In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic seems like ages ago and in others like it just occurred. The world changed drastically, especially in the ways consumers shop. Before early spring 2020, only a handful of stores offered curbside pickup. During the height of the pandemic, nearly every type of business added the option and some even shut down the interior of their stores and restaurants and went strictly to a pickup model.
Consumers changed the way they shopped and discovered how convenient it is to grab food on the way home and what a time saver not to dine in or spend time shopping for themselves. Since consumer demand drives services, it isn’t likely stores will end curbside pickup anytime soon. For brands that want to remain competitive, adding it can take sales to the next level.
What Is the Future of Curbside Pickup?
The 2023 Connected Retail Experience Study found retailers are turning to technology that ramps up efficiency and brings more profit in the long run. Factors such as labor shortages, consumer demand and rising costs are all driving the shift. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) will increase ninefold by 2025.
As AI capabilities continue to improve, expect stores to take and fill orders with machines and then utilize curbside pickup as the final step in the process. No longer will companies have to worry about finding a qualified candidate for an open position when a machine can do most of the work for them.
It may take a number of years for brands to fully implement automated models, but there are many other reasons besides automation driving demand for curbside pickup.
1. Curbside Pickup Fills a Need
Today’s world is a busy one. It might seem as though technology would make life easier, but it often doesn’t. The average person tries to login to their bank account only to be sent a link to click on from their email and then sent a code via a mobile app they must use. The two-factor authentication model is quickly giving way to a multi-factor authentication process.
Whether rushing home from work to get dinner on the table or taking kids to a variety of activities, people have little time for mundane tasks such as grocery shopping or preparing food. Curbside pickup allows them to order ahead and grab the items while on the run.
2. Younger People Are Driving Sales
Keep in mind that some shoppers share in decision-making. For example, 90% of parents say their kids influence their buying decisions. In addition to making the decision of where to eat or shop, having small ones can make it much more convenient for consumers to drive through or do curbside pickup.
It isn’t easy to wrestle a toddler and a baby out of a vehicle, put them in a cart and make it through a store without one of them having a meltdown or needing a diaper change. Parents and grandparents need simpler options and will shop at the store offering the easiest way to buy items.
3. Stores Save on Staff
In the past few years, labor shortages have hit some industries hard. Restaurants, in particular, have a hard time keeping serving staff on duty. Fast food places still struggle to find and retain loyal employees.
Even after the height of the pandemic passes, places in some locations kept a curbside pickup only model, reducing the number of workers needed to serve customers. Rather than having a serving staff, they utilized the few people they had to prepare, fill and carry orders to cars.
4. Improves Customer Experience (CX)
Offering what consumers want helps improve the overall CX. In one study, 74% of consumers said they’d just switch brands if a business made things too difficult. To retain current customers, it’s crucial to offer the best CX possible.
Survey current buyers and see what they prefer. If the responses indicate they want more options than coming into the store and buying, offer what is feasible. Customer experience can be difficult to define, but often lies in the little conveniences people may not even know they want.
Pay attention to complaints and feedback. If people feel the checkout process is too long, how can it be improved? If they don’t like the way the store is laid out, can management reorganize or move to a curbside-only model.
While catering to those who want curbside pickup can improve numbers, don’t forget other customers who enjoy coming inside and having a tactile experience or chatting with sales staff. As the world moves toward more and more automation, chances for face-to-face interaction will lessen. Some businesses may fill that gap and offer both curbside and in-person shopping.
5. Increases Profit Margins
Offering alternative ways to pick up orders can increase profits. A sit down diner might take an hour to order, receive their food and eat, while a curbside pickup takes under ten minutes. More customers get served in less time.
For several years, McDonald’s has used computerized ordering kiosks in some of their locations. Rather than having people at the register hunting for the right button, the brand lets the consumer do the work of punching in their special orders. They only have to pay people to cook and hand out the food.
The process can be quicker and the results better than in the past. However, brands should also be aware that some people aren’t as technologically advanced as others. The older generation may struggle to order their own food on a computer. Offering options helps improve overall experience for all customers.
As the generations age and those who’ve only ever used technology come into adulthood, the environment should slowly shift to where ordering on an app or at a kiosk is commonplace.
6. Saves Money in a Tough Economy
The curbside pickup model is particularly attractive to the restaurant industry. Traditionally, people stop eating out when the economy tightens. The World Bank released information on where the economy is and expected to go through the rest of 2023. Experts predicted advanced economies would slow from a 2.5% growth rate to a 0.5% rate. Such slowdowns indicate a possible global recession.
As people tighten their spending to survive higher prices and few income increases, they might still eat out but won’t want to pay the higher costs of tipping at 20% or more. Restaurants and hospitality businesses may see more of a demand for automated services. Brands offering the option may attract new customers.
Grab Customer Loyalty and Keep It with Curbside Pickup
Retaining customers is more difficult than ever before due to competition and the fickle nature of some consumers. Offering what buyers want ensures they remain with the brand rather than seeking other options. For brands not already offering curbside pickup, now is a good time to implement it as automation becomes more commonplace in all aspects of daily life.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.