COVID-19 has changed our world. It’s impacting life itself, including our ability to get access to the right essential goods. It has overwhelmed delivery and pickup networks. Some small, innovative businesses have been able to quickly adapt and focus strictly on curbside or pickup, while larger chains have been challenged to hire fast enough to meet the surge in orders. Many consumers are now turning toward a hybrid version of online and brick-and-mortar shopping in the form of curbside pickup to make selections online and collect their purchases in one fell swoop at the store. There are local stores that have even opted to move strictly to this model to allow for increased efficiency, while also announcing new policies designed to improve public safety.
Retailers should look to take a series of steps to unlock additional capacity for curbside and localized delivery in the weeks and months ahead. The following actions would help more consumers get what they need and decrease health risks through reduced store traffic:
- Store Format Modifications: Initiate store transformation to support scalable curbside delivery operations.
- Pickup Window: Cater to customer demand by scaling pickup windows and offering on-demand pickup of essential items.
- Fast Packs: Offer on-demand pickup for essentials, and use basket and product assortment analytics to understand population needs for fast packs.
- Smart Substitutions: Tighten substitution guidelines when inventory is low to empower employees and increase picking efficiency.
- Pop-Up Cashier: Cater to the cash population by providing a means for cash payment upon customer arrival to store.
- BYO Device: Quickly enable current and new workers to take on new roles and improve pick-and-pack capabilities while reducing technology costs.
- Scaled Arrival: Engage in step-by-step communication with customers throughout the process and empower customers to alert you of their arrival, enable lane assignment, order status, and expected wait/service time.
- Dock and Load: Utilize self-loading of orders to manage employee contact with customers and enable parking lot safety.
While these programs allow for retailers to serve their customers with greater efficiency, many will still face challenges on the execution side, particularly when it comes to accurate inventory tracking. For example, if a customer wants to order four items to pick up in-store, but the retailer only has three units available, the retailer is likely to lose that sale. Additionally, given that roughly 30 percent to 40 percent of retailers still don't have text capabilities available through the buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) process, poor communication can also hinder the customer experience if they're left in the dark on the status of their order.
For flexible fulfillment options to work longer term, retailers will need to invest in real-time inventory and warehouse management systems in order to have visibility across all channels. The benefits to this approach include the ability to anticipate stock outs, prevent losses (by fulfilling from distressed stock within the supply chain), and replenish inventory intelligently.
Let’s not forget, curbside pickup and BOPIS could also present a more sustainable solution for both retailers and consumers. With the right processes in place, it can enable less resource-intensive sales for retailers as well as more options for busy consumers to get their goods in an efficient, safe and timely manner, which will drive customer loyalty.
Steve Osburn is a managing director at Kurt Salmon, part of Accenture Strategy.