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Welcoming a New Era of Curbside Retail Operations

In the post-pandemic era, Curbside Retail Operations have become a focal point for the retail industry, a new must-have offering a way to keep stores operating, protect employee and customer health while serving customers, and establish their reputation as a company that steps up in time of crisis. But at what cost?

Many retailers without a pre-existing BOPIS or curbside services reacted fast by cobbling something together quick and throwing labor at the problem. But with demand for curbside service showing no signs of waning, retailers are now refining those initial approaches to support profit margin recovery, ensure a more consistent customer experience, and prepare for continued changes to come.

With that background, Theatro recently hosted a live discussion about setting the vision and roadmap for curbside operations with Adam San Miguel, Walgreens’ Director of Solutions Planning and Theatro’s Director of Customer Experience, Amy Bakos. After adopting Theatro in 2019 to streamline internal communications directly to every frontline team member, Walgreens launched its “Same Day Service” curbside delivery offering chainwide in late June. Adam shared insights from this journey during the conversation, which kicked off with Amy’s perspective on how her team is helping retailers in a variety of verticals approach curbside capabilities from fulfillment to delivery and beyond.

In a Limited Experience Setting, Execution is Everything for Curbside Retail Operations

Initially, Walgreens leveraged Theatro as a communication platform to drive speed of service for customers in the stores, as well as labor efficiencies. With the pandemic’s arrival, it quickly became apparent that these benefits could translate well to the curb. Their goal was to focus on “how well can we execute and continue to make sure we’re doing everything in a fast and extremely accurate manner…by adding in-ear alerts so our team members don’t miss anything.”

As execution at the curb becomes a differentiator, curbside has become an entry point for new traffic in addition to a retention tool. Amy added, “if you have a really great in-store experience, but your curbside experience is not, a customer may not come back and shop with you. But if you have a really great curbside experience, they’re more likely to come back and visit you again, and venture inside your store too.” Curbside is the tip of the iceberg – but if executed flawlessly, the promise of the full in-store experience becomes a compelling draw.

Despite the high stakes, retailers have struggled to master curbside operations. Why? The challenges with curbside execution are the same as before COVID, but now they’re much more exaggerated because of the increase in demand. With retailers seeing 10-20x growth in orders since March, curbside processes take on a life of their own, requiring dedicated processes and, beyond a certain volume threshold, personnel.

The Need for Agility in the Last Mile in Curbside Retail Operations

The real challenge is last mile execution. “Everything works until the customer shows up. Or they don’t show up. Or they show up early. Or they didn’t like that substitution you picked out, or they forgot the toothpaste.” One or two exceptions during a day aren’t a big issue. But at scale, this variability puts a major strain on teams’ productivity and their ability to meet customer expectations.

The other issue is the continuing changes. Adam noted, “we never to know what to expect, and these last few months have been a great example of that.” The key is to connect the team, with each other and with the information systems they need to pivot quickly. He continued, “number one, you need to have a platform to be agile on, but then you need to have the ability to make meaningful advancements very quickly.”

Incremental Evolution Allows Refinement…and Reinvention

While Walgreens initially rolled out with what he calls, “an MVP starting point,” the long-term plan is to ensure customers have the options they need and team members can fulfill those orders quickly and accurately – and that they’re utilizing all the assets they have in the stores in a unified manner to do so. “As we build out our curbside program and have more and more offerings, we plan on leveraging the platform to build a better user experience for our team members so they can execute more efficiently and really take care of the customer’s needs.”

Amy added, “the whole point of what we do at Theatro is to empower that frontline team member. We want their jobs to be easy. We’re looking for ways to that we can help improve their lives and help them deliver that experience the way they’re wanting and meaning to do.” A phased approach allows bite size changes and improvements to be implemented very quickly and easily. All the friction points can be addressed, they just can’t all be tackled at once.  “But it’s also putting in building blocks for future innovations and extensions of in-store experiences to the curb.”

Getting started – and iterating fast – are critical. Requirements and customer preferences will continue to evolve. As long as they keep identifying areas of missed opportunity to innovate on, retailers will be improving at each step and reinventing the shopping experience as they go. Companies like Walgreens are taking the opportunity this new service extension affords them to reimagine what they can do in the future to drive loyalty. The curb may very well become a jumping-off point for that innovation.

To hear more, watch the full video of the July 9th discussion, sponsored by Intel’s IoT Solutions Alliance, here: “Demystifying Retail’s New ‘Killer App’: A Roadmap for Curbside Operations.”