Digital Commerce 360 tests 20 retail curbside options, from purchase to pickup, providing recommendations for exemplary shopper experiences.

I love curbside pickup. I have also learned over the years that there is no substitute for doing your homework, which means road testing the curbside model. Over the years, I have personally tested hundreds of retailers — most were larger mass merchants like Walmart and Target. This time around, I wanted to test more specialty retailers while also trying out some neighborhood merchants to see how they performed.

I hoped to understand if they had adopted the best practices of their larger retailer counterparts or if they would deliver a subpar experience. The results are insightful and I will share the quantitative numbers that summarize the story while also providing the color commentary that paints the real picture.

I have broken up the curbside experience into three elements, starting with the pre-shop, followed by the post-shop communication and, lastly, the pickup experience. These elements play a distinct role in the curbside experience, where all must operate in concert. My focus will be on making 13 key recommendations for getting it right based on current customer expectations.

A. The pre-shop period

1. Ensure shoppers know inventory is in stock, and ideally provide the number of units

In an era when retailers face challenging supply chains and shoppers seek to avoid unnecessary trips to the store, there hasn’t been a better time to be transparent and provide actual inventory.

However, our review of 20 retailers suggests that most will let you know there is stock, but they avoid getting into the specifics as retail inventory is tough to manage. All the retailers were able to show online availability, though just Levi’s and L.L. Bean shared the actual inventory.


In fact, by accident, I ordered two water bottles from L.L. Bean, which uses the “reserve” model they started during omnichannel’s inception. But unfortunately, they provide no initial reserve confirmation. Ironically, one of the two orders was canceled within 24 hours, suggesting how difficult it can be to keep the counts accurate. It’s likely the reason retailers avoid getting specific with an exact number.

2. Set expectations for when products will be ready

45% of retailers highlighted the number of hours when the products would be available for pickup. On average, it came in at 4.94 hours or just under five hours for those retailers. Advance Auto offered the quickest turnaround time at 30 minutes, while Jayson Home (a Chicago home décor specialty store), Loft and Party City came in at the two-hour mark.



3. Share how late shoppers can order for same-day delivery

I decided to track retailers specifying that if you ordered by a certain time of day, you could still pick up that same day. The research indicated three retailers, or 15%, provided this information. Two posted a 2 p.m. cutoff for same-day orders (Athleta and Club Monaco). Levi’s takes orders until 4 p.m. for same-day delivery. The later the better, as far as shoppers are concerned.



4. Shoppers expect orders will be available for same-day pickup

Given current shopper expectations, all orders should be ready for same-day pickup. Most shoppers are looking for their goods ASAP. 85% of those who shopped met that same-day availability benchmark. Based on the following listed times when customers placed orders, three retailers, including Levi’s (11:33 a.m.), J. Crew (3:45 p.m.) and Fleet Feet (12:49 p.m.), all sent notifications for the following day.

5. Promote curbside on-site

Let shoppers know if curbside is currently available. Why not promote it on the home page if it’s an option? In our sample,40% of retailers promoted the curbside opportunity to entice shoppers. This may be why a shopper would buy from you; ideally, this prospect could turn into a long-term customer. Ace’s “Convenient Ways to Shop Ace” branding and Barnes & Noble’s suggestion to shoppers that you can “Find Your Place at B&N’s Online Bookstore” are just two examples of retailers that promoted the curbside option to entice shoppers.





Carter’s takes it one step further and looks to encourage its customers to use the app to receive the curbside option. That’s an interesting tactic, backed up by features that facilitate that experience.



6. Incorporate details on how curbside service works, from FAQs to store locators

Anthropologie visualizes that experience for those shoppers who just might be in a hurry, articulating how the process works.


Utilize your store locator as another place to indicate that curbside pickup is available. It’s always wise to go with the “how does it work?” approach. I would suggest that retailers get specific.

Lastly, your store is your best advertisement. It has been in place since COVID’s inception. Several retailers, including Club Monaco, reinforced the service. At the same time, I couldn’t miss street-side signage from Jayson Home.

club monaco




Malls also embrace omnichannel initiatives to reinforce future visits, as seen in this sweeping promotion at an Old Orchard mall north of Chicago.

old orchard

7. Give shoppers options for assigning a designated pickup person and their communication of choice

When going through the ordering process, it’s certainly preferable to allow shoppers to designate another individual to pick up the order should that be more convenient for the shopper. Formally, 30% of the retailers did offer such a choice.

Just 30% of the retailers presented the option to text shoppers delivery communication. I find it comes in handy when heading out to pick up the orders. Keep in mind: As some shoppers may already have provided their mobile information, shoppers may automatically receive such communications, so it could be a non-issue.

Lastly, if your service capabilities have changed, shoppers need to know. Upon arrival to pick up the Pandora order, the associate’s response when I called, was that they no longer offer a curbside option. She said they are a franchise and can’t change their curbside messaging on the site. That is little solace after having driven 30 minutes to the store. On a positive note, I called their main number, and a staffer advised that it would automatically cancel after 24 hours. The retailer would credit the refund to the original form of payment.


B. Communication

8. Post-purchase communication must be clear and complete

So now you’ve placed the order. What every shopper wants is confirmation that you have their order, and ideally what the next steps might be. Clear communication is essential and it’s particularly important when it comes to the “ready for pickup” message. Complete location details and any specifics that might indicate the best place to park are welcome. Also, I advise having the phone number front and center, as most retailers require customers to call. And while you’re at it, if you’re in the curbside business, ensure one of your voicemail prompts directs shoppers accordingly. This also saves the harried shopper time.

The number of minutes from when the order was placed to being ready for pickup was 6.49 hours. Many were under an hour, and those included the following retailers and their individual return minutes that hit this desirable mark. Below: the retailers and how many minutes until an employee returned with the order.

Pandora 14
Barnes & Noble 16
Party City 17
Advance Auto 20
Kendra Scott 21
PetSmart 23
Club Monaco 33
Pottery Barn 41
Jayson Home 48
Kiehl’s 55
Loft 58

C. The Pickup: Are You Ready?

9. Train staff to be ready and knowledgeable about your in-store and curbside-pickup initiatives

Be ready with the order as the shopper expects it. In most instances, there was no issue, though my pickup from Anthropologie was somewhat challenging. Despite having said “I’m here,” the remainder of the communication was via phone. There was no response to my app request. I decided to call, and after a brief hold, I was asked for all the details I had already keyed into the app. Though they were apologetic throughout our communication, they clearly hadn’t pulled my order. So it took 10 minutes after multiple fits and starts with the associate via phone.

In some instances, there were brand-related considerations that came into play. Kendra Scott indicated they would get it all wrapped up, while Kiehl’s asked if I wanted samples. Several retailers’ associates also asked if I wanted a shopping bag, and I appreciate that from an environmental point-of-view.


10. Invest in an app

I find retailers that provide an app are more efficient. I otherwise having to repeat all the information I could simply key into the app. Carter’s was one of the retailers with an app, giving the option to click, “ I’m on my way,” and, “I’m here.” In the email, they advised parking in the lot, but I pulled right up to the store. The associate brought out the package. Their BOPIS-advertised shopping bag was smart marketing. It’s also important to make sure your systems are integrated. Even after picking up my order at Carter’s, they still reminded me that my order, which I picked up, is still waiting for me at the store.


11. Be quick to deliver the order to the car

Time to pick up orders came in strong, at just over 4 minutes. It’s all about location and finding a space, from an urban perspective. Most urban neighborhood pickups were simple. I could park close by and just wait, and their small store footprints made for a quick turnaround in most instances. Those that came in at 1 minute: Ace, Club Monaco, Fleet Feet, Kiehl’s and Party City. Actual times in minutes:

Ace 1
Club Monaco 1
Fleet Feet 1
Kiehl’s 1
Party City 1
Athleta 2
Jayson Home 2
Kendra Scott 2
Levi’s 2
PetSmart 2
Barnes & Noble 3
Carters 3
J. Crew 3
Advance Auto 4
L.L. Bean 4
Pottery Barn 6
Loft 10
Women and Children First 13
Anthropologie 18
Pandora N/A



12. Dedicated parking spaces save shoppers time

Shoppers appreciate that retailers have allocated parking for their omnichannel shoppers. Party City’s pickup sign makes it convenient for customers to pull in and quickly pick up their order. The location’s phone number is displayed should the shopper want to call the store, though I took advantage of the “I’m here” message in the text link. The associate quickly headed out, was friendly and on-brand, telling me to “have a good party.”

party city


I pulled into Advance Auto, though unfortunately there was no designated space. There was a makeshift sign on the window to call for pickup. While the associate seemed confused by my request, he then said he’d be right out. He mentioned they were in the midst of inventory, which certainly could have been a factor.


advance 2 store sign

When malls were challenged during COVID, many turned to curbside pickup. The residuals remain, as Old Orchard has dedicated significant real estate to curbside pickup messaging. Water Tower’s drive-through between two busy Chicago streets also embraced the capabilities.

water tower omni

Mall-based pickups can be a little tricky 

I was unsure where to go for my Loft pickup at Old Orchard mall. As the email instructions weren’t clear, the associate directed me to a semicircle driveway between two restaurants, and the order was brought out. If one didn’t know the mall, it might have been a challenge to find the right way.


13. Utilize signage to guide pickup experiences

As I visited both my neighborhood locations and malls to pick up the orders, it was clear that signage is one of the most important aspects in a positive experience. Upon arrival, L.L. Bean smartly positioned a sandwich board with their phone number and delivery window. Via a call to the store, the associate asked my name and if I had paid for my order, as it was a reserve. Turns out I hadn’t, but I could take care of that on the call.


Next, I called Pottery Barn, remembering that past visits were in an unusual location. I asked the associate for directions and told her I was on my way, though she wanted me to call again upon arrival. The signage was good, but the location was a bit funky in a loading dock. Once there, he was out with the whole transaction, complete in six minutes.

pottery barn

Women and Children First, a local Chicago institution and independent book seller, directed me to the back door. In their communication, they asked for a text prior to arrival. Their modus operandi was leaving the book on the back table. It did the trick, though maybe it was a bit underwhelming. My original text was at 1:00 p.m., and the book was not there at 1:10 p.m., so I called. The associate put the book on the back table three minutes later.

women and childre

My conclusion

Curbside is here to stay and demands that retailers deliver from the initial onsite visit to pickup at the store. No matter the retailer’s size, category or neighborhood, shoppers have heightened expectations and will hold retailers to high standards. Communication should be flawless, and strong execution implies a fast pickup at the store. Taking advantage of technology by employing an app can enhance the shopper’s experience. In the end, speed counts, from how fast the order is ready to how quickly your store associates deliver it to the customer’s car. Being both vigilant and kind will ensure your omnichannel curbside business continues to thrive.


The companies that comprised the survey, the ownership of each, and Digital Commerce 360 ranking

In alphabetic order:

Ace Hardware Corp. (680)
Advance Auto Parts Inc. (88)
Anthropologie (owner: Urban Outfitters) (43)
Athleta (Owner: Gap, Inc.) (20)
Barnes & Noble Booksellers Inc. (104)
Carter’s Inc. (78)
Club Monaco (not currently ranked)
Fleet Feet (1255)
Jayson Home (not currently ranked)
J. Crew (83)
Kendra Scott LLC (697)
Kiehl’s (owner: L’Oreal S.A.) Euro rank: 19
Levi Strauss & Co. (181)
L.L. Bean (57)
Loft (owner: Ascena Retail Group) (59)
Pandora Jewelry LLC Euro Rank: 6
Party City Holdings (314)
Pottery Barn (owner: Williams-Sonoma, Inc.) (25)
Anthropologie 18
Women and Children First (not currently ranked)

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