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The 5 curbside pickup lessons you can learn for your local retail store.

By Husain Sumra|Friday March 26, 2021

Offering curbside pickup for your local retail store is the next significant opportunity in retail. A 1,000-person survey found that 50% of customers plan to use curbside pickup for the 2020 holiday shopping season. However, there are still plenty of opportunities for local retail stores to serve customers.

The office phone is the linchpin for contactless curbside pickup.

You might assume your website or an e-commerce platform is the most critical technology for curbside pickup. There’s another critical piece—arranging curbside pickup times. You need a reliable business phone system so you can confirm orders and let customers know when their orders are ready for pickup.

With a flexible office phone system, you can do the following: 

  • Confirm pickup time. In the age of same-day delivery, you can’t count on customers waiting around for a long time. With robust phone service, you can directly call customers and let them know when their order is ready for pickup.
  • Answer customer questions quickly. What happens if there is a typo in an order confirmation email? Make it easy for customers to get in touch with you by phone.
  • Align with customer expectations. Over 50% of Gen Z customers, who have purchasing power worth $153 billion a year, prefer to speak by phone when interacting with small businesses. 
  • Request referrals from customers. Getting customers to call your business is an opportunity. When you get customers on the phone, offer them a discount on their next purchase if they refer a customer to your business. You can position this request as a special promotion related to the launch of your contactless curbside pickup service.
  • Reduce time to respond to customers. Use a phone service with a virtual receptionist so you never miss a call even if you have to step away to help a customer for a few minutes. 
  • Make it easy for customers to pick up items. When customers arrive at your location, they can call the pickup service phone line directly to say that they’re waiting outside. Not only does this help improve the efficiency of your pickup service, shoppers have a convenient way to communicate. 

A flexible business phone system might just be the most important tool for curbside pickup. Your employees are going to be moving back and forth constantly. It’s not realistic to ask people to sit next to a landline phone waiting for calls to come in.

In addition to robust phone service, what else do you need to get to launch curbside pickup as a service?

Five lessons for retail stores: Who else offers curbside pickup?

Good news: You do not need to develop contactless curbside pickup from nothing. There are other companies you can model. As we go through these examples, take note of the following points. How does the company describe the service? What measures do they take to streamline pickup time? Finally, ask yourself the most important question: How can you deliver a better customer experience as a small business?

Curbside pickup: Large company examples

  1. Office Depot 

  • Website overview: Office Depot Curbside Pickup
  • Pickup time: Note how the company uses the following timing restrictions: “Order online & pick up in store in 1 hour. Orders for eligible items must be placed at least 2 hours before the store closing time.”
  • Confirmation email: Office Depot will send customers an email with details on their orders.

For retail stores, take note of how Office Depot sets expectations regarding timing. The requirement to order online by one to two hours means employees have time to prepare each customer’s order.

  1. Home Depot

  • Timing: According to the company’s website, “Curbside pickup is available in select stores daily until 6 p.m.” In addition, the company notes that “Due to current events and high volume, orders may be delayed.”
  • Customer communication: Customers have the option to receive an email or a text message to plan their pickup time.

What can you learn from Home Depot’s approach? Note that the company offers text messaging and email confirmation. If your customers are interested in receiving a text message, choose a phone system that supports SMS messaging.

  1. How Walmart offers curbside pickup 

  • Increasing capacity: Walmart upgrades apps due to coronavirus to combine groceries with electronics, toys and more (USA Today)

Few retail stores can match Walmart’s national scale. However, there is plenty to learn and model from the retailer’s approach to providing curbside pickup. At first, the company limited contactless curbside pickup to groceries alone. In May 2020, the company expanded this service to include other types of products like prescriptions. Customers can choose their pickup time. In addition, the retailer also provides delivery within two hours in select areas.

Retail stores can take two lessons from Walmart’s approach. First, there’s nothing wrong with launching a limited curbside pickup option. For example, grocery stores might choose to start this service focused on fresh produce. The second lesson from Walmart is to look for ways to improve your contactless curbside pickup over time.

Contactless curbside pickup: Examples from retail stores

There are plenty of small retail stores offering innovative ways to order online and pick up orders. Check out these examples.

  1. Sahadi’s

  • Curbside pickup options. The New York company offers both same day and next-day pickup options.
  • How they service customers who order online. Note that the company limits orders to New York City as of May 2020. From a technical perspective, the company uses Mercato to manage and send out the confirmation email when customers order online.

Established in 1948, Sahadi’s specializes in offering Middle Eastern food in New York state. Note how the company sets clear expectations. You can order online and get store hours without having to call the store.

  1. Paper Boat Booksellers

  • Curbside pickup policy. The company’s curbside pickup policy is offered six days per week. Indirectly, the company encourages curbside pickup by limiting the number of customers allowed in the store and applying a 30 minute time limit to shopping.
  • Use social media. The company’s website advises customers to check Facebook and Instagram for new developments.

Based in Seattle, WA, this bookstore has addressed the social distancing challenge by offering multiple options. Some retail stores may not be interested in installing a full e-commerce system. Paper Boat Booksellers shows there is another way. Direct customers to call the store or email their orders.

The multi-option shopping future: in-store, pickup and delivery

How will curbside pickup evolve in the future? It’s difficult to forecast. It is likely to remain one of several shopping options for customers along with in store shopping and delivery. 

Regarding delivery, some consumers have shifted their habits to favor delivery in 2020. For instance, food delivery app GrubHub reported a 41% growth in active diners on its platform in the third quarter of 2020. This data may indicate that customer habits are increasingly shifting to favor delivery. Bluedot, a technology company, forecasts that curbside service may evolve into carside service as customers continue to demand convenience. Whether or not social distancing measures continue, convenience will still matter for your customers whether that takes shape in the form of delivery, pickup or other options.

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