The Ultimate Guide to Curbside Pickup (+ Real Retail Examples)

Woman receiving curbside pickup

Curbside pickup lets your customers make an order online and pick it up at your store, warehouse, or designated pickup location. It’s similar to buy online, pick up in-store, except the customer never has to leave their vehicle. When they arrive, you or your sales staff bring the order out to their car.

More retailers are offering curbside pickup options to keep everyone safe during the pandemic but, due to its convenience and consumer demand, it’s likely here to stay. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, nearly half of consumers have tried curbside pickup and 81% of consumers want to try it. 

Curbside pickup helps you bridge the gap between online and in-person shopping by giving customers the option to choose local pickup as a delivery method at checkout. 

But how can you execute curbside pickup at your retail store? 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what curbside pickup is, how it works, and its advantages, plus examples of local retailers making it work for their business. 

What is curbside pickup?

Curbside pickup is a service offered by retailers where a customer places an order online and drives to their local store to pick it up. The customer parks in a designated area near the store entrance, and when the order is ready, a store associate brings the customer's order out to them.

You may already be familiar with buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), which is also referred to as click and collect. Curbside pickup works in a similar way, but the customer never has to get out of their car.

The convenience curbside pickup provides for shoppers has turned this option into a powerful way for retailers to strengthen their omnichannel retail sales strategy. In Q2 2020, Target reported a massive 734% increase in “drive up” sales, and that figure held steady with 500% year-over-year growth in the following quarter.

Adoption of curbside pickup was accelerated by the pandemic. Now that restrictions are beginning to ease in many countries, the popularity of this service continues to grow. This is thanks to the incredible convenience it provides both merchants and their customers.

Jonathan Roque, Digital Marketing and Content Strategist, Zapiet

This order fulfillment service is a way to increase sales and customer satisfaction. It might be easier for retail giants like Target and Walmart to implement, but if you’re starting out or expanding into more locations, there are also solutions you can use to offer your customers curbside pickup. 

How does curbside pickup work? 

For customers who don’t want to wait for delivery or prefer not to pay for shipping, curbside pickup is a great alternative. After the customer completes their order online, they can drive by your storefront, warehouse, or pickup point to pick it up—and they can remain in their car the entire time. It helps reduce shipping costs and adheres to social distancing measures, yet it’s still convenient. 

Here’s what curbside pickup might look like for your retail store: 

  1. The customer shops via your website, and during the checkout process they have the option to select curbside pickup.
  2. The customer completes payment online via your ecommerce website
  3. You receive a notification for their order and can prioritize packing it. 
  4. Once you’ve confirmed that the inventory is in stock, you’ll send a notification to the customer letting them know it’s ready for curbside pickup. At this time, you’ll also tell them what to do once they arrive. For example, if they should call or text you when they’re at the curb. 
  5. When the customer arrives to collect their order you or your staff goes out to their car to hand it off. Or the customer can come in-store to collect their order if they prefer. 
  6. The customer drives off feeling instant gratification because they didn’t have to wait for delivery. You’re done! 

Setting up curbside pickup services may feel overwhelming but it doesn’t need to. That’s why we make it quick and easy for local retailers to implement this order fulfillment service—follow the steps below to set up curbside pickup for your store.

Increase store foot traffic with Shopify

Shopify POS comes with built-in tools to bring more online shoppers to your store. Manage your Google Merchant Center listing without leaving your point of sale, show each product’s availability across all store locations, offer in-store pickup, and more.

The operations of curbside pickup—how to get it right

Curbside pickup can make online ordering easier, more efficient, and reduce shipping costs for customers. But if you don’t execute it properly, it could lead to a disappointing experience for shoppers and lost sales for you. 

Let’s look at the operational aspects of curbside pickup. 

You’ll need people and a designated area in your store to manage curbside pickup

Whether it’s you or your sales staff, assigning curbside pickup management to one (or a few people) is crucial. Someone needs to be there to review and pack orders, notify customers that they’re ready for pickup, and hand off the items at the curb. 

“Make a dedicated space in your retail store for pickup orders to stay organized. Also, use the Shopify POS app to manage and mark orders available for pickup once they’re packed and ready to go. This way, the customer gets a notification that it’s ready.”

You’ll need to track inventory

If you don’t sync your online and offline inventory, curbside pickup could be a disaster. The last thing you want is to disappoint a customer who makes an order online for curbside pickup and then receives a notification that the item isn’t actually in stock.

“Our number one tip is to make sure your inventory is correct, because having a customer order a product that’s not physically in the store would be a bummer,” says Mistakidis.

💡 PRO TIP: Offering in-store pickup as a delivery method at checkout is a great way to get more online shoppers to visit your store. To get started, enable local pickup availability in Shopify admin to show online shoppers whether a product is available for pickup at one of your stores.

You’ll need a way to notify customers once their order is ready 

Manually reviewing online orders and sending emails or texts to customers letting them know it’s ready for pickup is time-consuming. That’s why we’ve created a buy online, pick up in-store feature for Shopify POS that lets you efficiently manage and track all pickup orders placed online and notify customers when they’re ready.

You’ll need a way for customers to notify you when they arrive for pickup 

The whole idea behind curbside pickup is that your customers can wait for you in their car. If you don’t know they’ve arrived, they might get impatient and come inside to let you know they’re curbside. To avoid this, you’ll need a way for customers to notify you once they arrive. After a customer places an order online and pulls up to your store, you can have them call or text you and then you can bring their order out to their car. 

For example, when you send them a notification telling them their order is ready for pickup, include a note saying, “Let us know once you’ve arrived by calling or texting 555-555-5555 with your order number.” 

You’ll need a designated place where customers can wait for their order 

Depending on where your store is located, you may be able to reserve a parking spot close to your store for curbside pickup. Or if it’s not a high traffic area, customers can line up in front of your store. The key here is to make sure the pickup location is explained and easy to find when they arrive. You’ll also want to make sure you’re not blocking traffic. 

You’ll need to advertise, advertise, and advertise some more

Spending time and energy devising a curbside pickup plan won’t be worth it unless you also create a marketing and advertising strategy to build awareness for pickup availability. You can spread the word via your newsletter, social media, or website, and by including the details on your checkout page. 

Be vocal on social media about the option for curbside pickup to ensure customers know when you’re available. Include details that indicate pickup options on your checkout page, in your order confirmation emails, and general marketing emails. Customers will use this service if they know it’s available! Plus, some people like a safe excuse to leave the house right now.

Allison Mistakidis, co-founder of Whiskeyjack Boutique

Retailers who offer curbside pickup and how they do it

Large retailers like Nordstrom, Walmart, and Target may have been the first to offer curbside pickup, but with the pandemic, this order fulfillment option is vital for retailers of all sizes to stay in business. It’s also a great way to offer a convenient shopping experience and prioritize safety. 

Today, smaller retailers are gradually embracing this service. They make it work by advertising curbside pickup options via their ecommerce website and social media. 

💡 PRO TIP: Set up local pickup in Shopify to start offering in-store pickup as a delivery option at checkout. Pay less on last-mile delivery, speed up fulfillment times on local orders, and drive more foot traffic to your stores.

The Little Pop-Up Shoppe

The Little Pop-Up Shoppe is a permanent retail pop-up shop that sells products made by Canadian artists and designers. Every 30 days, it rotates selling items crafted by local makers. 

During the lockdown, curbside pickup helps us continue to promote our artists and their brands. Our top tips are to advertise, advertise, advertise—set specific pickup windows in your ad, and set specific cut-off times to order in advance of the curbside pickup times.

Mary Cross, founder of The Little Pop-Up Shoppe

The Little Pop-Up Shoppe is making curbside pickup work for it by advertising the service via Instagram. It provides specific details about pickup times—for example, “Wednesday, May 5, between 1-4 pm”—and uses product scarcity to encourage customers to make an order by saying, “No holds, will sell based on a first-come, first-served basis.” 

Whiskeyjack Boutique 

Whiskeyjack Boutique sells Canadian-made gifts and is currently only offering curbside shopping and pickup. 

We use the Shopify POS to manage all of our online orders and curbside pickups. We’re able to print the delivery slips to attach to the orders, which makes them easy to find when the customer arrives for pickup.

Allison Mistakidis, co-founder of Whiskeyjack Boutique

Whiskeyjack Boutique also advertises its curbside pickup options via Instagram and provides clear details about what customers can expect from its curbside pickup services. This includes the days and hours it will be available and where customers can pick up orders. 

True North Yarn Co. 

True North Yarn Co. advertises curbside pickup on its website and via Instagram. When you land on the homepage of its ecommerce site you immediately see details about COVID updates, online shopping, and contactless curbside pickup. 

True North Yarn Co. website

On Instagram, True North Yarn Co. provides detailed information via captions about how to choose curbside pickup and when it’s available: “Order your latest stay-home project online and select curbside pickup or shipping at checkout. Curbside pickup is available Monday through Friday, 11 am-4 pm.” 

What are the advantages of curbside pickup?

It’s easy to see why curbside pickup is a safer option for you and your customers during the pandemic. But even without the need for social distancing, this trend was already growing in popularity for a range of reasons. 

Here are a few benefits of offering curbside pickup: 

Faster and more convenient order fulfillment 

Providing more choices for order fulfillment allows customers to enjoy (almost) instant gratification in the same way they would if they were shopping in-store. And with curbside pickup, you can meet this demand so customers can get their orders faster. 

Better customer experience and satisfaction

By adapting to changes in consumer behavior and offering more delivery and pickup options, you’ll satisfy more customers. Happy customers are more likely to come back again and also tell their friends and family about your store. So, in theory, curbside pickup can also lead to customer loyalty and brand advocacy. 

Curbside pickup eliminates the chance that products can get damaged while they’re in transit from your store to the customer’s home. This is especially important because receiving damaged goods is a major turn-off for consumers.

According to Retail TouchPoints, 79% of people would not purchase from a retailer again after receiving damaged goods.

Guaranteed delivery

We all know how frustrating it is when you’re waiting in excitement for a package and then you either miss the delivery or it’s delayed. With curbside pickup, this obstacle is eliminated. Customers can pick up their order at a time that works best for them, without having to wait at home so they don’t miss a delivery.

No shipping fees 

When it comes to shipping fees, curbside pickup is advantageous for both you and your customers. There are no shipping costs for shoppers, and you may also save on the cost of packaging. 

Additionally, you’ll be sure the customer is happy before they leave, which could reduce the chances of dealing with return shipping fees. 

Reduced social interactions in-store 

While it’s more relevant in these times, some people—pandemic or not—would still prefer to stay in their car and have their order brought to them. Curbside pickup is a perfect solution to minimize person-to-person interactions while still providing a flexible and convenient order fulfillment option. 

It’s better for the environment 

The added bonus of offering curbside pickup services is that this order fulfillment option is environmentally friendly—it reduces carbon emissions caused by delivery and shipments.

It encourages customers to shop local so you can stay in business 

Due to the pandemic, the retail landscape transformed—seemingly overnight—and consumer behavior is shifting. More people are realizing the value of shopping locally. In fact, our research shows that 65% of consumers support small businesses. Their main reasons for buying locally are strengthening the local economy (57%), helping support local job creation (41%), and investing in their community (35%). 

“Prior to the beginning of the pandemic, we were primarily focused on our retail customers and people physically visiting our brick-and-mortar store (90% in-person, 10% online),” says Mistakidis. “In March 2020 with the pandemic restrictions, we basically switched to 100% online overnight. Having all of our products ready for purchase online and an easy option to implement curbside pickup and delivery allowed our business to thrive in uncertain times. We were able to service our existing customers by giving them an easy way to pull up and safely collect their purchases, and the drive to shop small during the pandemic has introduced our brand to several new customers as well.”

Offering curbside pickup at your local retail boutique gives your community more options to fulfill their desires to shop locally. 

Will curbside pickup last?

While curbside pickup began as a safety measure to keep staff and customers safe, it’s growing in popularity due to the fact that it makes the shopping experience more convenient for customers. As consumer behavior continues to evolve, we think people will continue to appreciate the flexibility and ease that comes with curbside pickup services.

The Future of Retail in 2021

We pored over data from more than one million merchants on Shopify and collected survey insights from consumers all over the world to get the full picture of what 2021 has in store for brick and mortar retail.

Download the report

Zapiet, a Shopify partner app that helps merchants offer curbside pickup, believes this order fulfillment option is here to stay, and its steady growth in monthly installs proves it. 

Zapiet monthly installs chart

“It has rapidly become an option customers expect to see at checkout, thanks to its convenience, environmental benefits, and adoption by all major retailers,” says Zapiet’s Jonathan Roque.

From a purely economic point of view, curbside pickup can save merchants money by eliminating shipping and delivery costs as well as reducing their returns. Also, by allowing customers to schedule pickups ahead of time, it is possible for merchants to increase their order volumes without having to increase their retail space or team size.

Jonathan Roque, Digital Marketing and Content Strategist, Zapiet

Retailers including Whiskeyjack Boutique will continue offering this service post-pandemic. “We’ll definitely continue offering curbside pickup. We love the option it gives our customers to shop online and pick up if they prefer,” says Mistakidis.

There are a handful of Shopify partner apps available to help you offer curbside pickup so you can keep up with consumer demand. 

Should you offer curbside pickup at your retail store?

If you’re considering setting up curbside pickup order fulfillment options at your retail store, you can start by asking yourself the following questions to decide if it’s right for your business: 

  1. Do you have the resources to offer curbside pickup? Will your staff manage it or will it be your responsibility? 
  2. Is there curb space or parking near your store for customers to wait while you or your staff bring out their order? 
  3. Are you using a POS that provides the right technology to synchronize your inventory and keep track of omnichannel orders? 

If you feel confident that you can accomplish the above and successfully manage curbside pickup services, it’s worth trying it out. Giving your customers the option to shop online and pick up at the curb can help you build strong customer relationships and give your retail business an edge over your competitors. 

When you’re ready to get started, try the Shopify POS to provide a seamless shopping experience for your customers both in-store and online, and you’ll be all set to manage local pickup for online orders.

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Retail curbside pickup FAQ

How does retail curbside pickup work?

The customer orders and pays for their items online or over the phone. They schedule a time for pickup and drive to the store at that time. A retail employee brings the items out to the customer's car.

What is curbside pickup mean?

Curbside pickup is a service offered by some businesses that allows customers to order and pay for items online or over the phone and then pick them up at the curb outside the store.

What is the difference between in-store and curbside pickup?

In-store pickup is when you go into the store and pick up your order yourself. Curbside pickup is when you have your order brought out to your car by an employee.

What are the benefits of curbside pickup?

There are several benefits to curbside pickup, including convenience, time savings, and avoiding crowds.