PROJECT ONE: Trends Fuelled by the Ongoing Pandemic - Curbside Pickup
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Never before have retailers been put in a position where they have had to change so fast on how they get their products to customers. With the onset of a pandemic, many retailers have been forced to close their doors and resort to an exclusive model of curbside pickup that enables customers to shop online and pick up their purchases in the parking lot.
Curbside Pickup - Trend Research
During my second semester at Sheridan College's Digital Product Design program, I worked on a project for my UX class where I took a look at signals and trends. The class split into groups, and each group was assigned a theme; ours was Liquid Infrastructure. Working on a rough ideation process allowed us to break down the theme liquid infrastructure into different topics, which we then listed into categories. Once achieving this, we then chose a category we felt would be the most interesting to explore further, Product Delivery.
Living in a pandemic environment has resulted in changes in the way people live and function in their day-to-day activities. This has produced new trends in how we live and has accelerated existing trends into becoming more ingrained into our behaviour as consumers. When it comes to product delivery, one trend I thought would be interesting to explore was the curbside pickup.
It is the process of receiving online purchases without getting out of your car and entering the store. A quick pitstop to pick up groceries or other products allowing the customer, to receive their goods instantly instead of waiting days for delivery. Never before have retailers been put in the position of having to change so fast on how they get products to their customers. Many retailers have been forced to close their doors and resort to an exclusive model of curbside pickup, enabling customers to shop online and pick up their purchases in the parking lot. It has proven to be a safe and convenient way for consumers to receive goods quickly. It is because of this speed and convenience that analysts believe that curbside pickup is here to stay. Retailers are taking this opportunity to refine operations now to prepare for a future that involves more use of BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In-Store) and parking lot pickup.
The questions now are; how might curbside pickup for businesses continue in a post-pandemic environment given its present profitability and convenience to the customer?
How might curbside pickup fit with smaller brick and mortar in a cost-effective way that would be profitable for the business?
With a COVID-19 environment, the concept of curbside pickup promotes social distancing and non-contact purchase and delivery of products. It solves a safety issue during these times. It provides a fast and effective alternative to delivery a service people will continue to want post-pandemic.
Building customer bonds. For retailers, the addition of curbside pickup opens an opportunity to strengthen brand loyalty. Customers have their favourite stores they like to shop, and providing them with a quick, safe, and easy form of receiving their goods will keep them coming back.
The landscape of retail has possibly changed forever. Shoppers will remain careful and continue to use these new methods of purchasing and obtaining products.
Businesses are implementing this service through their website or customer apps. Some larger retailers like Walmart and Target in the U.S. had started implementing curbside pickup back in the early 2000s as an alternative service to their customers and provide another revenue stream for the companies. With technologies in place, COVID-19 has accelerated the popularity of curbside pickup allowing these companies to refine the service.
Apps are utilized by smaller retailers forced to adopt this form of product delivery. Mainly due to shutdowns of their brick and mortars to keep their business alive.
The platform consists of placing your order through the retailer's website or app. This would be followed by a notification from the retailer to customers letting them know their purchase is ready for pickup. The customer would then drive up to a designated pickup area, and they would alert the retailer of their arrival, and the product, would then be delivered directly to their car.
Customers are attracted to the savings they receive when using curbside pickup by eliminating the costs of shipping. An added attraction is receiving their purchase on the same day ordered.
For retailers, curbside pickup can be an additional cost and more headaches to implement new technologies, and train employees for new roles.
However, after the general costs of implementing the process, it’s more cost-effective than home delivery.
How does curbside pickup’s carbon footprint compare to other methods of delivery? The largest offenders in shopping are the impatient online shopper.
However, curbside pickup does eliminate some offending elements that come with delivery. (ie. Damage returns, incorrect items delivered).
Curbside pickup direct from the warehouse eliminates the transport of products to brick and mortar.
(Longterm effects, positive or negative, may yet be determined?)
With the economy struggling, and small businesses at threat of shutting their doors permanently, the government has had to step in and support these retailers with funding through loans, referrals, and grants to keep them alive and prevent further damage to the economy.
Solutions like curbside pickup allow retailers to remain active in a safe manner during these difficult times. It has become essential in keeping the economy working.
Health and safety are a priority for the government. Avoiding stress on the healthcare system and keeping the public safe. Solutions for a business that involve social distancing and non-contact delivery of products are solutions that benefit both business and government protocols.
Businesses, that don’t require customers to physically be in-store to shop, can use the curbside pickup as a chance to close their locations and keep people safe while still serving.
Businesses can use up existing inventory, keep employees working, and revenue coming in. Customers will be happy they can still pick up orders, food, and other items in these uncertain times.
Leveraging a business’s physical location and existing personnel will allow retail operations to survive the slowdown that COVID-19 has created.
Businesses that provide omnichannel strategies means they will both differentiate and strengthen their brand image of being customer-centric.
Signals and Sources
(1) Coresight Research report (July 2019) said mass merchants were among the most popular retailers to offer to buy online, pick up in-store services (BOPIS). Of consumers surveyed that were already using BOPIS, 50% said they did so at Walmart in the past year, and 34% said Target. Consumers at the time said they used the service to avoid shipping costs (64%), get their goods faster (37%) or access promotional offers or discounts (36%).
(1) Bed Bath & Beyond accelerated rollout of BOPIS and contactless, curbside delivery. In April, they converted around 25% of its stores in U.S. and Canada into regional fulfillment centres, “almost doubling its digital fulfillment capacity” to support a rise in online sales, with plans to expand the service to at least 200 additional stores.
(1) Adobe Analytics (2019) recently found buying online, pickup in-store orders surged 208% in April from the year-ago period.
(1) CommerceHub (2020) report emailed to Retail Dive also found 59% of consumers are more likely to use curbside pickup following the coronavirus outbreak. When pandemic subsides, 75% of consumers that subscribed to multiple delivery services, like Amazon Prime, said they would likely continue to opt for curbside delivery.
(2) Cowen (2019) predicted that 25% of consumers will opt for curbside pickup by 2020, raising the curbside pickup market to $35 billion.
(3) Guillot, Craig (2020) More than three-quarters of consumers said they were interested in BOPIS; over 90% of those who have tried it said curbside was convenient.
One of the hardest-hit businesses during this pandemic has been the restaurant industry. Many dine-in restaurants have adopted curbside pickup as a way to continue to deliver food to their customers while their dining room is closed due to COVID-19. This has allowed them to stay afloat during these difficult times. However, the pandemic has also changed the way people live. Due to difficult financial times, people are more careful in how they spend their money. Also, being quarantined in their own homes has resulted in more people spending time cooking-home cooked meals. It is cheaper than going out to eat, and with leftovers, it allows people to stretch their meals saving money. As we look to the future, there will also be more people who will continue to work from home post-pandemic. This will result in fewer people going out for morning coffee and breakfast or going to lunch.
Curbside Pickup - Where is it going?
Curbside pickup is something that consumers are on board with and will now expect into the future.
It provides a high level of convenience to the customer
The transaction can remain contactless, adding safety many customers will expect and desire.
Retailers will be looking to streamline the process as they move forward into the future.
The use of beacons or license plate recognition
Improve efficiency and eliminate customer wait times.
curbside pickup pop-up locations
Stores of the future may be a pick, pack, and pick-up facility leveraging micro-fulfillment instead of a traditional point of sale.
With the big box stores that had implemented curbside pickup before the pandemic, there was a gradual growth that showed interest in the service for its speed and convenience for the customer. When COVID-19 happened, it accelerated the growth due to health and safety reasons. Customers wanted quick, touch-free delivery of the product.
Once the pandemic has passed, and we return to the new normal, there will probably be a slight decline in demand for the service. However, the numbers have shown that this is a service that customers want, and for retailers, it’s an opportunity to provide an alternative point of sale adding to their profit margins.
For some smaller brick-and-mortar businesses, this additional point of sale could be beneficial in creating greater income flow for such areas as the restaurant industry. Having a take-out option for dine-in model restaurants is an alternative to fast food.
Where curbside pickup will fall short is the smaller retailers located within malls. Without the curbside parking space, this will not be an option.
This brings up the whole ritual of shopping. People want to shop not just for purchasing products but also for the exploration and discovery experience. Points of purchase that occur inside the brick and mortar, like personal customer service with salespeople, trying on clothes, and impulse buying, are important elements of a retailer’s sales. This is where curbside pickup may affect the bottom line negatively, or it could be what prevents curbside pickup from becoming the way of shopping for the future.
Reflections and Takeaways
The process of coming up with different ideations around the theme of liquid infrastructure in a team environment was a great experience. Working together as a group, spilling out many examples of the theme, and organizing them into categories was an exercise that proved to be a fast and efficient process to get us all to that final point of interest for further exploration. Doing some pulmonary research on what I thought were some possibly interesting topics helped me realize the more interesting topics to dive deeper into. As a group, we decided unanimously that Product Delivery had the most interesting topics.
It was interesting to see how something as threatening as a pandemic works to create opportunities. Retailers are forced to pivot their business model allowing them to continue to service customers, keeping themselves alive during economic struggles.
Concerning curbside pickup, I was unaware of its existence before COVID-19. Big Box retailers have been using curbside for a decade, and it was slowly establishing as an additional profit stream. COVID-19 accelerated the growth as people looked for a safe, contactless way of purchasing and receiving goods.
It will be interesting to see how curbside pickup will evolve post-pandemic. I can see it continuing to grow with the larger retailers like Target and Walmart.
It would also be effective for food services like grocery stores as well as other specialty supply stores like pet supplies, health care, and hardware stores. We could also see a decrease in brick and mortar and an increase in fulfillment centres.
As technology evolves, the ability to streamline the process will only improve. From click and pick apps to automated pickup locations and even an AI implementation could open up endless opportunities for retailers and their customers.
PROJECT TWO - Speculative Design
My next blog will cover project two of this course. In this project, I started to delve into futures-thinking. I would get back with my team and start the foundations of building a scenario using different methods to explore potential futures at a high level. I ended up exploring in a different direction from curbside pickup and more along the lines of the potential mass increase in home deliveries and the negative effects they might bring.
Stay tuned!... and thanks for reading!
(1) Jansen, Caroline (May 14, 2020), After COVID-19, is curbside delivery here to stay? - RetailDive
(2) Pinto, Idan (May 24, 2020), The Rise of Curbside Pickup: Temporary or Here to Stay? - Trends and Future of Retail
(3) Guillot, Craig (May 13, 2020), How retailers are adapting to curbside pickup - National Retail Federation
All photos from Unsplash.com
Illustrated images created by Stephen Mills (author)