How Retailers Are Getting More Mileage from Curbside Pickups

How Retailers Are Getting More Mileage from Curbside Pickups

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With the pandemic firmly in the rearview mirror, consumers have returned to stores en masse. Surveys show that shopping behaviors in 2023 are not all that different from 2019 — with a few big exceptions.  Online shopping continues to be more popular today than it was before the pandemic, and BOPIS—buy online, pickup in-store—has also continued to grow in popularity. BOPIS for large retailers reached 82% penetration in 2023, up from 76% in 2022.

From the consumer perspective, the trend paints a picture of a return to impromptu shopping, with most people no longer afraid of gathering in public. For retailers, the rise in BOPIS and curbside pickup options tells a different story.

Data from Pollen Returns, the retail returns pickup technology platform, shows that curbside pickup has an additional buy-rate of up to 45%. That means nearly half of customers who arrive at a store to pickup an order they placed online ended up purchasing additional items that were not a part of their original order — a clear win for retailers who invested in BOPIS and curbside pickup programs during the pandemic.

“E-commerce only represents 20% of all retail sales in the United States. By pushing customers to stores, where 80% of retail sales happen, retailers can increase revenue,” says Pollen Returns Co-Founder and Chief Commercial Officer Christian Piller.

Piller says that customers are already in “buy-mode” when they arrive at a store and walk inside to pick up an order they placed, and that often leads to additional items being picked up on the way to the register.

“It’s all about transaction intention,” Piller says.

Surveys show that one-third of adults younger than 50 who got into the habit of curbside pickup during the pandemic have continued, and having the option to purchase an item online and pick it up at a local store — often within just one or two hours — is largely seen as a competitive advantage.

Piller sees BOPIS and curbside pickup as distinctly different from returns, which also require customers to go inside physical stores. Although Kohl’s says at least 2 million new customers visited its stores in 2020 thanks to the Amazon returns service, the mindset of a person returning items is inherently different from someone who is picking up a recent purchase.

“Customers are already in buy-mode for that retailer when they schedule curbside pickups from that retailer versus returns driven in-store foot traffic from another retailer partner — a Target customer getting curbside pickup at Target versus Amazon returns to Kohl’s, for example,” Piller says. “If I bring an Amazon return to Kohl’s, I’m in return mode, but if I’m getting a curbside pickup at Target, I’m in buy-mode and may go inside to get those items that I forgot to include in my order.”

To encourage customers to pile even more into their baskets, Piller suggests that retailers add as many curbside convenience services as possible, and says there’s also value in consolidating additional errands, like the ability to bring returns back with curbside pickups or exchanges. According to Pollen’s data, 77% of customers said they would exchange more items if it were easier. 

“Retailers should look at alternatives to increase buy-rates,” Piller says. “Returns, for example, is a perfect opportunity to increase buy-rates. The current returns process is inconvenient to customers and expensive to retailers.” 

Offering incentives to customers who return purchases in-store, like discount codes and promotions for future purchases, could change the consumer mindset around returns and help retailers convert more customers at the most critical moments.

“There is still an opportunity to revolutionize returns from a process to an experience with box-less, label-less pickups from customers’ doorsteps at customer scheduled pickup times when those customers are not going to a store for pickups,” Piller says. “This is also an opportunity to better blend the online and in-store experience by offering incentives through one channel to drive purchases at the other.”

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.