With over 35 years of leadership experience, Ron Lutz has built his career in guiding retail-driven businesses through transformational growth and change. A veteran in the industry, Lutz has expertise in bridging strategy to implementation, bringing innovative store builds to life and fostering unparalleled customer experiences.
Now chief retail officer at retail strategist Miller Zell, Lutz spoke with NRF about improving customer experience with services like buy online, pick up in store and curbside pickup.
How has COVID-19 impacted BOPIS/curbside, and what looks to have staying power?
Plans and strategies that retailers already had in motion became largely accelerated — specifically around digital usage and engagement. Contactless options like BOPIS and curbside were certainly available in the market already, and many other retailers were working on unique ways to approach this concept as well, but the pandemic made these offerings a necessity to doing business. All of a sudden, customers couldn’t and wouldn’t shop inside, bringing customer experience almost completely outside the store.
Some retailers that had the infrastructure in place already (digital investment, in-store operations, etc.) were able to simply amp up use, while retailers who hadn’t rolled it out may have scrambled a bit at the beginning with a less seamless experience. But even many of those retailers have been able to fine-tune the offering within a matter of months.
In my opinion, these shopping methods are here to stay because there were already plans underway: COVID-19 simply accelerated the adoption. Many consumers who had never tried BOPIS or curbside pickup were forced to try it and will likely be more attuned to using the service even after the pandemic subsides.
Across the industry, we’re seeing more retailers invest heavily in pick-up lockers or launching apps with curbside capabilities, leading me to be convinced that this trend will extend far beyond COVID-19. The new landscape for customer experience has moved to the curb.
Why should the customer experience extend beyond the front door?
When a customer no longer has to enter the store, the retailer has lost every touchpoint that exists within the store environment. If your in-store experience is amazing, but the parking lot or curbside experience is lacking, the latter sub-par touchpoint may be the only taste of your brand a consumer will get.
"When a customer no longer has to enter the store, the retailer has lost every touchpoint that exists within the store environment."Ron Lutz
Brand consistency is key in today’s environment. Regardless of whether that shopper is engaging with your store in the parking lot, picking up a previously ordered item at the front of the store, or going to find an item in the aisle, they should have a comparable and pleasant experience at each.
Beyond that, retailers now have the chance to create new opportunities and connect with customers in a different way. Curbside offers a way for associates to personally interact with customers, whereas inside the store shoppers may simply grab-and-go using self-checkout or having already paid online. Capitalizing on this human interaction moment, even socially distanced, is a unique opportunity and one that, if executed well, can only further your brand in the shopper’s emotional wallet.
What steps should retailers take to create an ideal customer experience for BOPIS/curbside customers?
This movement to CX outside or at the front of the store puts a lot more pressure on the vendors and manufacturers to ensure that when they have their two seconds of fame engaging with the consumer, it’s relevant, on point and worthwhile. Both online and in-store, the message for the consumer needs to be clear, articulate and impactful.
Visible signage (both physical and digital), store layout, parking lot/curbside flow, associate training and technology access are all key to ensuring a smooth CX regardless of touchpoint. Retailers need to examine each part to guarantee they are working together to create a seamless on-premise experience.
The more a consumer is able to quickly and easily get where they need to go and what they came to get, the better their experience and brand perception will be — especially during a pandemic peak season.
What unique challenges might the holiday shopping season bring to BOPIS/curbside CX?
Peak season has always presented unique challenges for retailers, but this year will be a learning experience for the industry. A recent study indicated that over 20 percent of the shoppers interviewed had completed their holiday gift buying already. In terms of BOPIS/curbside, I think these methods will see a surge over the holidays. Many consumers will elect to pick up their goods locally versus waiting on shipping, especially the closer we get to Christmas.
Avoiding the holiday rush is going to be a priority for many shoppers, so the ability to drive up, have your items placed in your trunk and avoid the crowds will be a huge bonus. But this also means retailers will have to bolster their offerings to ensure they can work smoothly all season long.
"Retailers should consider having dedicated staff to BOPIS or curbside to alleviate friction."Ron Lutz
Retailers should consider having dedicated staff to BOPIS or curbside to alleviate friction. The technology that enables these functions and associates’ ability to use it is also going to be critical during the holidays, so if a store is hiring seasonal associates (especially if they will be customer-facing) they need to learn the systems and have a deep understanding of the processes.
Inventory management is going to be another big pain point. … Retailers will need to ensure their systems, online and in-store, accurately reflect what is available, or consumers will feel that they wasted a trip for nothing.
And finally, an increase in consumers buying products online or sight-unseen at the store will also mean that returns or exchanges could be more frequent this season. Retailers should have specific return-in-store locations and signage directions to avoid crowds waiting on returns and possibly disrupting flow of the other store processes.
With potentially reduced in-store traffic, consider setting up multiple temporary return locations in the store to maximize social distancing and make the process more efficient — again, protecting your brand for the customer.
Are there ways retailers can use an improved curbside or BOPIS experience to drive sales?
If consumers are picking up at the front of the store or curbside, retailers don’t have the same opportunity to drive additional sales as they would if a shopper entered a store to wander the aisles and browse. Going back to my earlier point, in the world of BOPIS/curbside, your messaging needs to be visible (online and in-store) and buttoned-up so shoppers know what offers and items are available.
What holiday specials do you have? If you buy Item A, is there an Item B often purchased with it? What popular items are back in stock at this location? Don’t be bashful in offering loyalty or frequent shopper incentives. By answering these questions with the right signage, you’ll pique their interest to spend more dollars than they might have before.
Check out other ways that retailers are innovating with contactless and online shopping here.
Especially if consumers have entered your store to BOPIS, there is still an opportunity to drive more in-store sales. Consider how your store is set up: Are there approachably priced and seasonal items near the checkout that they might pass and pick up when getting their order? Are there other items to complete the gift available at your store and easily accessible (wrapping paper, gift bags, cards)? Is your store clean and clearly safety-conscious to the point where a shopper who was avoiding in-store shopping might realize it’s safe to take a lap and look around? All of these factors could result in successful upselling to holiday shoppers because it simplifies their experience and provides additional value to them.
Remember, for a host of reasons, there is an emotional connection to the new shopping experience for the consumer. The retailer’s mission is to embrace the newness in shopping for the consumer and move them from making the holiday a transactional event to truly one that embraces your brand by connecting with the consumer. They will remember how you made them feel.