As more consumers move to online and mobile ordering during the COVID-19 outbreak, it's no surprise that curbside pickup, facilitated by smartphone apps and digital payments, is experiencing growth with restaurants and retailers. Between late February and late March, buy-online-pickup-in-store orders, which includes curbside, increased 87% year over year, according to Adobe Analytics.
Many more businesses are now swiftly coming aboard to capture their share of the revenue pie. Experts predict that this is not just a short-term approach to connect with customers during a global pandemic.
"Curbside pickup is the fastest-growing part of the retail and restaurant business," says Brian Yarbrough, senior research analyst at Edward Jones, where he follows the retail and restaurant industries.
And that was even before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Now, retailers from every industry segment are turning into no-contact stores. Just as an example, grocery stores saw a significant surge in pickups and delivery in the U.S. during a 30-day period in February and March. Nearly one-third of U.S. customers used a delivery or pickup service, compared to 13% in August 2019, jumping 145.3% during that period.
Here for the long haul
Many consumers were at least somewhat familiar with curbside pickup well before COVID-19. Typically, a customer places an order online, pays digitally, then drives to the destination and parks outside, where a runner brings the food or goods to the car.
"It's the cost of doing business today. If you're not doing it, you're falling behind," says Yarbrough.
Many major retailers have installed parking spaces for curbside pickup. Smaller businesses are simply instructing customers to put on their car's hazard lights and call the store when they arrive. Retailers can build brand loyalty with customers by offering fast, touchless digital payments and easy-to-use mobile apps. "So far what we're learning is consumer satisfaction is very high on these offerings," says Yarbrough.
"While COVID-19 is hastening adoption of curbside pickup services, it's here to stay for the long haul. And businesses can make the adjustments now to realize a new distribution channel far into the future."
Reducing shopper stress
Convenience, speed and making payments easy are three keys to a successful curbside program, says Jeffrey Neville, senior vice president and practice lead at BRP Consulting. Plus, new vehicle location technology used by some retailers and restaurants expedites the curbside experience for customers.
"A lot of retailers are offering their own mobile apps now for easy ordering and paying," says Neville. "You pay with Apple Pay or link your credit card to the apps."
From a consumer perspective, Neville says one of the obvious benefits of curbside pickup is reducing stress in people who have stressful lives. "I'm stressed about going to Target, finding a parking spot, navigating all of the aisles and dealing with long lines and a lot of people," he says. And now in a post-COVID world, the stakes are much higher.
Laura Kennedy, a retail consultant with Kantar Consulting, says curbside pickup is the next iteration of the industry-wide trend in retail toward ecommerce and convenience.
"It's the continuation of the general trend around convenience," says Kennedy. "Consumers are demanding this service. Consumers want options and flexibility, and some don't want to even have to get out of their car."
While the current climate is hastening adoption of curbside pickup services, it's here to stay for the long haul. And businesses can make the adjustments now to realize a new distribution channel far into the future.