Curbside Pickup Gets Kicked to the Curb, Retailers Search for Alternatives


Logistics innovations

Early during the pandemic, retailers needed to find a way to get their goods into the hands of their customers. It was quite a challenge as businesses had to strike the right balance between convenience, cost, and social distancing. The answer then was curbside pickup.

The Shift Away From Curbside

Curbside pickup (also sometimes referred to as curbside delivery) is a service offered by retailers where customers order items online, drive to a designated pickup location and have their items brought out to their vehicle. Curbside pickup effectively extends the convenience of online shopping into the real world.

Today, as the pandemic slowly shrinks smaller in our collective rearview mirror, retailers are revisiting their curbside service offerings. Businesses are finding that while utilization of the service has plateaued, the cost of deploying curbside pickup continues to increase.

As employees return to tending to in-store patrons and other duties, retailers are learning the increasing costs associated with curbside service now exceed its value. This has resulted in companies like Kohl’s announcing the discontinuation of curbside delivery – and other retailers are sure to follow.

Customers returning to normal duties has meant longer wait times in the parking lot for curbside pickup. According to Aptos, a multi-channel technology vendor, once the wait time approaches 5 minutes, customers are no longer inclined to use a retailer’s curbside pickup service.

Now, retailers are searching for alternatives to meet their customers’ omnichannel expectations without chipping away at their margins. One such solution gaining popularity is the deployment of smart lockers.

BOPIS Remains Popular

Just because curbside pickup may be on the skids for retailers doesn’t mean buy-online, pickup-in-store (BOPIS) services should be abondoned all together. According to a March 2022 report completed by, BOPIS is continued to grow by more than 19% through 2027.

The projected growth isn’t surprising considering BOPIS affords the convenience of online shopping without long wait times or shipping charges. But do the benefits for the consumer translate into better business for the retailer?

Consider the following:

  • 67% of all U.S. shoppers used BOPIS during a six month period in 2022.
  • 49% of BOPIS users purchased more items during their pick up at the store.
  • 65% of shoppers choose BOPIS to avoid shipping charges.

Offering BOPIS is competitive advantage to attract customers away from other retailers, especially in geographic locations where retail competition is fierce. However, with high labor costs and limited capacity, the challenges curbside pickup presents to retailers aren’t much different than those facing an in-person BOPIS service.

Smart Lockers: A Logical Alternative

Over the past few years, retailers have learned customers want options when it comes to how they purchase and where they receive their purchases. Curbside pickup is found to still work wonderfully, but in two very specific use cases:

Grocery stores – Pushing a cart aisle by aisle seeking out all the items on your shopping list can be a tedious and time-consuming ordeal. This is why we are likely to see curbside pickup available at your local grocery for years to come.

Speedy pickups – For small orders, curbside is appealing for customers only when retailers can deliver to customer vehicles in under two minutes. Such expedient service is possible only with investments into geolocation technology and dedicated labor; two costs very few retailers are willing to expend.  

So, if you are not a grocery store or a retailer with on-demand staff and the latest geolocation software, what is the alternative?

Retailers are learning smart lockers check all the right boxes.

Yellow Retail Locker

Smart lockers can be customized to match your brand’s aesthetic.

Smart lockers are devices that automate the deposit, storage, and retrieval of goods in a manner that is fast and secure. For retailers, this means a solution to meet the customer’s omnichannel expectation without the labor overhead. In fact, smart lockers have advantages beyond what curbside could ever offer including:

Available 24/7 – Online purchases may be picked up at any time that fits the customer’s personal schedule. This means online purchases can be picked up after hours on the way home from work, early in the morning, or on weekends. 

Quick and easy – Unlike curbside pickup, which may require customers to wait, items can be picked up from a smart locker in just seconds, and in most cases faster than the traditional curbside pickup.

Unplanned purchases – Customers who use smart lockers often will make additional purchases while at a retailer. More importantly, is the ability to use smart lockers to prompt additional purchases using a variety of promotional strategies. 

Accept returns – Smart lockers can be configured to accept product returns without the need for repackaging or shipping through traditional, costly couriers. 

Advertising – Advertising can be sold to suppliers to display their products on the smart locker host terminal, receipt printouts, digital confirmations, overhead screens, and the locker itself, offsetting the smart locker’s operational costs. 

Low labor costs – Depositing online orders into a smart locker is fast with significantly less labor hours required when compared to traditional, in-person or curbside pickup. With integrated technologies, employees simply scan the order to automatically open a slot door, then make the deposit and clost the slot door – the smart locker handles the rest!

We’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to how smart lockers can offer a cost-effective and customer-centric experience to get your products to your customers faster. To learn more about how smart lockers can replace your curbside pickup offering, contact ParcelPort today.