Why The Era Of Curbside And Delivery Is Upon Retailers, And How To Implement It
CEO at Raydiant; Creating a market-leading offering that brings brick & mortar locations to life.
Retail rarely rewards complacency. The disruption of e-commerce exposed many brands that were unable to adapt. When businesses without great customer experiences faced pressure, some folded in the face of a new generation of heightened customer expectations.
The Covid-19 pandemic created a similar, although less predictable, situation for retail store owners. In the aftermath of store closures and regulatory crackdowns, some stores may not survive. As the executive chairman of a curbside and in-store pickup platform and CEO of a digital signage company, I believe those that do survive will persevere by rethinking how their businesses engage with customers and fulfill their obligations to prove they provide superior experiences.
My company recently conducted a study and published our findings in the Reopening of Retail Report. Our research revealed several interesting truths about how more than 400 retail store owners handled the pandemic.
During the course of our research, we learned how stores modified their customer engagement opportunities. Only 21% of respondents said they had begun offering curbside delivery to keep serving customers during the pandemic. Delivery saw a slightly higher overall total: 21% of stores saying they now used in-house delivery drivers and 31% saying they now used outsourced delivery. However, many stores use both, or both in conjunction with curbside pickup, which adds up to a lower figure than we would have predicted.
Why have so few stores added alternative delivery options to their offerings? According to April 2020 research from the National Retail Federation, half of consumers surveyed have used buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) options due to Covid-19.
Even stranger, why do so few stores plan to keep the options they already implemented? According to our research, just 17% of retail store owners expect to keep offering curbside delivery after the pandemic. In-house and outsourced delivery both hover around 14%. Yet according to a CommerceHub report (via RetailDive), “even when the pandemic subsides, 75% of consumers that subscribed to multiple delivery services, like Amazon Prime, said they would likely continue to opt for curbside delivery.”
With customers wary about spending time in stores and retailers looking for new ways to earn income, the reluctance to adopt new methods may not last long.
Why Curbside and Delivery Could Continue To Expand
Many continue to believe e-commerce gained ground on brick-and-mortar retail because of its convenience factor. While backed up by my company’s report in January of this year, the State of Consumer Behavior 2020, that claim doesn’t tell the whole story.
Today’s buyers don’t always choose the most convenient option. On the contrary, I’ve found buyers today can be more selective than ever and willing to go to great lengths to get what they want. Successful e-commerce and brick-and-mortar businesses understand that convenience matters, but convenience only makes up one part of the whole that is the customer experience.
In post-pandemic times, curbside pickup and delivery do not mark a new era of customer laziness. People are wary about leaving their houses to spend time around strangers. They likely still want their favorite products from their favorite shops, but not everyone feels comfortable indulging in a familiar shopping experience. In fact, according to AlixPartners (via Food Business News), up to 65% of U.S. consumers tried new brands after shelter-in-place orders began. So they need something different — something safer — and alternative fulfillment methods could provide the answer.
Health-conscious customers are not the only ones spurring the adoption of curbside and delivery, though. As consumers become accustomed to these conveniences, they may begin to expect them in more places. People who don’t have time to shop will want the option to complete most of their trips online before picking up their orders. Buyers who are unable, uncomfortable or unwilling to leave their homes in certain situations may prefer businesses with delivery options, even third-party options that cost more.
Our research may show reluctance to implement new policies for now, but I believe those numbers will climb dramatically in the year to come. Stores simply cannot sit patiently and wait for the world to return to normal. Innovation will determine who wins and who closes.
Doing Alternative Delivery Right
Retailers should not avoid new things simply because they have not tried them before. New systems always have kinks in the beginning. Only by taking risks and making changes can retailers learn how to provide their businesses with the boost they need to keep customers engaged and buying.
Think about how to transform a curbside visit into a real branded experience. Create signage that makes pickup a breeze by posting relevant information and updating order statuses. Your signage should be in alignment with your online ads and web experience. Inform customers about your latest offers and promotions, and include timely information related to Covid-19. Test the waters with outsourced delivery before experimenting with in-house practices. Ask customers how they feel about new options and use your social media presence to amplify your experiments.
Due to the pandemic, customers’ expectations around shopping have changed, and it’s more important than ever to engage with them to understand what makes them feel the most comfortable. Create an open dialog with customers by posting a poll on social media, giving them a call or emailing them to see what you can do to create a better shopping experience.
Curbside pickup and delivery made small gains thanks to the pandemic, but I believe their biggest day is yet to come. As more businesses realize the value of alternative delivery options, buyers may see a spike in retailers offering a new, healthier, more convenient purchase experience.