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Last Mile Excellence: It’s Time to Kick Hastily Designed Processes to the Curb

As I sit down to pen this post, we’re coming up on two years since the beginning of the pandemic, and when I look back on what’s changed in retail over this time period, it’s staggering.

I remember when, in early 2019, we launched a marketing program called “Built for Change,” full of content and tools intended to help retailers face disruption and create enterprises that can easily adapt to change. Little did we know then the massive transformations that we were about to undergo when the pandemic blazed around the planet.

Nice-to-have shopping options like curbside pickup and buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) suddenly became mission-critical offerings for many retailers, not just to satisfy their customers’ desires but also to keep their stores open and their associates safe.

Customers have long since become accustomed to the many pandemic-induced ways of interacting with their preferred retailers, and most expect these services to be offered long after the pandemic subsides. Jason Goldberg, a longtime retail thought leader (and current Chief of Commerce Strategy at Publicis) believes consumer expectations for options like curbside pickup are definitely here to stay. 

“Once a consumer learns a new experience and is forced to maintain that for 6 to 9, 18 months, that new behavior is likely to set and they aren’t going back,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

While I definitely agree with Jason’s thinking, I also think curbside strategies should aim much higher than simply meeting customer expectations. 

According to one report, more than 50% of the top 1,000 retail chains now offer curbside pickup, which is fully eight times as many as in early 2020. This data certainly tells us that hundreds of retailers rushed to get to the curb. But what we don’t know is exactly how many of those that rushed to the curb actually optimized the process. 

My curbside experiences and my instinct both tell me far fewer retailers have taken the time to think through every step of the journey to look for ways to streamline, optimize and actually differentiate that experience. Hence, I believe retailers’ curbside strategies need to aim higher than simply meeting shopper expectations. And hence, I believe there is a real opportunity to differentiate at the curb.

How to differentiate curbside

So how can you design experiences that separate you from everyone else? Here are four initiatives that retailers should consider to achieve differentiation at the curb:

1. Optimize inventory visibility and order management 

What is the first, most critical step to curbside success? Optimizing real-time inventory visibility and powerful order management capabilities. If shoppers don’t know what items are available curbside, they won’t stick around for long. So make sure you give them the information they need, and give your employees the tools to fulfill those orders by any means necessary, including access to items from another location or warehouse, if needed.

2. Empower your associates to fulfill your brand promise

Since your associates are now an even bigger part of the customer experience, you need to arm them for success. Give them the tools and information they need to do the job well – every step of the way. If a customer runs into an issue or wants to add to their order while they’re in their car, your associate should be able to help them. 

Employees are the face of your brand and are the ones who offer the human connection that we’re all longing for these days. And they have the power to make – or break – your brand.

3. Consider the entire customer experience

Item pickup is really just one small part of the curbside experience. There’s an entire customer journey that retailers need to map out and optimize in order to ensure success. As always, the most important part is customer communication. Customers need to know when their order is ready, where they should go and what to do when they arrive.

4. Find new ways to surprise and delight

For many categories, having each order ready on time is mere table stakes for curbside pickup. To differentiate, I believe you need to look for ways to personalize the experience.

Easy ways to surprise your customers (and keep them coming back) include:

  • Adding relevant product samples to bags
  • Adding a free gift with purchase from a related category
  • Training associates to provide quick tips on item setup and care
  • Empowering associates to make additional product recommendations at the curb
  • Encouraging associates to promote relevant services or support

Level up convenience and creativity to stand out 

It’s time to kick hastily cobbled-together processes to the curb. Retailers should look to optimize every step of the curbside experience and empower associates with the right tools – and embrace creativity – to find new ways to stand out at the curb. 

For more research and ideas for optimizing your curbside experience, view our checklist “Turn Click and Collect to Click and CONNECT.”