More than ever before, consumers are changing the way in which they shop. An emerging form of shopping—and one that has quickly gained popularity due to the coronavirus pandemic—is curbside pickup. What is curbside pickup? It’s a way for customers to get the products they want and need with little to no contact. Curbside pickup can be a strong option for many different types of businesses—food, retail, and more.
In this guide, we’ll review what curbside pickup is, how your business can benefit, ways to implement it, and the best practices you should utilize in order to offer the best customer experience possible.
Curbside pickup is a service that enables customers to place an order in advance and pick up said order either without having to get out of their vehicles or without having to go inside the business itself. Not only is this method convenient, but it’s also a contactless or low-contact way for consumers to patronize businesses.
In an environment in which customers are concerned with speed, safety, efficiency, and tailored service, curbside pickup is more important than ever. It gives your customers the option to patronize your business in a novel way, and, importantly, enables you to keep your business running during certain periods of restriction, such as many businesses are currently experiencing. If you can ship orders, you can likely implement curbside pickup as well.
Although many may know curbside pickup as a restaurant program, businesses across all types of industries can benefit from curbside pickup. Examples include pet stores, clothing boutiques, pharmacies, hardware stores, and more. If your customers can order specific products in advance, then your business can benefit from curbside pickup.
You might be surprised to learn how simple it is to implement a curbside pickup program. There are some definitive steps that you want to follow, but you’ll also make some decisions along the way that are best for your specific business.
It’s important to know that although it’s crucial for your curbside pickup service to be convenient for customers, it must be set up easily for your workers, too, so you can efficiently and accurately fill orders.
Customers need to be able to browse your inventory in order to decide on their purchases before picking them up. This is especially important for businesses that are used to a lot of foot traffic and impulse purchases (for instance, grocery stores) to make sales.
You have a few ways to let customers know what you offer. You can use your business website to list your products, or you can link into a third-party service (such as Grubhub for food) that will enable customers to easily find and view your products. We highly recommend that the place where you list your products is the same place where customers will complete their order and check out. The fewer jumps that a customer needs to make, the more likely they’ll be to purchase.
There are several platforms to help you set up an online store. It’s worth the time to investigate which one is best for your type of business and launch your website as soon as possible.
Wherever your customers are finding and purchasing your products, make sure you let them select curbside delivery during the checkout process. It’s important that they don’t have to take an extra step and let you know that they’d like curbside for the order they just placed.
Many ecommerce platforms enable you to let customers select curbside pickup as an option (as opposed to, say, delivery or shipping).
And for even better conversion rates, don’t wait until checkout to let your customers know that you offer curbside pickup. Considering the current climate, some consumers may only shop with businesses that they know have this feature. Make it known on your website and any third-party sites you use, announce it on your social media channels, and more.
There isn’t just one way for customers to get their curbside orders. Below are a few options to choose from—pick the one that suits your business operations best. Consider things such as your store’s physical set up, how many employees you have, and the volume of orders you receive.
An approach that is rising in popularity is the ability for customers to get their orders right at their cars. Many major businesses are choosing this route. In this type of curbside pickup, customers let the store know that they’ve arrived and stay in their vehicles while a staff member brings out their order. This is an approach that minimizes contact with customers.
Businesses can request that customers let them know that they’ve arrived in a few ways. You can request that customers call or send you a text message, for instance. You’ll then need to collect a little more information to identify them—a good way to do this is to ask for the car make and model or license plate. If you have your own parking lot, you can also designate an area for curbside pickup and number the spaces so customers can tell you exactly where they’re parked.
A common way for customers to get their curbside orders is by retrieving them right at the front door of the business. In order to minimize contact and maximize efficiency, many stores set up a table with orders right inside their front door so customers don’t have to walk through the entire store or restaurant to retrieve their order. The table is typically front and center so customers know they don’t have to enter or go to the register to retrieve their order.
Though slightly less popular, you can opt for other curbside alternatives, as well. For instance, some businesses choose to leave a rack outside with prepaid orders from which customers can simply grab their products. This is a strong option for businesses that want to provide completely contactless delivery. Of course, if theft is a concern, this kind of approach won’t be quite right for you. Alternatively, if you have a window that you can turn into a drive-through, that could be an option to serve customers.
How are your customers going to pay for their orders? The option to prepay is important, especially as customers want to minimize contact. If it’s possible, try to offer the option to pay at the time that your customers place their order.
There’s also no problem with running credit cards or accepting cash when customers pick up, (a little more on payment preferences and options below), but be mindful of the preferences of your customers, and do your best to accommodate the ways in which they’d like to pay.
Now, it’s time to bring it all together. Once you’ve figured out all of the above, it’s time to start dispatching orders. Be certain to notify your staff about the process that you’ve chosen so everyone is on the same page.
Additionally, it’s important to listen to customer feedback along the way. If they’re experiencing hiccups with your curbside system, be adaptable to their suggestions and do some research into what’s not going quite right. Asking for customer feedback in the form of surveys or other methods can be especially helpful to improve your process while strengthening your customer relationships.
It’s important that you don’t just set up curbside pickup and hope your customers discover it on their own. There are several best practices to consider to make your curbside pickup operation efficient, safe, and streamlined.
Ordering shouldn’t be difficult for customers, especially since, in curbside pickup, customers typically know exactly what they want—they’re not browsing. Whether you’re taking orders online or by phone, make sure you have an easy system for customers to place their orders. Don’t forget to know exactly what information you need from your customers to deliver their orders curbside—you don’t want to have to get back in touch or make the process harder than it needs to be.
Similarly, you want to be certain that customers can pay easily. Remember that the more hassle they encounter, the less likely they are to return to your store, especially if you have close competitors. If you’re using an online ordering system, we strongly recommend taking credit cards in your ordering portal. Or, if customers are paying when they pick up their order, communicate what kind of payment you take so they won’t be surprised. An efficient checkout is important.
Additionally, cash is still useful and necessary for some businesses, but card payments and other forms of online payment (PayPal, AmazonPay, etc.) are surging in popularity. It might not be possible to only offer these options, but encourage your customers to pay online or with cards if possible.
Make sure your customers aren’t confused about the pickup process once they arrive. Are they supposed to wait in their cars? Call a number or wait for a text? Pickup at the door? There are several different ways that businesses execute curbside pickup, so be certain customers know your process before they get there.
Customers want to feel safe, and they also want to know that the products they are receiving are sanitary. Practice recommended hygiene standards, such as wearing masks and gloves, during all pickups and customer interactions.
Although many customers will call to see if your business offers curbside pickup, some won’t—which means you have to let them know that you offer this valuable service. You can broadcast this information on your website, on social media, or even with a sign on the door.
Curbside pickup isn’t only convenient for customers—it’s starting to become a new way of life¹. Offering curbside pickup can boost your business and enable you to continue to generate revenue even during difficult times. Implementing a curbside pickup program isn’t difficult, and your customers will thank you for a safe alternative to shopping in-store.
If you’re not certain what the best choices are for your business’s curbside pickup program, don’t hesitate to look around at different businesses in your area and see how they run their own operations to inspire your own strategy.
Sally Lauckner is the editor-in-chief of the Fundera Ledger and the editorial director at Fundera.
Sally has over a decade of experience in print and online journalism. Previously she was the senior editor at SmartAsset—a Y Combinator-backed fintech startup that provides personal finance advice. There she edited articles and data reports on topics including taxes, mortgages, banking, credit cards, investing, insurance, and retirement planning. She has also held various editorial roles at AOL.com, Huffington Post, and Glamour magazine. Her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan magazines.