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How Curbside Pickup Became Retail’s Lifeline in the Era of COVID-19

In just a few months, COVID-19 has transformed curbside pickup from a nice-to-have service to an essential survival tool for retailers.

With many shoppers still reluctant to go into physical stores — and with social distancing protocols limiting the number of those inside at any given time — click-and-collect has emerged as a lifeline. Consumers’ growing interest in the channel has accelerated adoption among retailers who didn’t previously offer the service, or who were still testing it in limited markets.

According to an August 2020 analysis by Coresight Research, 38 of the top 50 store-based U.S. retailers now offer a curbside pickup option, and the advisory firm expects this share to continue to grow. Depending on the course the virus takes in the coming months, analysts say curbside is likely to be a key channel for holiday shopping, given that consumers are now accustomed to using it and have generally been impressed by its efficiency.

In a spring survey by the National Retail Federation, over 90 percent of respondents who had tried curbside said it was convenient. An Adobe survey in early June found that 23% of U.S. online shoppers reported preferring curbside or buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) over delivery.

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Among the retailers to implement a curbside offering was DSW, which rolled out the service first to select locations in March and then across all of its 550 stores the following month. It had previously beta tested curbside in a single location, but rushed to make it accessible to all customers when it was forced to temporarily close stores.

“Within weeks we got things up and running because we were able to get focused,” Designer Brands CEO Roger Rawlins told FN. “We were able to leverage a very small team on a few very important initiatives and turn things around in an [accelerated] time period [so] that what used to take months got done in days.”

Target, an early adopter of curbside, said in an earnings call last week that its Drive Up parking-lot pickup service grew 730% year-over-year last quarter. The expansion was driven in part by the retailer’s decision to add fresh and frozen grocery items to its curbside offerings at 1,500 stores. This fall, it plans to bolster the service by handing out surprise school bags to Drive Up customers, and expanding grocery and alcohol offerings in hundreds of locations.

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