August 9-11, 2022 | Wisconsin Center | Milwaukee, WI

Making Curbside Pickup a Smooth and Satisfying Customer Experience

Curbside pickup is here to stay, even as the pandemic winds down. What can your business do to make it operationally efficient while giving customers a great experience? Read on to find suggestions from our retail experts, and turn curbside services into a brand differentiator for your store.

Curbside pickup and “buy online, pickup in store” (BOPIS) weren’t invented during the pandemic, but retailers expanded their use of these services to sustain their businesses through lockdowns and other restrictions. Now that the worst of the pandemic seems to be over, customers are returning to stores. But that doesn’t mean retailers should drop curbside pickup.  62% of consumers expect curbside pickup to become permanently available, and 71% expect the same of BOPIS. These numbers suggest that these two shopping options are here to stay, and successful retailers will find ways to fully integrate them with their overall shopping experience and make it as satisfying as possible for consumers.

The pandemic has changed consumer habits for good. “Normalcy,” if we ever get there, won’t be a return but an evolution, and new ways of shopping are part of that evolution. In this new landscape, consumers are not as interested in the lowest price as they are in convenience and speed.

But it’s not just restaurants and grocery stores that have to adapt. Big-box stores have been investing heavily in BOPIS, and now even small retailers will need to offer this option if they want to compete. In the face of these changes, it is important that garden centers also refine their methods and expectations and learn from the mistakes and successes of curbside pickup and BOPIS in a variety of sectors. It’s also important to note that expanding your curbside pickup capabilities isn’t subtracting from your in-store shopping experience, but adding value by attracting those customers who have not only become accustomed to curbside pickup but have come to prefer it.

Improving the Curbside Experience

How, then, can garden centers respond to the sustained popularity of these new shopping options? Here are a few lessons from other retail sectors that garden centers can implement.

Integrate the In-Store and Online Channels

Your current inventory should be readily available on your website. There are a number of inventory management software programs that help keep your website up to date. This is especially important when supply chain issues might make inventory more unpredictable. It would be a terrible experience for a consumer to find the product they want on your website and purchase it only to be informed sometime later, when an employee goes to pick the item, that it is out of stock.

Think about merchandising when designing your website. When serving the customer who doesn’t actually step inside the store, you lose the opportunity to stage merchandise. The products that you want customers to see as soon as they enter the store should be the products they see when they first load the website.

Keep the Customer Informed

The customer should know what is happening at each stage of their order. Text messages confirming the purchase, updating the status of the order (i.e. who is shopping for them, when they started, and when they finished), and informing them that their purchase is ready for pickup will relieve any anxieties the customer might have about the process. If all this seems overwhelming, there are many software options for managing curbside pickup orders, such as FlyBuy, Shopgate, and SWIPEBY.

Finally, pickup areas should be easy for customers to reach and clearly delineated with attractive signage. Signs should be easy to read and should tell the customer, in type large enough to read from the car, exactly what to do after they arrive.

Think Outside of the Parking Lot

The curbside where customers pick up their purchases doesn’t have to be the curb outside of your store. Think about arranging partnerships with other businesses that synergize with your own and create pop ups in their spaces where customers can pick up online orders from your business. This approach could make curbside pickup even more convenient for customers from all over the area you serve.

Train Staff to Pick Orders

Picking out a customer’s order for them is not always as intuitive as it seems. BOPIS works best when there is seamless integration between your ecommerce platform and in-store POS. Employees must be trained to pick stock efficiently and accurately, and in a timely manner. If you experience a high volume of curbside and BOPIS orders, you might want to assign dedicated order pickers, as well.

Curbside pickup and BOPIS aren’t going to fully replace traditional shopping any time soon, but it will continue to supplement it, and small retailers will ignore these changes at their own risk. For many shoppers, walking through the nursery and admiring the beauty on display is a big part of the independent garden center appeal, but for those wanting to pick up what they need and spend their time in the garden instead of shopping, a convenient and satisfying BOPIS experience can keep them coming back to an independent garden center and away from the big-box stores.

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