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Winning with Customers at Curbside

By Ron Lutz

I enjoyed an opportunity recently to conduct a webinar for the International Signage Association on the rise of BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) during the pandemic. We discussed the critical need for retailers to thoughtfully and strategically incorporate it into their complete customer experience.

Afterward, a robust Q&A got me thinking about larger ideas that inform much of what we do at Miller Zell as we help our clients develop the best possible branded environments.

In simplest terms, your brand wins if it convinces customers that they matter.

So what’s going to resonate with your customers and get them to feel that way? Good question. You should continually track the evolving answer to that inquiry and respond with innovation and agility.

And so we arrive at BOPIS, which became commonplace but inconsistently adopted during the pandemic.

In fact, it’s more accurate now to call it BOPAC (buy online, pick up at curb) because shoppers not only often don’t want to enter the store, but they also don’t want to exit their automobiles.

Further, this service has become table stakes for retailers. It’s not just about offering it as an option, which is a must for most. It’s about outstanding execution that anticipates your customers’ wants and needs.

During COVID-19, store differentiation has extended to the sidewalk, and retailers must leverage store design principles, strategic signage and outstanding customer service to ensure that the shoppers’ experience of your brand is optimized even outside of the store.

Part of that is anticipating customers’ diverse perspectives and meeting them where they are. That means your potential touchpoints — from website, to app, to parking lot entrance, to curbside, to contact with associates, to exiting — provide a clear and efficient path to purchase, whether the customer is using BOPAC for the first time or the 50th time.

A new customer is going to be nervous about the process, so they need reassurance and clarity at every point. Veteran customers are going to want a consistent, expedited process. Or they are going to be relaxed enough to engage with promotions or impulse buys that could increase basket size.

Signage, both physical and digital, needs to be clear, concise and purposeful, while also being unmistakably on-brand. It additionally needs to be adaptable to light or heavy traffic. The process needs to unfold clearly and efficiently to customers, whether there are two or 20 cars pulling up.

All customers will want a great experience with your associates, who will need special training to anticipate any delays or process hiccups that are different from the in-store experience. It should go without saying that inventory management also will be critical, as shoppers won’t be happy about a wasted trip. Associates should be empowered to proactively deal with what should be a rare occurrence.

Best-case scenario is that your brand creates what feels like a concierge service for your customers, one that distinguishes you from your competition and creates loyalty.

The desire for such an experience won’t go away post-pandemic. Sure, many customers will want to re-enter your store and browse, but a great BOPAC service will offer them an option they will continue to use.

In-store or curbside, know that customers will remember how they felt when experiencing your store. Convince them you care enough to anticipate and deliver the experience they want, and your brand will win every time.

With over 35 years of leadership experience, Ron's focus while at Miler Zell was acting as the voice of the customer as chief retail officer.