Retail solutions for curbside pickup: Be more effective with good data

Technology Writer

Retail solutions and marketing tactics can help brick-and-mortar stores narrow the gap with online retailers. These strategies can be even more effective when they're informed by the right data.

The appeal of curbside pickup

A strong example of this is curbside pickup: For consumers, buying products online can be convenient, but sometimes they don't want to wait four to eight days for delivery. With curbside pickup, however, they can order online and pick up their purchase a few hours later.

Though this seems like an obvious way for retailers to vie with online competitors, not many stores have done much with the idea yet. In fact, the movement is just getting started: According to TechCrunch, startup Curbside recently raised $34.5 million for its app, which facilitates curbside pickup for select Target and Best Buy stores in the Bay Area.

Wal-Mart is also testing same-day pickup, and this move by the world's top retailers may spur other stores to offer the same types of retail solutions. If companies are able to get consumers in the habit of shopping online and then coming by for a pickup, there will be opportunities to increase sales by tapping data.

Tailored curbside recommendations

One way to use big data to increase sales is to recommend products that the customer has shown interest in or are similar to ones he or she has purchased before. If you regularly visit Amazon, for instance, you'll see a list of items that you might be interested in. If you bought or read a review for Jonathan Franzen's new book, "Purity," then the recommendation engine might suggest one of his previous books or a book by another well-regarded author like Donna Tartt.

Retailers can leverage their historical purchasing data in the same way and apply it to curbside pickup customers. If a customer buys wool socks every October, for instance, then that would be a reasonable product to suggest via the curbside pickup application in late September. Other types of recommendations could be based on complementary products, like cookies and milk, or seasonal purchases, such as rock salt and shovels in the winter. The uses of data are almost limitless and can be based on any conceivable pattern, be it the weather, suggesting customers stock up on food if a hurricane is in the forecast, or fads, like the jogger pants and rompers that are currently in style.

Pairing product suggestions with tempting offers

Another method of maximizing consumer interaction is by offering tempting discounts or deals based on receptivity to suggested items. For example, if a retailer has suggested an item three times with no purchase, then it might consider experimenting with a discount offer.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, retailers have starting being more cautious with discounts and often create a two-tiered "discount divide." In this strategy, consumers who responded to discount offers receive coupons, while shoppers who tend to buy products at full price are not sent as many special offers. This is the result of years of data that shows around 20 percent of consumers only buy items when they're on sale.

Encourage impulse buys

Finally, curbside pickup offers an opportunity for retailers to add impulse purchases to the sale. How? Imagine that a consumer gets a text reminder that her order of groceries is ready for pickup. The text could include a prompt like, "Did you forget the milk? Add a gallon of skim for $3.86." These suggestions can be based on purchasing patterns and the success rate of such prompts with different demographics.

Refining communications

If curbside becomes viable, retailers will be able to take advantage of machine learning and artificial intelligence, which will make suggestions more enticing over time. It's not a bad deal on the consumers' end, either, since everyone can use a reminder from time to time of items they might need to purchase.

Perhaps someday smart refrigerators will be able to track when the milk is running low and automatically order it. Then a self-driving car can go pick it up. Until that day, however, the convenience of curbside pickup will be a big improvement over the way society has traditionally shopped.

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