As the world continues to grapple with the deadly coronavirus and social distancing guidelines extended through April 30 , a growing number of retailers are using the same technology that has helped with crowd control during holiday shopping to limit potential exposure to COVID-19 for consumers and employees. Buy-online and pickup-in-store orders, which includes curbside, jumped 87% year over year between late February and March 29th, according to data from Adobe Analytics.
“As the public became more informed on COVID-19, we saw a rush to stock up on essentials," Vivek Pandya, a lead analyst for Adobe, told USA TODAY. “But, increased awareness of social distancing meant that consumers grew weary of spending too much time inside physical stores.”
Yet many shoppers trying to order essentials online like toilet paper or hand sanitizer quickly found "out of stock" messages or canceled orders — a side effect of panic shopping.
Just as stores have not been prepared for the daily influx of shoppers waiting outside for hours before opening, online systems weren't designed for so many people to order at the same time, said David Marcotte, senior vice president of cross-border retail for Kantar Consulting .
"This is not working very well at the moment," Marcotte said. "A lot of people are trying to do curbside and discovering they have to go into the store to do their normal shopping anyway."
Pre-COVID-19, many retailers were fulfilling orders in a matter of hours. Now it can take days – if there's even an open window for grocery orders.
"That makes it difficult for the stores, and it's one reason you're seeing this mass hiring as retailers are trying to get more employees into the system to start fulfilling orders," Marcotte said. "In another two to three weeks, this might start working more effectively."
Target, considered an early adopter to curbside pickup, which it calls Drive Up, has had delays in completing orders at its nearly 1,900 stores because of the demand. The retailer giant said in a blog post that it has dedicated more parking spaces and staff who place orders in trunks or back seats of cars. It's also made the confirmation process contactless by eliminating signatures on handheld devices.
Some retailers are offering curbside pickup while stores are temporarily shuttered as a way to keep the lights on and still provide "essential goods," ranging from electronics to arts and crafts products that can be used to make face masks.
For stores staying open, it provides convenience and lowers the number of people in the aisles.
COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of curbside in some cases, said Greg Portell, lead partner in the global consumer practice of Kearney, a strategy and management consulting firm.
“It is important to note that this is due to necessity rather than purely being about consumer preference,” Portell said. “The push on curbside pickup has forced retailers to improve how they deliver the service.”