As the country continues to battle COVID-19, many businesses are having to adapt at staggering speeds or face closure. In some states, "non-essential" businesses are forced to close and others are operating on skeleton crews. As states begin to shed light on how and when businesses can begin to reopen, businesses should think about how to support sales in this new economy.
Various indicators show customers are less likely to shop in crowded stores and significantly more likely to order online with contactless pickup. Business must adapt or face closures as COVID-19 will affect retail for quite some time.
The concept of ship from store, or store pickup, is not new to multichannel businesses. However, many smaller retailers are being forced into this model without necessarily having the infrastructure and systems to support them cleanly. If you have decided that you have to close temporarily, this maybe an option for reopening your retail store long before reopening the retail floor to customer shopping.
This article walks through the considerations for implementing store level picking of customer orders and curbside pickup during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also discuss in more detail the considerations you need to consider when implementing this process. For many businesses without the infrastructure and systems, this means keeping process clean and simple so that your workers can easily follow them and support the customer.
Order Taking and Customer Service
There are a large number of small retailers that do not have the ability to take an online order from their site. These businesses will need to be creative in how they can take a phone or email order from a customer. Some potential barriers to off-site ordering include:
- The difficulty in having a customer provide a specific SKU in an assortment that they want to order.
- Customers will want to know stock availability, which further complicates the process.
- Without being SKU specific, the process is ineffective for returns and exchanges.
Retailers must think through the following aspects in taking orders:
- How will you accept orders from customers if you do not have an ecommerce site? Will you take calls and emails for ordering purposes?
- How will you check inventory within a store? Will you utilize the store POS to provide inventory status to customers?
- Will you limit payments to only credit cards taken by phone or online to remain contact free?
- Are you setup to pre-authorize the credit card to know funds are available before picking? If you charge card upfront without knowing inventory status and availability, then there will be more credit/refunds before customer pickup.
- Do your current systems allow you to capture an order, or will you have to take down these orders manually? You will need to be sure you are capturing the following:
- Date of order received
- Order by: Name, phone, and email. Some retailers will want to capture the address as well, for marketing purposes.
- Pick up name, if not the customer. Retailers must decide if they will allow someone else to pickup the order.
- Product: SKU/Part #, Item description, quantity, price per unit
- Credit card information: Credit card number, expiration date, CID number. It is critical to maintain strict PCI compliance. Writing down credit card information exposes this customer data and is a risk.
- How will you make sure that you are calculating sales tax appropriately through the POS when capturing the order manually?
For most retailers, you will be picking one order at a time (discreet order picking). This is slowest type of picking, but without systems that can facilitate the picking process, this is the only way to pick.
Retailers will need to consider how they will pick the orders:
- What will you utilize for a picking document, referred to as a pick ticket? This information would clearly identify the items and quantities to be picked from the floor. Will this be generated from your POS system or a handwritten document?
- Will you utilize a picking cart to hold multiple customer orders at one time?
Staging of Customer Orders
Once the orders are picked, it's important to stage the orders so that workers can quickly - and easily - pull orders for customers awaiting pickup.
Consider the following:
- How will you stage the orders awaiting pickup? Do you have floor space to stage these orders?
- How will you bundle, bag, or box the customer order?
- Will you utilize shelving or racking to stage these orders within the store?
- How will you tag orders so they can easily be located? For many retailers, this is a manual process. Instead, consider utilizing a large ticket or tag that includes vital information. Many retailers are using some form of the following information affixed to the exterior of the order:
- First 4 to 5 characters of the last name in large print.
- First initial of the first name in large print.
- Last 4 digits of the phone number.
- Package count (1 of 2, 2 of 2 etc.)
Returns, Credits and Exchanges
With this type of ordering, customers will be inadvertently order the wrong item from time to time. Retailers will need to decide which returns and exchanges will be accepted and how this will be communicated with the customer. These policies must be communicated with the customer when the orders are placed so the customer is well informed.
Businesses should consider the following:
- What returns and exchanges will you accept from customers?
- How will you clearly communicate the policy with customers?
- How will you clean and sanitize the returns and exchanges? If inventory needs to be destroyed, do you know how you will handle this – both writing off the inventory and getting rid of the inventory?
- How will these policies and procedures account for miss-picks caused by workers trying to learn the new process?
There are many advantages to your store already having a website and online ordering, such as the ability to edit items, look up customer accounts, provide secure credit transactions, provide order status, address validation and verification of sales tax, process fees, provide item availability and send messages such as order confirmations and order readiness for pick up curbside.
Without these types of systems, you will need to acknowledge the order by giving some idea of when order will be picked and available via text or email. For retailers offering contactless curbside pickup, how will customers notify you when they arrive at the store for pickup? For retailers that have control over the parking, designate spots for pickup. Customers can then simply call or text when they arrive and provide their name so that workers can pull their order.
Adhere to CDC and Government Guidelines
We are not advocating violation of any directives or proclamations by health and safety agencies; by local, state or Federal government; by the Centers For Disease Control (CDC); or OSHA regulations in dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. First and foremost, your priority should be employee and customer safety.
The CDC and OSHA layout clear procedures for operations in this COVID-19 crisis. Here is one from the CDC on disinfecting your facility.
Store pick-curbside pickup may be a way for your business to stay in business or get back in business during the coronavirus pandemic. There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Thinking through these questions will streamline the process.
We know business are creative and do what it takes to keep the doors open. It is our prayer that your employees and families stay safe and your business thrives after this crisis.