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Conquer Curbside Pickup for the Post-COVID Era

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The great retail acceleration is underway, prompted by the pandemic and nurtured by the new ways homebound consumers have found to shop. So much has changed in such a short time. Most of the change—a dramatic shift to ecommerce, a wave of new online shoppers, an even stronger embrace of the omnichannel model, and increased scrutiny of how retailers treat workers—reflects the reality of serving consumers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While curbside pickup, the trend of buying online and picking products up outside of a physical store (sometimes without even having to leave your vehicle), seemed to be a blip of consumer behavior before the innovation of next day home delivery, the pandemic has revived it as a viable option for retailers. The resurgence of curbside pickup may have been born of the pandemic, but it will not end with the virus.

With buy-online, pick-up-at-the-curb (BOPAC) here to stay, retailers need to sketch out strategies for a way to offer the service for the long term. Here, we explore some of the challenges and benefits of providing curbside fulfillment; and it will lay out the best practices from noted retail leaders.

The peak of BOPAC

Signifyd’s Ecommerce Pulse data showed a breathtaking increase in orders involving online purchases picked up in or at the store. Within a month of the pandemic’s official start, BOPAC orders on Signifyd’s Commerce Network had increased by more than 450%. Although the number of buy-online, pick-up-at-the-curb orders dipped during the lockdown breaks, with many non-essential stores open again, BOPAC orders were still 175% higher than their pre-pandemic level.

The truth is, curbside was not a common offering among retailers before the pandemic. Digital Commerce 360 reports that as of last year, only 17 of the Internet Retailer Top 1000 offered BOPAC.

That picture has changed. While the number of retailers offering curbside pickup remains a moving target, the adoption of curbside by consumers is an indication of retailers’ embrace of the channel. Half of consumers have turned to curbside and in-store pick-up because of COVID-19.

This finding was part of an April poll that also found that 25% have relied on BOPAC more than once. 75% were also interested in trying it. Even better, 90% who had tried BOPAC found the service convenient.

When nine out of 10 people find something convenient, you can be pretty sure it’s going to catch on. Not only is the 90% figure a sign that curbside pickup is here to stay, but it suggests that there is a bright future of convenience for this method of shopping.

Capturing new customers

BOPAC is a key way to capture a new wave of online shoppers. The National Retail Federation reports that 45% of baby boomers say they are shopping online more because of the pandemic. They are more aware of pick-up-in-store options than other age cohorts, NRF says in its blog post, and 30% of them have used curbside pickup.

When you consider that baby boomers likely make up a significant portion of the new online shoppers that the pandemic has created, a BOPAC strategy becomes all the more valuable. Simply put: One way to keep the new shoppers a retailer has acquired because of the pandemic is to offer them shopping methods that line up with the way they want to shop.

Some retailers and experts have argued that despite its popularity, retailers shouldn’t be too hasty about going all-in on curbside pick-ups. The fulfillment channel, the argument goes, has all the costs and logistical challenges of buying online pick up in-store (BOPIS), without the benefit of getting shoppers into the store, where they make impulse purchases.

However, BOPAC offers money-saving convenience for consumers, meaning that they are more likely to return to the store for goods they need. Curbside pick-up could well become a competitive advantage, just as in-store pick-up (BOPIS) did. In a 2018 Signifyd survey of executives at enterprise retailers, 44% said BOPIS provided a competitive edge, including 12.4% who specifically mentioned Amazon. While Amazon can be considered a master of convenience, can BOPAC offer even more accessibility that this ecommerce giant does not?

Doing BOPAC right

While the concept of picking up products from outside a shop seems simple enough, there are several key factors in play to ensure that it is a success and drives more business.

You need to be obsessed with communication. Start on your website, setting clear expectations on your curbside pickup process. Follow up orders immediately with a confirmation email that includes pickup instructions and an accurate estimate of when the order will be ready. During the pandemic, politely require customers to wear face masks at pickup. Consider explaining that the requirement is for the good of both customers and your employees. Follow up with an email when the order is actually ready. Repeat all the instructions, including asking customers to have the confirmation email with them when they arrive.

Analyze your risk management strategy and tools. Consider an automated fraud and consumer abuse solution, like Signifyd, which combines big data and machine learning to instantly identify legitimate from fraudulent orders. BOPAC orders come with no delivery address, which means fraud reviews need to be conducted without some key pieces of data to confirm identity.

Designate and signpost a dedicated pickup area. If possible, a section of clearly marked parking spaces works better than literally lining cars up along the curb. If you do rely on a curbside line, mark the lane clearly and use signs to instruct drivers to stay in their cars throughout the pickup process.

As you rush to buy online, pick up at curbside, keep one thing in mind: This isn’t just an initiative to get through the pandemic. This is an initiative that propels retailers into the future of omnichannel.

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