others are still racing to catch up."

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