Retail strategies

BOPIS, curbside pickup, and retail: New fulfillment strategies are changing customer expectations—and how retailers meet them

  • alex bravo
    Alex Bravo
  • Oct 15, 2020

COVID-19 spurred retailers to explore new fulfillment and customer engagement strategies to ensure customer safety while also creating a positive, engaging shopping experience.

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Since the pandemic began, curbside pickup and buy-online-pick-up-in-store (BOPIS) shopping has exploded. Surveys show 80 percent of consumers expect to increase their BOPIS and curbside pickup practices in the coming months, and a majority expect all retailers to provide mobile or contactless pickup/check in options too.

With major retailers like Walmart, Target, and The Home Depot among the most popular brands offering curbside pickup and BOPIS shopping, it’s safe to say these fulfillment options—particularly BOPIS, which was gaining momentum even before COVID-19 hit—are here to stay, pandemic notwithstanding.

BOPIS is a sound investment

Twilio research shows retailers whose leadership indicated stronger intent to invest in BOPIS and order fulfillment technologies in the past 18-24 months are outperforming their peers in the stock market since the onset of the pandemic.

That sort of ROI has retail leaders paying attention: according to the Forrester Q1 2020 Omnichannel Panel Survey, 79 percent of retail and brand professionals surveyed have implemented or have plans to implement BOPIS by the end of 2020.

Digital-first brands and those that embraced omnichannel retailing found it much easier to adapt when COVID-19 hit, to ensure the safety and health of both employees and shoppers while also continuing to operate. They were able to pivot faster and meet new customer needs with agility.

But digital-first brands aren’t the only ones embracing these options, and they shouldn't be: given nine out of ten consumers say they’re more likely to choose a retailer based on how much convenience they offer, it’s more important than ever that retailers implement BOPIS and curbside pickup best practices.

With 56 percent of customers reporting to have a high intention to continue using BOPIS even after the pandemic, businesses that want to retain their customers need to make the “pickup in-store” part of the shopping experience provide another level of convenience while keeping employees and shoppers safe.

Here are some key considerations as you evaluate your existing BOPIS, contactless delivery, and pickup options, or explore how to implement them.

Make it easy for customers to choose their desired fulfillment option

As customers complete their purchases online, make sure they can easily identify which pickup options are available and the costs associated for each. Here’s an example of a customer experience that makes sense and will nurture brand loyalty:

  • Give your customer the ability to choose the store locations within their vicinity.

  • Maximize their convenience by offering options to schedule their purchase pickup.

  • Once they’ve chosen a store and checked out, email them to confirm their purchase and include a record of their pickup appointment.

When it comes to communication such as a pickup reminder, 83 percent of consumers prefer to receive such non-urgent communications via email. The confirmation email should also include your store health and safety protocols, especially if this is the first time a customer is participating in a BOPIS transaction with your brand, or if store policies have recently changed.

Order confirmations can also be sent in-app, or either via email or SMS, depending on the customer’s preference, and they should include a clear explanation of how the contactless delivery process works, as well as an estimated time for pickup.

Keep customers informed at every step of the process

Shoppers prefer text messages more than twice as much over email for receiving urgent communications, like issues with their orders. If there is a change in product availability, customers should be notified as soon as possible via a text, SMS, or push notifications.

To move sitting inventory more efficiently, you can enable sales associates to communicate with the customers in real-time to offer alternatives for items that may not be in stock. With a customer’s consent, they can begin two-way communications with customers so the customer can choose alternate products for out of stock situations, and even cancel or reschedule if necessary.

Real-time updates on the status of an order, including delays or a change in availability, should be sent for customers to immediately see from their smartphones. Grocery delivery giant Instacart, which operates in the US and Canada serving hundreds of thousands of customers, saw a 500 percent jump in order volume when the pandemic struck. They use SMS notifications to manage their order confirmations, delivery ETA messages, customer satisfaction surveys, and employee shift alerts.

Most critical to their hour-or-less delivery promise is the speed with which Instacart can dispatch orders to shoppers. Using masked numbers, Instacart shoppers can contact customers directly and in real-time, via the app, website, SMS, or into a chat by responding to a notification. Customers can modify their carts before check-out, and if an item is out of stock Instacart shoppers can offer them an alternative product. Quality can be a particular challenge when relying on a virtual workforce, so Instacart sends a customer’s review to the in-store shopper responsible for their particular order.

Depending on the nature of the product, items like perishable goods require faster fulfillment and these orders can be more time-sensitive. To ensure delivery satisfaction, store associates need to be tightly coordinated to fulfill the orders without any delays––this is something brands can effectively manage their teams with real-time updates and notifications sent via text/SMS or push notifications.

Ensure your customers are prepared to safely and easily pick up their order

Brands should share curbside pickup practices with customers prior to a customer arriving at their doorstep. As mentioned, it’s best to give customers the option to schedule their pickup day and time, and the confirmation email or text (depending on timing) they receive when making said appointment should include all the pertinent protocols.

If pickup is scheduled days in advance, it is best practice to send a reminder within a day of the pickup time, and include the option to cancel or reschedule—all from the same SMS message.

If curbside pickup involves waiting in line or in a designated area of a parking lot, it is best to notify customers of the expected wait time, especially if there are delays. When possible, customers should be given the option to cancel or reschedule pickup if they don’t want to wait longer than expected.

Geofencing lets retailers detect a smartphone entering a defined area, and can be used in both indoor and outdoor settings. With geofencing, retailers can create a virtual boundary around their store, automatically triggering a response if a customer enters that boundary. Retailers can use this technology to confirm a customer’s arrival.

Alternatively, customers can be enabled to notify the store of their arrival, either via in-app chat or SMS. Employees can then verify a customer’s identity using a confirmation code before handing over an order. Some businesses, including Amazon, provide customers with a picture to prove that their delivery was in fact made, in case an item goes missing.

Following up to build trust and foster brand loyalty

After your customer has completed their BOPIS transaction, it’s a good idea to gather feedback by sending a short survey asking customers to rate their experience. Always thank the customer for their time, and in the case of negative feedback, give customers options for how they’d like to be recompensed, based on the nature of their issue.

Now that your customer is happily in possession of their purchase,it’s a great time to send discounts or promotional offers via email to encourage repeat business. One in five consumers we surveyed are highly interested in receiving normal promotions and communications that they’d expect prior to COVID-19—these small moments of normalcy are undoubtedly comforting.

On the fulfillment side of things, there’s even more retailers can do to improve their processes. For example: Seemingly minor decreases in order fulfillment time can have a profound impact on retailers’ operating margins and cost of sale. Our own research has found that even a few seconds saved on fulfilling orders can reduce operating expenses. In fact, Twilio customers that have adopted the above approach to notifying and reminding their customers about upcoming pickups and orders have reduced associated operating expenses by 18 percent.

The financial benefits of BOPIS extend beyond customers and contribute to overall employee and associate satisfaction too. Having more visibility into demand and pickup times will enable associates to plan ahead and adopt workflows that will reduce fulfillment time and delight customers.

To learn more about the impact of BOPIS and contactless deliveries, their adoption, and how brands are successfully investing in technology innovations, download Twilio’s best practices for BOPIS and contactless deliveries in the age of COVID-19.

Retail strategies

Download Twilio’s best practices for BOPIS and contactless deliver

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alex bravo

Alex Bravo

Alex Bravo is a Sr. PMM for Retail at Twilio. With a background in business strategy consulting and supply chain, Alex helps define how Twilio enables brands to turn engagement challenges into opportunities to build delightful customer experiences. She is also an instructor in Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the NGO Science Clubs International and was a guest lecturer through the department of economics at her alma mater, Harvard University.