In the COVID-19 era, simple and familiar tasks, like picking up groceries or takeout, are suddenly feeling awkward and foreign. If you’re like me, you’ve already had a handful of routine errands turn somewhat strange. Calling to let them know I’m there for pickup - phone ringing off the hook - me outside the door in my car, unsure of whether to risk breaking protocol and venture in or hope the 40th ring is the lucky one that gets through.
It’s understandable, though, that this would be a challenge for businesses. Just weeks ago the thought of having to rely on curbside pickup to stay afloat would’ve sounded crazy. But as the initial shock wears off, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this is the way things are going to be for a while, so businesses are having to adapt to life in the curbside pickup lane.
The Basics: What is Curbside Pickup for Businesses?
Many state and local governments have enacted policies barring people from congregating indoors, making it difficult for businesses to do what they do - which is let people come in and buy their stuff. But people still need stuff and businesses want to do business, so curbside pickup is evolving as the standard way for that to happen while still adhering to social distancing guidelines and other requirements.
The first businesses to offer curbside pickup were those that were first to be impacted by COVID-19 - bars, restaurants and the like. But even for those that normally offered carryout, this was a weird challenge because, under normal circumstances, people would just come inside to grab their food - which is something to avoid doing during COVID-19.
Other retailers have since started offering their own curbside pickup services. For example, to get dog food recently I had to call the pet store and pay in advance, drive there, call a number listed on a chalkboard outside to notify of my arrival, which then prompted an employee to bring it out to me - and going into the store wasn’t even an option. Pretty much every business that is open or plans to be open is in need of a system for handling curbside pickup - and these ad hoc approaches have worked well in the interim while better solutions are worked out.
How Does Curbside Pickup Work?
Businesses are more or less on their own to develop their own systems for handling curbside pickup orders, and much is dependent on factors unique to each - like what they sell, where they’re located, and what their space is like.
Most places currently have a process that goes something like this:
- Order online / call in an order and pay online
- Drive to the location and pull up outside
- Call the number they have listed outside or on their website
- Hope they pickup (many places are understaffed and receiving high call volumes)
- Someone brings the order out to me
But as curbside pickup becomes more and more standard, companies are tasked with evolving their approaches to handle higher volumes of business and better serve their customers.
The New Normal? At Least for a While
The process outlined above has worked fine as a temporary solution to a very difficult and unexpected circumstance. But experts are saying that coronavirus will likely be with us for several months, if not longer. And even if all of the lockdowns were lifted and businesses were allowed to operate normally right away, it remains to be seen how customers will naturally act. Will people go out and shop like they used to or has COVID-19 left an indelible mark on the consumer psyche? The safest bet is to assume that life will take time to return to pre-coronavirus form and businesses should prepare for prolonged changes in how they operate.
The Next Phase in Curbside Pickup is Around the Corner
We’re seeing increases in demand for curbside pickup solutions that businesses can employ to fully serve customers. Not unlike drive-thru medical testing tents that have sprung up around the country to handle mobile COVID-19 testing, you’ll increasingly see grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and big box retailers roll out curbside pickup in the coming weeks.
This next phase is going to see businesses move from ad hoc processes to improved systems that focus on better customer experience. We’re working with several large companies to deploy heavy-duty custom tent structures displaying branding and signage with instructions that help make it a fast, seamless experience for the customer - and easier to manage for employees. They’re actively working on systems to integrate their ecommerce and brick and mortar operations to create a seamless experience where shoppers can simply order online and pick up curbside in a dedicated space, making it easier and safer to get the goods they need.
Curbside Pickup Tips for Businesses
Offering and improving curbside pickup processes is going to be easier for some businesses than others, but it’s something all businesses should investigate thoroughly. And not just consider whether to do it, but how best to do it. Since more and more businesses will be offering pickup options, it could well become an important differentiator between competitors going forward. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you implement and improve your own curbside pickup systems:
- Don’t make people guess where to go - set up a dedicated curbside pickup tent if possible
- Post clear signage with branding and instructions
- Make curbside pickup a core offering by integrating into your website and inventory systems as much as possible
- Set up a second line or phone system that can handle increased call volume
- Consider mobile, touchless POS options for payment capturing on location
- Train employees on how to safety operate curbside pickup services
- If possible have at least one person solely dedicated and accountable to curbside pickup operations at all times
Considering curbside pickup solutions for your business? We can help with that. Click here to send us a message or call (800) 950-4553.