Expert Column: Curbside Pickup Works for Retailers


As e-commerce intensifies the battle for consumer hearts and wallets, retailers have significantly expanded the number and types of services they offer, to attract and retain customers. Among these recent additions is curbside pickup of online purchases, including, in the case of Walmart and a variety of supermarket chains, grocery orders.

Walmart is easily the largest brick-and-mortar retailer in the United States, as defined by sales revenue, and it’s also enjoyed substantial e-commerce growth in recent years. Obviously, Walmart already has a substantial audience of loyal shoppers, but its willingness to try new tactics to grow market share and repeat business is a testament to a basic fact in the retail world: Building loyalty is a never-ending effort.

In January 2014, Walmart began testing curbside pickups at 11 stores in and around Denver, adding this option to its existing array of "Walmart To Go" services, which also includes home delivery and in-store pickups. Customers in the area could now collect groceries and general merchandise six hours after placing their orders on Walmart’s website. Since the Denver rollout, Walmart has started offering curbside service in Phoenix, and its hometown of Bentonville, Ark. Those efforts proved successful enough that it’s now testing the service in Huntsville, Ala., and several other locations.

There's an App for That

Walmart is just one of a growing number of retailers trying to cater to mobile, on-the-go shoppers. Curbside, a mobile app, allows customers of Target, Macy's, Sears and other stores in San Francisco to shop for multiple items at multiple stores, at current in-store prices, and place orders with one tap. They can typically pick up orders within 40 minutes (or later, as desired), either at the curb or in the stores. Hundreds of shoppers a day are choosing curbside delivery via the app, and more than 55 percent of shoppers who try the service once do so again.

These quick, in-car deliveries are especially attractive to parents of young children, who'd prefer not to have to shepherd their youngsters (or find short-term babysitters) while they try to shop, but the services hold much wider appeal. More and more stores are therefore testing customer-friendly options for fulfilling online orders in local markets; they know that there’s a viable audience for these services. The tests will help them identify and resolve potential flaws or bottlenecks, and further streamline the various processes involved.

Prime Opportunity

Such services, of course, aren’t the exclusive domain of big-box outlets. Retailers of all sizes and categories need to take advantage of every chance to win over consumers, and curbside pickups give local businesses a prime opportunity to offer greater shopping ease and convenience to nearby patrons. Grocers that offer this service can also tighten bonds with the older demographic; according to Nielsen, more than 10 percent of seniors already order their groceries online and collect them at the curb.

The ultimate goal of any retailer is to create a vibrant, profitable consumer base, and a critical part of doing that is to ensure that shoppers continue to receive exactly what they want, over and over again. Consistently fulfilling shoppers' expectations not just on the product side of the transaction, but on the service side as well, is the key to building loyalty. Providing customers with a variety of easy, dependable options for receiving their online orders quickly and at no cost is a sure-fire way to satisfy their interests and their needs at the same time.

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