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Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Prior to the pandemic, many consumers had never heard of “curbside pickup.” However, this new way to shop has burgeoned over the past year and hints at a new retailer-consumer relationship that will likely outlast the pandemic.

PAUSE | The outbreak of COVID-19 meant major retailers such as Walmart, Best Buy, and Bed Bath & Beyond lost their primary source of revenue, in-store shoppers, seemingly overnight. In just a few short months, “curbside pickup” went from an unknown concept to a standard way of shopping, with the number of orders fulfilled through curbside services surging 208% between April 1, 2020, and April 20, 2020. Curbside pickup was first introduced as a band-aid solution to allow shoppers to order a product online and pick it up during a designated time frame. This enabled customers to quickly get the products they needed without worrying about potential in-store exposure to COVID-19, while still permitting storefronts to continue to sell inventory without in-store shoppers.

The initial success of curbside pickup was astounding. Target saw a 700% increase in curbside services during the spring and summer months and continues to fulfill a substantial number of curbside orders. Similarly, Best Buy saw online revenue jump 242% last summer, with 41% of this increase coming from curbside pickup sales.

Let’s look at Dick’s Sporting Goods as a case study. The company acted quickly to introduce a curbside pickup option for customers. Within 48 hours of informing shoppers of the new service, Dick’s Sporting Goods saw a 1,000% increase in sales, despite having already offered a ‘buy online pick up in store’ option since the previous year.

“We continue to see our stores as our hub, and they are critical to our success,” commented Joe Pietropla, senior vice president of e-commerce for Dick’s Sporting Goods. “Our physical stores are an unparalleled distribution footprint for online fulfillment.”

Overall, implementing curbside pickup resulted in a year-end 250% increase in e-commerce and curbside pickup sales combined. This not only saved the company from potentially devastating financial losses but introduced an unexpected new way for Dick’s to reach customers.

PLAY | Now, as the country begins to reopen, and stores resume in-store shopping, Dick’s curbside option continues to thrive. The continued success of curbside pickup came as a surprise to company leadership, who expected to see a large drop-off in curbside pickup sales once stores reopened.

Indeed, experts suggest curbside pickup is here to stay. A recent study shows that 92% of consumers have used curbside services and 85% of shoppers believe they will continue to do so. This shift in consumer preferences has led 121 of the top 500 retailers to implement curbside pickup options, resulting in a 536.8% increase from last year.

FORWARD | Initial insights suggest that the pandemic has fundamentally changed consumer behavior, from how and where people shop, to what they buy. Physically going to a store to try on a pair of soccer cleats or to purchase a new pair of basketball shorts no longer holds the same appeal as it used to.

However, not every curbside service can keep customers coming back. In a flurry to meet unanticipated consumer demand, many curbside protocols are riddled with imperfections and frustrations for both customers and staff. Shoppers often cite limited pickup time slots, long wait times, and unclear instructions once at the store as some of the key friction points when using curbside services. Implementing a more effective and long-term system is essential for businesses to thrive in a post-pandemic era.

As an example, Best Buy launched test stores that devote more space to packaging online orders than showing off big-ticket items such as flat-screen TVs or smartphones. This method essentially transforms the company’s store-fronts into mini-fulfillment hubs.

“Indeed, experts suggest curbside pick-up is here to stay.”

Another approach may involve focusing resources on elevating shoppers’ digital experience. This can include simple changes such as ensuring inventory is easy to find on the website or larger initiatives such as personalizing a customer’s online shopping journey by offering virtual appointments or hosting live stream events. These actions allow for a deeper retailer-consumer relationship to form, regardless of whether a customer ever sets foot into a store.

Ultimately, forward-looking retailers should see that curbside pickup has shifted from a quick fix to a more permanent stream of revenue. Businesses that dedicate time and resources to perfecting the art of curbside pickup stand to benefit from this shift in retail behavior.

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