Consumers won’t stop using curbside pickup, even after the pandemic is gone. Retailers must plan to offer the service permanently.

Indy Guha

Indy Guha, senior vice president marketing and alliances at Signifyd

The great retail acceleration is underway, prompted by the pandemic and nurtured by the new ways homebound consumers have found to shop. 

So much has changed in such a short time. Most of the change—a dramatic shift to ecommerce, a wave of new online shoppers, an even stronger embrace of the omnichannel model and increased scrutiny of how retailers treat workers—reflects the reality of serving consumers during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

As is often the case when the world is turned upside down, many recent retail changes are both for the better and good. When a vaccine is available and the virus is conquered, we’ll look back and note when it all changed. And we’ll realize that we’re not going back. 

So it is with curbside pickup, the buy-online-pick-up in-store variant that was little more than a blip before the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic in March and governments around the world started shutting down stores and shutting in consumers. 

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The resurgence of curbside pickup may have been born of the pandemic, but it will not die with the virus. 

With buy online pick up at the curb—sometimes called BOPAC—here to stay, retailers need to sketch out strategies for a way to offer the service for the long term. 

The data around BOPAC points to the future

Signifyd’s data shows a breathtaking increase in orders involving online purchases picked up in or at the store. Within a month of the pandemic’s official start, BOPIS orders on Signifyd’s Commerce Network had increased by more than 450%. The number of buy-online-pick-up-at-the-curb or-in-the-store orders declined from that early pandemic peak. However, nearly four months into the pandemic, with many non-essential stores open again, BOPIS orders were still 275% higher than their pre-pandemic level. 

The truth is, curbside was not a common offering among retailers before the pandemic. Digital Commerce 360 reports that as of last year, only 17 of the Internet Retailer Top 1000 offered BOPAC.

That picture has changed. While the number of retailers offering curbside pickup remains a moving target, consumers’ adoption of curbside indicates retailers’ embrace of the channel. 

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The pandemic has forced an inflection point for retail

What does all that mean for retailers? It means we’re at an inflection point. Remember when an ecommerce site was a nice-to-have before it became a must-have? Or when mobile commerce was an afterthought before it became the way consumers buy?

That’s where we are with curbside pickup. Retailers who launch their programs now will have a decided advantage over those who dawdle. 

With great opportunity comes significant but surmountable challenges

Some point out that retailers that launched BOPAC during the pandemic—when their stores were otherwise closed to shoppers—may be in for unpleasant surprises. Running a curbside program when the store has no shoppers in its aisle is a lot easier than doing it while live shoppers ask for help and make it harder for order pickers to get around inside. 

Second, providing curbside pickup means retailers need to tend to the details. For instance, BOPAC retailers have to designate a pickup area. They need to arrange their store so that there are dedicated areas for organizing the orders that someone has to pick and place in the dedicated area. There is a need for seamless communication with the customer who will pick up the order. There’s a need to have the right number of people ready to run orders out, when you don’t know who is coming for what, when. 

And there is the need to quickly verify that the person who is picking up the order is the rightful owner of the order and that the credit card used to pay is legitimate. Without a quick decision, the key advantage of BOPAC—the ability to pick up an order in an hour or two—is lost.

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How to do BOPAC right

And so how to do BOPAC, right? We’ve assembled a few tips based on expert advice: 

  • Be obsessed with communication. Start on your website, setting clear expectations on your curbside pickup process. Follow up orders immediately with a confirmation email that includes pickup instructions and an accurate estimate of when the order will be ready. During the pandemic, politely require customers to wear face masks at pickup. Consider explaining that the requirement is for the good of both customers and your employees. Follow up with an email when the order is ready. Repeat all the instructions. Including asking customers to have the confirmation email with them when they arrive.
  • Analyze your risk management strategy and tools. Consider an automated fraud and consumer abuse solution, which combines big data and machine learning to identify legitimate from fraudulent orders instantly. BOPAC orders come with no delivery address, which means fraud reviews need to be conducted without some critical pieces of data to confirm identity. 
  • Designate a dedicated pickup area. A section of clearly marked parking spaces works better than literally lining cars up along the curb, if possible. If you rely on a curbside line, mark the lane clearly and use signs to instruct drivers to stay in their cars throughout the pickup process.
  • Signs, signs, signs. Be sure signs are easily visible and clear in their messaging. Include the number to call or text with order information upon arrival. If possible, post a different customer service number for complications. 
  • Identify and train dedicated associates to work on BOPAC. Depending on your business’s size and order volume, you might consider having the dedicated employees work only on BOPAC orders. Lack of identity verification and “contactless pickup” is great for shopper and employee safety and a haven for fraudsters. 
  • During the pandemic, be sure employees who deliver orders to vehicles are properly wearing face coverings. Instruct them to confirm orders through a closed car window and maintain social distancing even when sharing outdoor space and customers. 
  • Be flexible. You cannot plan for everything. You might need to zig and zag. Consider each day, or each hour even, a test. Execute, observe, adjust and execute again.
  • Treat your employees working BOPAC during the pandemic like the heroes they are. Customers by-and-large appear to be grateful for the opportunity to get what they need—or want. Your associates, more than ever, are your biggest brand ambassadors. 
  • Breathe. It’s a stressful time. Yes, the biggest understatement ever. Launching a new initiative only adds to the stress. Things will go wrong. Customers, however, appear ready to accept some hiccups. When things do go wrong, make things right for the customer involved. Consider gift cards, discounts or some other thoughtful gesture.

Beyond the specific tips, there is this: As you rush to adopt buy online, pick up at curbside, keep one thing in mind. This isn’t just an initiative to get through the pandemic. It is an initiative that propels retailers into the future of omnichannel.

Signifyd provides ecommerce security and fraud prevention services.

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