With stores closed and ecommerce sales surging because of the coronavirus pandemic, retailers are adapting to the new normal by changing their fulfillment operations to help consumers and their employees stay safe.

Those changes include altering warehouse procedures and adding omnichannel capabilities like contactless curbside pickup and home delivery. In some cases, store-based retailers are forgoing in-store foot traffic entirely, making store interiors off-limits to shoppers—essentially turning them into pickup points for online orders delivered to customers’ cars.

In 2019, just 17 retailers in Digital Commerce 360’s Top 1000 offered curbside pickup. This number is likely higher now as retailers have quickly launched the service.  Some retailers, like Tractor Supply Co. (No. 504 in the 2019 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000) and Best Buy Co. Inc. (No. 13), already offered curbside delivery or home delivery before the COVID-19 outbreak and ramped up those capabilities in response to stay-at-home directives that forced them to close stores. Other retailers, like fabric retailer Joann, decided to launch curbside in response to the coronavirus and are determining fulfillment tactics on the fly.

Enhancing omnichannel fulfillment is one of the “interesting operational pivots” happening at e-retailers, says April Mullen, director of strategic insights at business email and email intelligence provider SparkPost.

“Many brands did click-and-collect in-store or delivered to home days later,” Mullen says. “We’re now seeing brands that can get something delivered within hours or can execute click and collect from the car without ever having to engage closely in person.”

In some other cases, the coronavirus pandemic has led retailers that had not previously prioritized ecommerce to enhance their online capabilities by doing things like upgrading their websites or doing more digital marketingor launch ecommerce for the first time, Mullen says. “Digital transformation is something we’ve been talking about for a long time in retail, but many brands seemingly delivered overnight once they realized this is how they would stay afloat,” she says.

Research from consultancy Forrester Research Inc. and logistics vendor Narvar Inc. found ecommerce to be a bright retail spot during the coronavirus pandemic. 50% of retailers surveyed expect ecommerce to fare somewhat better than the rest of their business during the crisis, and 20% expect it to fare much better. Also:

  • 77% are changing marketing campaigns to reflect current customer sentiment.
  • 42% said they are pausing pick up in store and store return availability.
  • 23% plan to hire or shift resources to ecommerce.

The research is based on a survey of 99 of Narvar’s retailer clients conducted from March 17-25.

To get immediate access to the rest of this article, sign up for a free Strategy Membership using the Join for Free button below. If you’re already a member, please sign in.

Want to read more? Unlock Free Strategy Membership