Editor's Note: This post was originally published May 2020, and has since been updated for accuracy and relevancy.
While consumers have substantially moved their buying online, the desire for an in-store shopping experience hasn’t gone away. The evolution of ecommerce has made a pathway for these two seemingly disparate ways of shopping to exist together: curbside pickup. With curbside pickup, otherwise known as "click and collect" or “buy online, pick up in-store,” buyers can support local businesses they buy from in person, all while saving on shipping costs and getting their packages faster than if it were shipped. The risk of damaged or stolen packages is removed too—customers reported an extraordinary 131% jump in stolen packages in the early spring.
Businesses of all sizes are taking note—companies like Nordstorm and Walmart have already implemented curbside pickup. For local businesses, say in a metropolitan area, curbside pickup reinforces some sense of community and neighborhood feel; allowing customers to select goods or products from their favorite retailers and pick-up curbside or at a time of their choosing, and interact with proprietors.
Curbside pickup is by no means new: Retail Dive reported in 2018 that 81% of global ecommerce shoppers ordered items online for in-store pick up, up almost 30% from 2017. And almost half of these buyers said they preferred curbside pickup because it saved them shipping fees and time by not shopping in-store. This is especially relevant now while we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, even as businesses slowly start to reopen. After social distancing restrictions are lifted, it’s likely that brands will return to experiential shopping. It’s doubtful that physical stores will go out of fashion, as events, pop-ups, and any sort of experiential shopping experience brought in and kept customers. But until shoppers are 100% comfortable with in-store shopping, curbside pickup might stick around some more.
Here, we’ll break down what curbside pickup is, how to implement it, and whether pickup options are here to stay.
What is curbside pickup?
Curbside pickup is simply that: buy online, and then pick it up at your nearest curb (store). Today, buyers can search for and buy products in minutes without ever setting foot into a store because of online and mobile shopping. For both retailers and consumers, fulfillment is becoming more important in the buying journey—and can matter just as much as the product you’re selling or buying. Optimizing this segment of the supply chain, according to Entrepreneur, is highly desirable.
Curbside pickup vs. local delivery
Retailers are adapting to the new ways of selling during the COVID-19 era, rapidly moving to implement curbside pickup or local delivery options. Curbside pickup lets retailers receive and distribute their goods similarly to how they would in their physical store, while local delivery places the responsibility on the merchant to coordinate delivery, instead of relying on a third-party logistics (3PL) provider. Local delivery fees are usually smaller or even free.
When it comes to groceries, Nielsen recorded from 69% of surveyors that home delivery was the preferred option over curbside pickup (31%), even though product availability and delivery dates can be unpredictable. If the strain on these systems during COVID-19 is any indication, this isn’t always the most convenient option either.
As brands in other industries pivot during the pandemic, demand is up for both options: Curbside pickup is proving to be a bit of a saving grace for some. In the month of March, curbside pickup orders for brick-and-mortar merchants saw a climb of 443% compared to February, driven primarily by the U.S. and Canada. As more retailers are offering this service—with a 96% increase week over week on March 30—more consumers are bypassing shipping their products altogether.
On the local delivery side, over the week of April 13, we’ve seen retailers in English-speaking countries create almost 5X more profiles referencing local delivery compared to pre-March averages. In that same period, local delivery orders increased by 600%.
Brands prefer local delivery because:
- They don't actually have a physical location that a customer can come to
- They sell large items that need to be delivered or items that require setup, etc.
- They want to use out-of-work staff as delivery people
- They operate in a space with strong industry expectations (e.g. fast food)
- They came online recently and local delivery is their only option because they can't physically be open due to lockdown laws.
- There is still a personalized and in-person element: Customers can safely interact with the brand and a person dropping off their order. For social distancing rules, this offers more of a “white glove” service vs. them having to leave their house and come to you, as with pickup
Brands prefer curbside pickup because:
- They’re already paying leases on retail stores or warehouses where customers can come by anyway (line up outside, wait curbside, etc.)
- They have limited staff, so curbside pickup is a better option as it only requires one or two employees with existing space/tools they already have
- They don't have employees that can deliver or an automobile to use or are locked into an existing contract with delivery companies
- They came online recently and their local customers are used to coming to their store
Ultimately, it is going to be up to a brand to decide which option better suits their customers or to offer both.
Retailers and industries using curbside pickup
Curbside pickup has traditionally been used by the food industry, most notably by restaurants with takeout and delivery options. But the service has since been extended into a few other areas.
Before, you could opt to "click and collect" your pizza order by walking into the store or a restaurant. Beyond pizza, today's environment has shoppers collecting their groceries for the week. Grocery segments are combating high delivery costs with buy online, pickup in-store. MarketLine reported in February this year that Walmart opened its 1100th pick-up location for online grocery customers in the U.S., and its ecommerce sales grew by 44%.
Nielsen postulated in 2018 that online grocery shopping in the U.S. between 2021 and 2023 would reach $100 billion in sales. With COVID-19, those numbers are subject to dramatic change, but it’s still a telling estimation that changes in consumer behavior were already in motion.
When this Nielsen survey was conducted a few years ago, a third of retailers said they weren’t equipped to support curbside pickup, with about 36% admitting that they didn’t have online or mobile support as a reason. Today, that picture looks different: Grocery retailers in the U.S. like Misfits Market and the U.K.’s Chefs’ Warehouse and Leon’s quickly adapted to support their consumers via digital means during COVID-19.
Since 2018, the fashion retail chain Zara has opted for curbside pickup at a pop-up store in east London. The concept store featured a spot where customers could pick up their purchases without needing help from employees because of an automated warehouse behind the store. Customers had a QR code scanned and activated in the warehouse, signaling to an employee to retrieve the purchases.
Home and general goods chain Target introduced a service in 2018 where store employees brought customer purchases out to their car. It feels like a retro throwback to restaurants that had drive-up and servers bringing out their food. Here, the customer orders their items in the Target app and can select "drive-up" at checkout. When the order is ready for pickup, the customer parks in a designated spot, and waits for an employee to load their items directly into the car.
Ikea has incentivized customers to use curbside pickup by offering a $5 discount for its 17 collection points.
Setting up curbside pickup in your online store
Local pickup can be set up to include any retail store, curbside, a warehouse, or any other convenient location set up by a business. It’s important to first ensure there is enough inventory within the store in preparation for demand. Physical space, too, is crucial in order to receive, process, and set-up curbside pickup retrieval for customers.
In Shopify, businesses can enable curbside pickup whether they have a retail location or not. You can choose which locations should allow for customer pickup. Once configured, a new “Pick up” option at checkout will appear, and customers can choose their closest pickup location when selecting their shipping method. Retailers can fulfill these orders through the Shopify admin, mobile app, or through Shopify POS in their retail store.
Not a Shopify merchant? Speak to a retail expert today about your product delivery options.
What’s next for curbside pickup?
Ecommerce has offered a whole new world of options for customers. In an era where distance is prioritized for the sake of health, curbside pickup has understandably seen a surge in relevance and importance. Right now, staying in helps buyers and retailers, and their employees, remain safe. But beyond the COVID-19 period, curbside pickup still has a fruitful future. Some customers may want to “go out by staying home,” where they won’t incur any further costs like paying tips or gas in their cars to-and-from a location. They can enjoy the comforts of a dinner out while in their home. While this pertains to the restaurant industry, already well-acquainted with meal pickups, ordering online and picking up products from shops specialized in home goods, fashion, and even groceries could still have traction.
Buying habits are drastically different now because of COVID-19. But perhaps it has accelerated the inevitable. People don’t want to stand in line, health concerns, or not. Going back to “normal” ways of buying betrays the evolution and trajectory of commerce in general. One thing we can be sure about is that consumers like options that fit their lives.