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Customers who once wandered the aisles of stores now place orders online.
Employees keep their distance from customers instead of greeting them personally.
Only essential shopping trips get customers out of the house.
These are certainly unique times. It seems like a lifetime ago that customers were freely browsing the shelves at stores and lining up closely to make purchases. But in the ever-changing public health situation, retailers also need to adapt to serve customers and keep their businesses afloat.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a growing number of retailers across all industries are turning to curbside pickup. Customers call ahead or place orders online and quickly get the items they need while staying safely in their cars. Buy-online-pickup-in-store orders, including curbside pickup, grew 87% year over year through late March. Aside from grocery stores and big-box retailers like Target that have established pickup services, Kohl’s, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Michaels, among others, have all rolled out curbside pickup models in the past few weeks. For many stores, curbside pickup will last long after the virus has retreated. And although many stores are just trying to survive, customer experience still matters in the new curbside world.
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Curbside pickup is a win-win situation: stores can stay in business and provide work for employees, and customers can continue to get the items they need. By keeping customers out of the store, both sides decrease their exposure to others and limit the spread of the coronavirus.
But just because curbside pickup benefits stores and customers doesn’t mean it is automatically successful. In order to maintain strong relationships with customers, stores must focus on customer experience, even during a pandemic.
In uncertain times, one of the best things stores can do for customers is to maintain a sense of normalcy. We all realize that our current situation is anything but normal, but having some connection to how things used to be, even if it’s a smiling employee’s face or a favorite drink at the coffee shop, can boost morale. Adding a sense of normalcy to the curbside customer experience can benefit customers and employees.
Along with normalcy is an emphasis on customer and employee safety. After all, customers are opting for curbside pickup to social distance and limit their exposure. Stores with employees who wear face masks and practice smart social distancing by leaving room between customers show that they are dedicated to protecting their employees. Safety comes from making sure items are cleaned and that safety protocols are followed.
2.Think Through Logistics
Curbside pickup is a massive logistical undertaking, especially for brands that have never offered it before. Most grocery chains are fairly experienced and have a process, and stores across all industries should follow suit. To maximize the safety benefits and efficiency, create a consistent logistical experience. Customers should have a reliable experience of ordering online and know where to go and what to do when they come to the store. Each store handles curbside pickup differently, ranging from leaving items on the curb for customers to load themselves to putting items in customers’ cars for them. Clear communication after the order is placed and good signage throughout the pickup area can create a more efficient and pleasant experience for everyone involved.
Brands should also be realistic of how fast they can turn around orders. Pre-pandemic, pickup orders could typically be completed within a few hours. But with increased customer demand comes more pressure on stores and employees, especially as they deal with tougher safety and cleanliness standards. Customers tend to be fairly understanding during a crisis, but brands still need to be open about expectations and provide updates on order status. If an order will take longer than originally expected, share that with customers instead of making them guess or wait.
Customer experience doesn’t stop because of a global crisis. What customers prioritize has changed, and brands that can offer safety and convenience with curbside pickup will be able to build relationships with customers and strengthen bonds that will last long after the virus has passed.
Blake Morgan is a customer experience futurist, keynote speaker and the author of the bestselling book The Customer Of The Future. Sign up for her weekly newsletter here.