In the Aisles: Curbside pickup's big break

For many consumers, prior to COVID-19, “curbside pickup” was just a phrase they saw on signage advertised around their store or in email blasts, but with social distancing, it’s becoming an entry point for new consumers — and businesses too.

Savvy shoppers have been leveraging curbside pickup at Kroger, Whole Foods, Target, Walmart and other retailers for some time. It’s a business that was seeing an uptick, prior to the coronavirus pandemic. New York investment firm Cowen published a report last year called “Curbside, Connected & Robotic Retail Revolution,” in which it predicted that nearly a quarter of consumers would be using curbside pickup and estimated that Walmart’s service would grow to be a $35 billion business this year.

With Americans practicing social distancing, it would be very interesting to see how those estimates have changed. The advantage to curbside during this crisis is that the consumer obviously doesn’t need to leave his car — order online, call when arrived, show receipt via phone, pop a trunk and items get loaded.

Delivery is certainly seeing an uptick too, with retailers and services practicing contactless delivery, but curbside is a service consumers likely hadn’t tried before the pandemic (including myself).

And that goes for stores, too. For example, the small independent grocer down my street has deployed this service, and perhaps more importantly, the craft brewery. In all seriousness, small business like that brewery are facing desperate times so the service was less about convenience than it was to show support. But it was a strange experience, because there are fewer places more social than a craft brewery.

This could be true for retailers like GameStop and Best Buy, too, who closed stores but are offering curbside service. GameStop especially is a hub for gamers.

Adjacently, drive-through service could also be seeing an increase, where retailers have it. Today, I received an email from Walgreens promoting it’s “drive-thru service” for vital goods like baby formula, household goods, groceries and medicine. Traditionally, the service was reserved for pharmacy prescriptions.

It’s another example of a retailer adapting to help consumers during the pandemic. And curbside delivery, while new to me and many others, is a reminder of how far in front retailers have been all this time that maybe we’ve taken for granted.

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