By Patrick Armstrong
COVID-19 has caused a lot of sad losses around the world. The virus is responsible for major disruption to people’s lives and will have a long-lasting effect on worldwide economies.
One of the most significant changes we have seen is in the way people shop for essential and nonessential goods. Retailers can learn from what we have seen so far. Those that continue to make the advancements necessary to improve the customer experience are more likely to maintain a competitive edge.
Many Canadian retailers have had to shift to curbside pickup to fulfill customers’ orders. They are embracing this method of delivery and seeing huge success since it is the perfect solution in light of social distancing measures.
The question is, will Canadians embrace this kind of omnichannel fulfilment post-COVID-19 now that they have witnessed firsthand the potential time savings that can be realized with an efficient curbside pickup model?
When the social distancing measures are relaxed, assuming no mandated vaccine is available, will Canadians return to the in-store shopping they enjoyed before COVID-19?
I think that we will see curbside pickup, or a variant of this method of delivery, stick around and continue to be improved and refined. Now that people have discovered the advantages of low contact alternatives to shopping, they are unlikely to want to return to their old ways of in-store shopping for quite some time.
There are, however, a few challenges to overcome. We can start by examining the shopping experience.
Consumers want to be able to click on a website and order what they need without delay or complication. Part of this process is to be able to see, at a glance, what items are available for curbside collection.
Yet, many websites do not have a quick and easy way to filter out products that consumers can collect curbside. Instead, when customers search for what they want, they are presented with lists of products with various ways to access them. Options include: purchase online only, pickup in-store, purchase in-store, or out of stock and not available at all.
The solution is simple. Online retailers need to provide a simple filter to enable customers to search for curbside pickup items.
Many Canadian retailers were not ready for the onslaught of curbside orders that hit them when COVID-19 restrictions were phased in. It has been difficult for shipping companies to meet demand in these trying times.
In the absence of a service that matches Amazon Prime next-day delivery, people drive to their store and line up at a makeshift pickup drive-through. The system requires you to pull up in your car to your curbside pickup location, call a phone number to announce your arrival, wait in a line of cars, and when you finally get to the front of the line, you call out your order number to retrieve your item.
Many consumer complaints have arisen against leading Canadian retailers as people post on social media about their poor curbside pickup experience.
Canada has been slow to adopt the Buy Online Pickup In Store (BOPIS) concept, and it is a missed opportunity. According to OrderDynamic’s Omni-2000 Research Canada, 31% of Canadian retailers offer BOPIS. This lags behind the global average of 37.6% in countries like the UK, Germany, Australia, Austria, and France.
Had Canada embraced BOPIS earlier, retailers would have been better prepared for the large high demands for curbside pickup in light of COVID-19. For example, Nordstrom NYC on 57th Street, New York, is a leader in BOPIS strategies and has an area on the first floor dedicated to customers collecting their orders.
There are other retailers with pickup counters and personnel, but this solution may not be the most efficient during the current health crisis since face-to-face interaction is required. In addition, these BOPIS counters are not usually curbside, and they are limited to the hours they can operate because they are located in-store and are staffed.
A more practical approach to BOPIS is to implement automation with smart parcel lockers to keep items safe for collection. Smart lockers can reside inside or outside a store or building, and they take over the management of the order in place of the retailer. The intended recipient is notified by email or text to tell them that there is a delivery waiting for them in the smart locker. Collection can take place at any time, 24/7, and no staff is required to monitor the collection.
Consumer behaviour has demonstrated a desire for fast fulfilment of shopping orders, and smart parcel lockers help to facilitate this.
Retail staff can pick and pack orders anytime; they simply place the orders in a secure locker ready for pickup. The locker then generates a one-time-use pickup code and contactless QR code for the intended recipient, which is sent by text or email. The recipient collects their parcel at a time that is convenient for them.
Smart lockers can also serve as a location for traditional carriers like FedEx, Purolator, and UPS to leave local failed deliveries for customers to collect later. Retailers who open up the lockers to other carriers could benefit from revenue from those carriers. They also enjoy increased foot traffic to their store as customers collect their parcels and potentially make a purchase in-store.
With BOPIS, retailers benefit from sales by bringing consumers in-store. The Harvard Business Review found that stores implementing BOPIS enjoyed 13% more spending in-store. Six months later, customers using BOPIS had visited the store 23% more often and were more likely to recommend the brand than a shop not implementing BOPIS.
There is a better way for consumers to retrieve their deliveries curbside, at a time convenient to them, and without the need for face-to-face interaction or retail staff. It’s time to improve the experience for your customers.