How to create a customer-friendly curbside pickup experience

By Mr. Shane Schick posted 01-20-2021 10:52 AM


The phrase “kicking someone to the curb” usually means you’re so frustrated with the person in question that you don’t even want them on your property. While the pandemic has kicked pretty much all customers there now, it never seemed to occur to anyone that the curb could be a place you’d actually like to visit. 

Over the past few weeks I’ve picked up books, clothes and a consumer electronics gadget via curbside pickup and the experience has almost always been the same. Not the actual process of picking item up, mind you — that’s all over the map — but the general atmosphere. 

Store associates are almost uniformly grim. There is a sense that your arrival is a burden, rather than the culmination of a journey that began with a hope to inspire your interest in their products and services.

Much like showing up at a government office to fill out a form, you are treated with either thinly veiled contempt or outright irritation if you fail to have all the necessary information handy. 

Perhaps I’ve just been unlucky. And of course I realize that everyone is stressed out and miserable. But curbside pickup is as close to in-store experiences as most brands have to offer right now. It could play out in many different ways, but it probably shouldn’t feel like lining up for a soup kitchen. 

With plenty of time while waiting for a product I’d purchased to be retrieved lately, I’ve given some thought, from a customer perspective, on what brands could do to make this experience slightly less miserable:

1. Map The Curbside Customer Journey

Compared with what happens when they arrive on your web site and the process of placing an order, brands seem to have put little to no thought into this journey within the journey. In other words, the moment from when a brand notifies a customer that their product is ready to the trip they’ll make to the curb and whether they'll feel welcomed.

If you’re sending an e-mail letting them know the item is ready, you don’t need a lot of boilerplate or preamble.

Don’t put the order number half way down the message. Yes, put it in the subject line but put it in really big font, because they'll likely have to read it while speaking on the phone to an associate (someone should solve this problem, BTW). 

Ideally, figure out a way to make the order number shorter than a Swiss bank account. 

Where possible, indicate exactly where the pickup area will be, maybe even with an actual map.

2. Set The Stage 

Everyone understands by now that you have to have little markers on the ground to show where customers can stand at a distance, but that’s the bare minimum.

Take down the handwritten sign where someone scrawled the phone number you should call and other instructions when you arrive. 

Place a more permanent-looking sign at the back of where people are lining up, so that they don’t have to mistakenly go to the front to figure out the process. Better yet, if you’re not a major department store, have someone near the front door ready to answer questions. Even a sandwich board or two in prominent places can help avoid confusion. 

If you’re running a business with multiple entrances, large signage or sandwich boards should be placed all around the entrances that are shut, making it clear early on where customers are supposed to go.

In short, create an environment that looks like curbside pickup wasn’t something you were forced to do. 


3. Enhance The Wait

Customers just want to get in and get out. You probably want the same. And yet, you’re a brand, and more than likely your traditional in-store experience was far more pleasant. 

This might have included greeters at the door and strategically positioned merchandise in the path leading up to the point of sale. There would often be music playing in the background. 

There’s no reason you couldn’t do something similar at curbside. You can’t create a popup shop in the lineup area and have people touching stuff, but you could use digital signs or even cardboard displays of featured items, with QR codes they could scan to get more information and perhaps even reserve their next order. 

You could still have music. You could dress up the space with a red carpet. You could set up heat lamps as we get deeper into winter, the way restaurants did when they were desperately trying to extend patio season. 

Finally, think long term. Even as the pandemic is contained, there may be a significant portion of customers who prefer curbside pickup for some time to come. 

Just as fast food chains learned to set up efficient and even attractive takeout lanes and displays, this is becoming a part of the customer experience that deserves more care. Otherwise, it’s customers who will be kicking brands to the curb instead.