Curbside Pickup: The Business Owner's Guide

By Numa -

Curbside pickup is a service that lets your customers order online or over the phone, drive to your business, and receive their order without getting out of their vehicle. The concept of curbside pickup can also be useful for service businesses, as it creates a “curbside waiting room,” turning your parking lot into a lobby.

It’s similar to BOPIS—buy online, pickup in-store—but with the added convenience of having an employee bring a customer’s purchase from the store to wherever they’re parked. Customers don’t necessarily need to pay in advance, either, though that makes the process even more convenient for them.

When Walmart first started using curbside pickup for grocery orders in 2013, it didn’t make sense for most businesses to follow suit. It was a valuable way to serve customers with disabilities or mobility issues, but it required dedicated employees.

It’s been slowly gaining traction, but COVID-19 dramatically increased demand for this service. Beginning in March of 2020, Google trends shows a huge spike in search volume for “curbside pickup,” and while it’s leveled off, it’s still much more popular than it was before the pandemic.

Businesses want to implement curbside pickup options, and consumers are looking for companies that offer it. And while this service may seem like a temporary solution to a temporary problem, many businesses that facilitate curbside pickup through the pandemic will likely continue using it in the years to come—because consumers like it, and it benefits your business, too.

In this guide, we’ll look at the reasons your business should consider curbside pickup, the kinds of businesses that should use curbside pickup (it’s not just restaurants!), and how to facilitate this service.

Reasons to Offer Curbside Pickup

Curbside pickup benefits you and your customers. If you’re considering whether you should start offering it, here are some of the biggest reasons you should consider it.

Greater Convenience for Customers

It’s hard to beat the convenience of picking up your items after ordering from home or work. People can get dinner, groceries, or other things they need on their way home from the office. When you don’t have to wander the store to find what you need or wait in line at checkout, interactions with your business take far less time (because you’re doing more of the work for them). 

And while having something shipped to your door is convenient, too, it also means dealing with an unpredictable arrival time and either waiting a few days to get what you need or tipping a delivery driver, increasing the total cost of a purchase. With curbside pickup, the consumer becomes the delivery driver, so they can get what they need on the same day, without paying a driver or even setting foot in your business.

For anyone who struggles with mobility, curbside pickup means the only time they have to get in and out of their car is at home, and they won’t wind up exhausted or frustrated from maneuvering through your business.

Limited Interactions

During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers and businesses alike have become more concerned about reducing their contact with others. Curbside pickup lets your customers avoid crowds and coming into close proximity to groups of people. It makes it easy for your employees to control and minimize their interactions with customers.

Most people will feel more comfortable with these limited interactions, especially employees and customers with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID. There’s less risk of your business contributing to the spread of coronavirus, and it’s also easier to keep your business sanitary when you don’t have as many customers coming in and out all day.

Reduced Foot Traffic

Regardless of the size of your business, it’s important to manage the flow of customers in and out of your building. Why not have customers text you when they arrive, and empower your receptionists to text clients when you’re ready for them to come in? If you need someone to fill out paperwork, they can text you their location, or the make and model of their car. 

Offering a curbside pickup option lets you serve the same amount of customers without clogging your lobby or creating long lines. 

Competitive Advantage

Curbside pickup is one of those services that some consumers love, and others couldn’t care less about. But the ones who love curbside pickup are actively looking for local businesses that provide this service. They don’t want to deal with the hassle of navigating aisles and searching for the things they need. They want what your business offers, but they want their errands to take as little time as possible.

If you offer curbside pickup and your competitors don’t—or you offer better curbside pickup service—these consumers are going to choose your business.

In the past, only giant companies could afford to facilitate curbside pickup, often through custom software solutions. Now, you don’t need thousands of dollars and a full-blown development team to offer curbside services—you just need Numa.

What Types of Businesses Should Use Curbside Pickup?

Obviously, larger businesses and box stores have far more resources to facilitate a smooth, efficient curbside pickup service. But curbside pickup has a much wider range of applications than it used to. 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, more types of businesses have come to rely on this buying option to provide service while following public health guidelines and keeping their employees and customers safe. Some organizations like salons and healthcare providers have effectively used this service to create a “curbside waiting room” to check people into their appointments and avoid overcrowding the lobby.

Whatever your industry, there are probably some situations where it makes sense to implement curbside pickup options. But here are some of the most common ways we’ve seen it used.

Retail Stores

Shopping in person takes time. And while many customers prefer to select their own products, some of your customers would prefer to not set foot in a crowded store, or they may have difficulty walking through aisle after aisle, navigating signage, and hunting for what they need. Plus, people don’t really have to examine packaged goods. A bottle of shampoo is a bottle of shampoo.

So if you can afford to dedicate employees to “shop” for your customers, this is certainly a type of business where consumers have begun looking for curbside pickup options.

Note: Your employees are probably going to be far more efficient shoppers than your customers. It’s a lot easier to find everything on your list when you’re the one who stocked the shelves—especially if you already had to find the same items a few minutes ago.

Restaurants

For restaurants, curbside pickup is like take out, but your customers wait in their vehicles instead of coming inside your business. An employee carries out the order instead of the customer. It’s so similar that it might leave you thinking, “What’s the point?” But for customers who aren’t comfortable being in public or have trouble getting in and out of their cars, this subtle change makes all the difference.

Curbside pickup is a service you’ll need to add, but with good communication, it shouldn’t be much of a burden—especially when business is slow. It’s kind of like having a table out front, where the customers change quickly, and there’s never anything to reset.

Some restaurants have applied the principles of curbside pickup to facilitate waiting lists for tables. Instead of sitting around your lobby, customers can go for a walk or wait somewhere they prefer, then get a text when you’re ready to seat them.

Mechanics

If someone has to drop off or pick up their car, all that really needs to happen is a handoff: either they give you the keys, or you give them back. Sometimes there’s paperwork to sign or a payment to process, but curbside pickup sets your business up to provide faster, more convenient service.

Healthcare Providers

Nobody wants to spend 15 minutes or more in a crowded lobby right now—especially not in a healthcare facility, where you simply don’t know what other people are being seen or treated for. Curbside check-in lets your members or clients wait in their vehicles until the provider is available to see them. You can bring paperwork outside if they need to fill anything out (or better yet, let them complete it digitally!) and notify them when it’s time to come in.

Chiropractors, dentists, veterinarians, and more have used curbside pickup to ease the strain of transforming their lobbies into socially distanced waiting areas and to help their front desk receptionists manage traffic flow.

Salons

Similarly, salons have been using curbside check-in solutions to avoid overcrowded waiting areas. If you’ve closed your waiting area altogether, having a clear system for curbside service means your employees don’t have to wander around outside, calling out clients’ names. Instead, you can contact them from inside when their hair stylist or barber is ready.

How to Facilitate Curbside Pickup

If curbside pickup is a service you want to offer, it’s relatively easy to set up. You don’t need to completely overhaul your business—you just have to decide what it’s going to look like and make sure your customers know about it.

Decide How Customers Will Request Curbside Service

Depending on your business and the resources you have available to you, setting up curbside pickup may involve some changes to your website. If you don’t already have an online checkout process, you’ll need to either get that set up or work around it by providing this option for orders that come in over the phone.

For businesses that want curbside service for appointments, it’s as simple as informing your customers how they’ll communicate with you.

In either case, you’ll need to make it very clear what happens next when someone arrives at your business.

Establish a Clear Communication System

The biggest hurdle businesses face with facilitating curbside service is figuring out how customers or clients will “check-in” when they’ve arrived. What communication channel should you use? 

You don’t want to make customers get out of their car and come inside—that’s not curbside service. But you also probably don’t want clients calling you when they’re waiting outside, either. That forces an employee to drop everything and answer the phone, risks the possibility that you’ll miss the call, and ties up your phone line if someone calls to schedule an appointment or place an order. Plus, an employee may need to take notes or relay information about where the customer is located or what their vehicle looks like.

Most businesses rely on a business texting solution for curbside service. When your customers arrive, they can simply text you. If necessary, they can also describe their location or vehicle in the message. 

The challenge with this is that customers expect a fast response. And if your employees aren’t available to reply right away, a customer may keep attempting to contact you. They may get impatient, and they might even wind up coming inside. Unless you respond, they don’t know if someone’s coming to help them or how long they should expect to wait in their vehicle.

Numa offers businesses an innovative solution to the challenges of curbside service: business texting plus artificial intelligence. When someone texts your business to check-in for curbside service, you can set up an automatic reply, and Numa notifies your employees via an app that someone needs their help. 

This ensures that every customer receives instant acknowledgment, and you can even use Numa to collect details like who the order is for, where the customer is waiting, and what kind of vehicle they’re in. So even when your employees are busy, Numa is conversing with your customers in the background, gathering the information your employees need to provide prompt service.

Update Your Website and Signage

Once you have a solution in place like Numa, the other big piece of the puzzle is informing your customers what to do. Nobody will know you offer curbside service until you tell them. And the more ways you let customers know about this option, the faster it can become the norm.

Curbside service is something consumers actively look for when they consider where they want to do business—so if this is something you offer, it should be right there on your home page. 

It would also be wise to add curbside pickup to your “attributes” in Google My Business. This ensures that when people specifically search for local curbside pickup options, your business can show up. Plus, when someone searches “Mexican food near me,” and you appear in the results, people will see that you offer curbside pickup when they’re weighing their options.

And while someone who shows up to your business in person isn’t actively looking for a curbside pickup option, your main entrance is a great place to inform them that there’s a more convenient way to interact with your business next time.

You might also consider announcing this service in an on-hold message, your voicemail, or through a phone answering service. (Numa can help you with that by the way.) As more callers learn about it, more of them will begin using it.

Get Started with Numa

Numa is a highly advanced text answering service. Whether your business uses a landline or smartphones, Numa enables customers to text your business and lets employees reply via computer or their phones. Regardless of what device someone uses to reply, the customer sees a single text conversation with your business.

Using conversational artificial intelligence, Numa automatically serves your customers, answering questions about your business, and gathering the information you need to facilitate curbside pickup.

Want to learn more about how it works? 

Let’s start a conversation. Or if you prefer, you can start a free trial right now and experience Numa.