While customer demand for ecommerce buying, digital grocery and off-premise dining has been growing rapidly for some time, COVID-19 accelerated this shift. Ecommerce in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the last few months, and Europe saw a 92% eCommerce growth. With limited delivery slots available, alternative fulfillment methods like curbside pickup and drive thrus are surging. As a result, curbside pickup operations are facing overwhelming demand, and those that do not offer pickup options are struggling to meet eCommerce demand through delivery alone.
This article looks at the main challenges around curbside delivery and click and collect operations, and offers best practices for creating seamless, digitized pickup experiences that increase eCommerce fulfillment capacity and business profitability.
How does curbside pickup work?
Curbside delivery can take various forms. What all curbside operations have in common is a customer who orders items for pickup, and arrives outside the store for pickup.
The handoff looks like this: A customer orders an item for pickup → the order reaches a store’s POS → the inventory’s location is identified → inventory is picked or prepared for staging → inventory is staged in a dedicated pickup area → curbside staff identify the correct order (ideally when the customer has almost arrived) and take it from staging → staff transfer the order to the customer
This process leaves a tremendous room for flexibility around where customers order (on a branded site or marketplace, or in a retail location) and where they pick the order up from (in a dedicated curbside lane, or regular parking spot). What’s more, given that it is often possible to use existing resources – allocating curbside lanes in your parking lots; using existing store staff, etc. – curbside operations can be launched relatively quickly with out-of-the-box solutions. This is one reason why we’re seeing such a rapid adoption of curbside pickup across verticals.
Curbside is especially useful for retailers and restaurants with stores in malls. These locations are in a precarious position as long as this pandemic continues. Curbside offers a solution where these locations can become dark stores and restaurants which strictly fulfill orders via curbside pickup alone.
In the spectrum of fulfillment options, curbside pickup – as well as click & collect, and other similar fulfillment models – are the happy medium. They allow customers the convenience of purchasing online, while maintaining the retail interaction they are familiar with, and without the additional cost and complexity of adding delivery capacity.
Curbside pickup might sound perfect. However, like every well-designed operation, managing seamless curbside pickup is not without its challenges.
The Challenges of Curbside
Curbside pickup was one of the fastest growing fulfillment models last year. Today, 77% of retailers plan to section off in-store space dedicated to curbside pick-up and click-and-collect services. (Symphony RetailAI). But many of these companies rolling out curbside are not taking into consideration the necessary tech capabilities to guarantee seamless curbside operations and great curbside experiences.
Unified customer experiences – It may be difficult to launch curbside across all retail locations. However, spotty availability will lead to confused customers who don’t understand where curbside pickup is available. They may order online assuming they can pick up orders, only to find at checkout that this option is not available in their location.
Since it’s not a good idea to launch a new solution at scale without testing it first, this mixed availability is inevitable. You will need a way to make it clear where and when curbside pickup is available before customers start the checkout process.
Limited resources – Pickup is typically limited to a handful of curbside spots. What do you do when customer demand requires additional pickup spots? You may find yourself limited by the amount of parking spaces available.
Staff availability is another challenge. How do grocers and retailers manage staff so that they have sufficient coverage for staging and loading orders into customers’ cars to meet demand, but can scale back as demands shift – often on a daily basis?
For example, during the beginning of Covid-19, government orders limited in-store customers and forced many brands to closed a significant number of retail locations. Stores hastily shifted staff from assisting customers inside, to managing scantily-prepared curbside pickup operations. The moment regulations were lifted, these stores were once more flooded with customers – and yet, their new curbside pickup was in high demand. These stores suddenly needed to add on additional staff, without knowing how long the situation would remain stable.
This scenario applies equally to pandemics and holiday seasons; to retail and restaurant locations. Flexibly allocating and managing curbside staff is a serious challenge that must be addressed before curbside can be run efficiently.
Curbside Challenges in Grocery
In addition to growing eCommerce demand from national brands, consumers are also shopping more often at the nearest local store. These local chains, often small convenience stores with no allocated parking lots – often lack the infrastructure and resources to run curbside grocery pickup.
Limited Visibility – Pulling existing employees away from their regular duties to act as loaders can cause a tremendous amount of disruption and inefficiency. If they get ready to load before the customer arrives, they waste their time and clog up the operational delivery areas. Get ready too late, and they keep customers waiting and waste valuable, limited parking spaces. This also puts a strain on staff who are scrambling to fulfill both delivery and pickup orders.
Moreover, not knowing when to expect customers to arrive can lead to curbside congestion. The last thing you want is for customers to block pickup or parking spaces, or call the store because the curbside staff did not know when they would arrive, or where to find them in the curbside lane.
High Customer Expectations – When customers have high expectations, one bad or faulty launch of curbside pickup is more than you can afford. Consumers accept that during a crisis there will be delays in fulfillment speed – but waiting in line for 30 minutes to get your order loaded will frustrate even the most loyal of customers. In the example above, even a single customer kept waiting for their order can cause congestion and bad experiences for a dozen other customers waiting in line for pickup.
Restaurant off-premise challenges: high expectations, low visibility
Restaurants have a head-start in off-premise fulfillment, having offered some form of click and collect or ‘order ahead’ pickup for years. However, lack of visibility into the customer’s location – knowing exactly when the customer plans on arriving, or where they are in the parking lot – causes restaurant employees to waste valuable time fulfilling these orders. And even one bad experience will send a customer to competitors with shorter wait times, or more streamlined operations.
The same applies for on-demand drive thru orders, where congestion can cause customers to turn around and drive to a less crowded drive thru.
Food quality is another major concern. Without knowing exactly when the customer plans on arriving, food may sit out too long, or – worse – not be ready on time, forcing the customer to wait and take up curbside space in the parking lot. Restaurants need a way to coordinate customer arrival with food preparation.
Customer and employee safety – Curbside pickup can be dangerous if the proper precautions are not in place. Do pickup staff have to weave through cars to reach the curbside customer?
The rise of contactless delivery bringgs additional concerns. Ask yourself, are your pickup operations truly contactless? Have you put regulations in place for how the pickup should be performed? Do you have contactless delivery technology like no-contact proof of delivery? If not, then you may be inadvertently making curbside pickup no safer than a pickup in store.
These are just a few of the challenges surrounding curbside pickup. Technology can not only address these challenges, but do so effectively, turning curbside pickup into both a profitable fulfillment model.
7 Steps to Seamless Curbside Fulfillment:
1. Provide reliable curbside pickup options
2. Track customer progress
3. Sync picking/prepping, staging, and loading with customer arrival
4. Automatically allocate curbside loading spots for the expected number of customers
5. Direct customers to the optimal curbside pickup bay or parking spot
6. Streamline the curbside handoff process
7. Maintain full chain of custody
Curbside pickup involves many players, with different roles, all of which must be seamlessly coordinated from one centralized platform. When done right, curbside pickup can provide the fastest time to market for grocers looking to merge online buying with convenient fulfillment methods.
We’ve helped some of the world’s largest restaurants, grocers and retailers improve their efficiency, capacity and customer experience by optimizing every element of their curbside fulfillment, from the digital ordering, and all the way through pickup.
Bringg’s Curbside Pickup and Click & Collect Technology
Our Pickup technology stack can be broken down into several steps:
1. Scheduling and Quotes software – At checkout, provide the customer with reliable curbside pickup options, based on your actual capacity. This includes listing the available pickup locations and time slots per day, based on both inventory location, employee capacity, and curbside spot availability.
Customer tracking software to track customer’s real-time progress as they approach your pickup location.
By having visibility into when customers are expected to arrive, you can coordinate timing to fit the available parking spaces and staff.
3. Sync picking and prepping, staging, and loading with customer arrival, to ensure efficient, just-in-time order preparation and handoff. Orders are ready for pickup just as customers arrive, preventing curbside congestion and ensuring the optimal efficiency for staging and pickup staff. This is done through a dedicated Store App.
4. Allocate curbside pickups pots to match the expected number of pickups at any given time. New loading spots can be added with something as simple as a sign, and a tap in the curbside app. This reduces potential congestion in the pickup area.
5. Integrated customer and store technology that lets you direct customers to the optimal curbside pickup bay, in real-time.
6. Automated curbside pickup technology that streamlines the curbside handoff process through automated customer check-in, and applications which help store staff and customers easily identify the relevant order.
This is where contactless delivery and pickup solutions come into play. Our curbside pickup app that lets customers see exactly where they need to park, and lets them call the curbside team if necessary.
Curbside staff can confirm proof of delivery via photos, which they can send directly to the customer, as well as to operational managers.
7. Chain of Custody software, Logistics BI and Reporting dashboards to maintain full chain of custody to understand and improve performance.
Each of these steps are essential to scalable, efficient pickup operations that are as efficient for your business as they are convenient for your customers.
Bringg’s unified delivery and fulfillment solutions can be deployed at scale in just a few days. Learn more about our curbside pickup software, or learn why businesses turn to Bringg for help launching out-of-the-box solutions for delivery and fulfillment.