Robert needed a few household items, including deodorant, tissues, and paper cups. In the pre-COVID-19 days, he might have driven about 15 minutes and shopped at the local Target. He would walk through the aisles and possibly within 25 minutes or so he would be on a rather long line. When he got back to the parking lot and started his car, he realized that it had been an hour and 15 minutes since he left the house. These days taking extra precautions to social distance he ordered the same items on-line, checked off the pick-up option box and completed the entire round trip in less than a half-hour. He is one of the millions of consumers who have discovered curbside pick-up as the most convenient and safe way to shop particularly in a Covid-19 environment.
While much of the focus has been on home delivery in the Covid-19 era, “box” retailers like Ikea, Target, Walmart and Home Depot have found a very potent and effective sales medium, curbside pickup. Experts predict that it will remain long after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
According to a new consumer survey from distributed commerce network CommerceHub, 59% of respondents said they are more likely to use curbside pickup following the coronavirus outbreak.
The curbside pickups have become so popular with box stores that nowadays almost every box store has a special pick-up area or drive-through. Box stores are typically huge 50,000 square foot stores with a significant inventory and are only too happy to compete with the likes of Amazon to offer the convenience. Just to prove the point how effective a good curbside option can be the survey also asked whether the time it took to get the merchandise impacted their purchase decisions for essential items. In other words, did they factor in the promised delivery time or the shipping dates. The same percentage indicated that items they were looking to purchase online have been out of stock and couldn’t even order it. More than one-third (35%) of Amazon Prime subscribers said their longest delivery delays were a week or more. 60% of respondents said more than three days was the longest delay in receiving items purchased online.
Compare all that to driving up to a pickup hub and getting the merchandise dropped into your car. Thanks to Covid, the box stores discovered a potent weapon against the runaway success of Amazon. They even figured that it pays to discount goods that are picked up at the pickup hubs and in-store. Some of the biggest box store names joined the pickup trend.
Best Buy rolled out curbside pickup at nearly all of its stores during the early months of the pandemic. Walmart over the past five or six months has made tens of thousands of general merchandise items eligible for curbside pickup, along with its wide selection of groceries. Target added fresh and frozen foods to curbside pickup at the vast majority of stores during the holidays, so shoppers can pick up milk along with gifts for their family.
By offering an alternative to waiting for a package to arrive at the doorstep, retailers are trying to beat Amazon at its own game: shortening the time between when customers hit the “buy” button and receive their purchases. They are also giving shoppers more control over when they receive the item, which means the buyer doesn’t have to worry about theft and can hide a holiday gift from prying eyes.
Target’s curbside pickup service, called Drive Up, surged by more than 700% in the second quarter and its in-store pickup option, Order Pickup, grew more than 60%. It sells about 250,000 items that customers can pick up in as little as an hour. The big challenge is to have enough inventory on hand to service the pick-up option. The box stores have it figured to a science clearly identifying customer preference in every store.
Many stores in our communities have experimented with curbside or instore pickups. It has worked somewhat with restaurants but only minimally with other types of retail stores. The stores are typically on crowded commercial strips with little room for pickup hubs or drive-throughs. Predicting inventory without having huge space to stock thousands of items can pose a problem.
For now, the box stores figure that they have finally found an effective tool to fight Amazon and other on-line options, Walmart responded by adding more curbside pickup slots and expanding its assortment to more than 160,000 items that can be ready within four hours, from barbecue sauce to headphones.
Curbside pickup has other business advantages. By eliminating the need to ship a package from a store or warehouse to customers, each online transaction becomes more profitable. For example, Target has said that when it fulfills an order by Drive Up or Order Pickup, it’s 90% cheaper than shipping from a warehouse.
There is every reason to believe that curbside pickups could work even in more crowded communities. One state legislator proposed that special parking be made available to curbside pickups on certain days and hours. Another suggestion was to use adjacent public lots in the area.
Now is the time to explore new options as our stores are hurting badly. We cannot afford to have a wholesale shutdown of the commerce we worked so hard to build. We already are hearing stories of caterers and restaurants closing and certainly do not need more of our commerce shut down.
The pandemic has taught us to think out of the box. Many of us now routinely get our weekly Shabbos order merely by going on-line and adjusting last week’s order. A woman told me that she had no fewer than 6 apps on her phone, each representing a local kosher supermarket. She tends to check out specials and has one or two favorites for the dips her children like. One week she actually unpacked three different orders but on most weeks it’s a one stop order.
Pickup services are becoming more available in kosher groceries. Only about 15% of retail stores in our communities now routinely offer curbside pickups but I suspect that the trend will expand in coming months and that it will become commonplace even after the Covid-19 pandemic is officially declared over.