From early 2020 through early 2021, the percentage of retail chains offering curbside pickup grew from single digits to a majority.

2020 was a year when shopping online and picking up curbside replaced shopping in stores for many retailers and their customers.

Since the start of the pandemic, our research reveals a rapid expansion of curbside pickup among the 211 retail chains in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000.

In early 2020—just a few months after COVID-19 hit the U.S.—6.6% of Top 1000 chains offered curbside pickup by early 2020. 8.1% did so by mid-2020. After that, the expansion of curbside pickup exploded, according to our in-depth analysis of retail chains in the just-released Omnichannel Report.

By early 2021, 50.7% of Top 1000 retail chains offered curbside pickup. The adoption was broad-based. In 10 of 14 merchandise categories Digital Commerce 360 tracks, 50% or more retail chains offered curbside pickup by early 2021.

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Curbside keeps customers coming 

In many cases, retailers added the fulfillment option due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated lockdowns.

To mitigate some store sales losses during mandated store closures, cosmetics chain Ulta Beauty Inc. (No. 45 in the Top 1000) introduced curbside pickup at 70 stores on April 23, 2020. It soon expanded the service to more than 800 locations (or two-thirds of its entire store base).

“While store traffic remained challenged, sales through our digital channels doubled in fiscal 2020,” CEO Mary Dillon said during a March 11, 2021, conference call to discuss results for its fiscal year ended January 30, 2021.

A month earlier, electronics retailer Best Buy Co. Inc. (No. 5) temporarily barred customers from entering its stores. But the stores weren’t closed. The electronics retailer instead used them to fulfill online orders picked up curbside. Since then, Best Buy has reopened the stores for in-person shopping. But the reliance on omnichannel fulfillment didn’t end. In April 2020, Best Buy launched free at-home virtual consultations. Instead of visiting customers’ homes like they usually would, Best Buy advisors chat, phone and conduct video calls with customers.

Among the other well-known retailers adding or expand­ing curbside pickup services in 2020 include mass merchants Target Corp. (No. 6) and Walmart Inc. (No. 3), apparel retailer Kohl’s Corp. (No. 18), home goods chain Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (No. 26), along with crafts retailers Joann Inc. (No. 136) and Michaels Cos. (No. 106).

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Joann and Michaels launched curbside pickup in March 2020. Each had previously offered buy online pick up in store (BOPIS) services, but COVID-19 restrictions in several states closed many of their stores, meaning BOPIS was no longer an option at the time.

Consumers approve

In many cases, the curbside services rolled out by merchants to keep their stores afloat are likely to stick around post-pandemic. A big reason is that consumers like the convenience of having purchases brought to their vehicles—or sometimes made available on a shelf or in a contact-free locker at the store.

As of February, consumers did not seem anxious to start walking through stores again. A Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,052 consumers that month found 35% of U.S. online shoppers picked up an order curbside in the past six months. A year earlier, 13% of respondents reported using curbside pickup in a similar Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey of 1,000 online shoppers.

The 2021 survey also found that 75% of respondents completed an in-store or curbside pickup in the past six months. And 13% completed 20 or more purchases using pickup options.

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Also, 64% of respondents to the 2021 survey planned to place more orders online in the next six months and 33% expect to order online and pick up in-store more often. Plus, 27% say they will order online and use drive-up or curbside services to pick up from a store more than in the previous six months.

The 2021 Omnichannel Report

The Digital Commerce 360’s 2021 Omnichannel Report reveals more about how retail chains weathered the pandemic in 2020. The report includes:

  • An in-depth assessment of how COVID-19 triggered retailers to launch or expand omnichannel services.
  • Longevity analysis of the omnichannel services retail chains offered before and throughout the pandemic.
  • A detailed look at how smaller retail chains handle omnichannel.
  • Consumer insights into what works—and doesn’t work—when making an omnichannel purchase.
  • 15+ charts and graphs detailing omnichannel trends, bankruptcies in 2020, consumer shopping behavior and more.

This article is based on an analysis from Digital Commerce 360’s 2021 Omnichannel Report. This report is available to Digital Commerce 360’s Gold and Platinum members or available to purchase for $399. View the table of contents for full details on what’s included in the report. You can learn how to purchase the 2021 Omnichannel Report here.

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