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Rakuten Ready Gives Merchants Access to Advanced Pickup Technology

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The need for contactless pickup spurred an immediate demand for curbside order fulfillment in the days and weeks after shelter-in-place orders went into effect this spring. Mass merchants like Lowe’s, Best Buy, and Dick’s were among the first to jump onboard with curbside pickup programs, leading to massive opportunities amid an industry-wide depression.

Bed Bath & Beyond accelerated the rollout of its BOPIS program and curbside delivery. By April, the retailer had converted around 25% of its stores into regional fulfillment centers and almost doubled its digital fulfillment capacity to support rising online sales.

Industry-wide curbside pickup has surged 208%, but statistics alone do not tell the complete story. Although large retailers were quick to pivot to a pickup-only strategy, small and mid-size retailers were largely boxed out. That’s because the ordering technology used by many large retailers comes with a price tag that small retailers cannot afford, and implementing the most sophisticated programs requires a level of technological sophistication that SMBs don’t usually have.

Rakuten Ready believes it has the answer to this problem.

Late last month, the predictive arrival technology provider launched the ARRIVE Mobile App, a new addition to its ARRIVE platform. The ARRIVE Mobile App allows merchants that don’t have their own mobile apps to deliver order-for-pickup experiences with increased order efficiency and improved management of the order-for-pickup process.

Order-for-pickup programs can be a logistical nightmare for retailers. Without a mobile app that features location tracking, most retailers have no idea what time customers will be arriving to pick up their online orders. That leads to frustration for customers when they’re faced with long wait times in their vehicles, and it can result in negative reviews being posted about the retailer online.

“Many retailers just weren’t prepared for the surge and didn’t have the infrastructure or resources in place to handle the large amount of orders now being processed,” says Rakuten Ready CEO Jaron Waldman.

Without an existing mobile app or a website where customers can order ahead from their stores, many retailers were caught off guard in the quick transition to contactless fulfillment. Among those retailers that did have ecommerce setup at local stores, there was still a struggle to drive enough demand to those programs. With many consumers leaning on big-box retailers during the pandemic, small and mid-size retailers were left struggling to compete.

Rakuten Ready is hoping that its technology will put those retailers on a more even playing field. The ARRIVE Mobile App is designed for merchants of all sizes, giving those merchants the ability to understand when customers are in transit and notifications when they arrive. A store’s employees can then use this information to organize orders by projected customer arrival time, which creates a more seamless ordering and pickup process.

Leveraging arrival prediction technology that uses machine learning, Rakuten Ready will be looking to optimize fulfillment to drive reliably accurate arrival predictions, Waldman says. The model is based on optimizing learning around every store location, making sure that alerts get fired reliably every single time.

“I previously worked at Apple on Geofencing for iOS, and that technology is not designed for high reliability of alerts firing in a timely manner,” Waldman says. “Geofences don’t provide the right level of location granularity needed because they are distance-based and often lead to false alerts or alerts that are late or missed entirely.”

Despite stay-at-home orders beginning to ease in many locations, Waldman believes that order for pickup is a service that shoppers will continue to take advantage of in the coming months and years. If smaller retailers want any chance at competing with mass merchants, they’ll need to find ways to adapt to the shopping styles that their customers now prefer.

“Millions of people are trying order-ahead for pickup for the first time, and for many people, for many types of shopping trips, the behavior will stick,” Waldman says. “Retailers need to have scalable programs built around curbside and pickup orders to meet customer demand and keep employees and customers safe.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.