Maximizing Space for In-Store, Curbside Grocery Pickup: A Guide for Grocers

June 28, 2023

What is Grocery Pickup?

For grocery retailers, the Covid-19 pandemic not only impacted their bottom line – it also changed the way they do business. In 2022, grocery store curbside pickup was one of the fastest-growing fulfillment models  – with no signs of slowing down.

Top Challenges and Benefits of Expanding to Curbside Pickup

With curbside demand higher than ever, grocery retailers are forced to reimagine their stores and incorporate new technology to create seamless, digitized pickup experiences that both increases each store’s fulfillment capacity and its overall profitability.

Many grocers are adjusting their store format by reducing the customer space to add more fulfillment space within the store. Today, one of the main focus areas for grocery retailers is how to balance their in-store space with curbside pick-up and click-and-collect services.

However, not all grocery retailers are able to make significant changes to their facilities right away, especially in smaller store locations. Some of the challenges can include:

  • Limited visibility – Pulling existing employees away from their regular duties to act as loaders can cause a tremendous amount of disruption and inefficiency. In addition, not knowing when to expect customers to arrive can lead to curbside congestion.
  • High customer expectations – One subpar pickup experience can wreak havoc on your store’s reputation. Waiting in line for 30 minutes to get an order loaded will frustrate even the most loyal customers.
  • Packing and staging orders in temperature-controlled environments – In order to maintain quality standards for pickup, devoting square footage to store products in temperature-controlled areas presents a huge infrastructural challenge, especially for smaller retailers with space limitations.
  • Potentially losing money by allocating space towards curbside fulfillment Dedicating permanent space to curbside business can potentially affect profits when e-commerce orders fluctuate.

Related Read: Rising to the Challenge: How Grocers Can Meet Growing Curbside Pickup Demand

 4 Steps to Expand Curbside Pickup (Without Expanding Space)

With demand for curbside pickup getting bigger every day, grocery retailers must get creative in how they expand their offerings, to fully meet the demand of their customers. Neglecting to expand your curbside pickup services can present a competitive vulnerability – and an easy opportunity for a competitor to poach your valued customers.

With the right planning, there’s no reason that any-size store can’t enjoy the benefits of expanding to in-store and curbside pickup. By designing an e-commerce-friendly floor plan and allocating parking spots for online orders, you can utilize space planning options such as using existing cold storage and shelves, or investing in micro-fulfillment systems and other automated technology and equipment.

Here are a few guidelines to consider as you expand your curbside capabilities:

1. Analyze Your Customers’ Needs

To start, you must spend some time thinking about what your customers are really looking for in regard to grocery pickup – and build your store setup around those needs. All customers want an efficient and streamlined pickup experience and the flexibility of choosing the pickup day and time that’s most convenient for their schedules. As most customers will buy fresh or frozen items on each shopping trip, you’ll need to allocate the right amount of cold storage space to keep food at the right temperature after the order is picked and stored. Additionally, you’ll need to plan for how to handle replacement items (if a specific item is unavailable), or special options such as gift card purchases. Lastly, once your pickup orders have hit a regular pace, you can plan for a maximum number of orders you can effectively handle, per day. And for optimum efficiency, you should build in the flexibility to be able to turn off some of your cooling storage as needed – depending on order volume.

2. Measure Your Available Space to Create Ideal Floor Plan

To plan your space, start by evaluating the area where you plan to create storage for grocery pickup. Measure the width, length, and height of the room – and note any obstacles such as furniture, windows, or doors. Assess if you have enough space for a central pickup location, or if multiple pickup points are needed.

Based on your available space, your customers’ needs and their shopping behaviors, create an ideal floor plan for your grocery pickup area. To reduce wait times, consider adding an efficient bin system that organizes customers’ orders. Explore options that can provide additional space, such as multi-level aisles, racks, or automation technology. Outside the store, be sure to allocate parking spots and create aisles that can easily fit standard shopping carts.

3. Utilize Existing Cold Storage and Shelves

To help you meet the growing demand for online orders in a cost-effective way, analyze your cold storage needs and make use of any existing cold storage and shelves in the store. In addition, assess whether your other in-store shelving can be modified to be used for cold storage. Innovative, modern technologies such as solid-state refrigerator and freezer totes can help you expand your curbside and pickup services without moving into a bigger space or having to sacrifice sales or floor space.

Related Read: From Costly to Cost-Effective: How Cold Storage Tech Helps Grocers Make More Money

4. Consider Curbside Pickup Technology

Online grocery sales are expected to increase at 10 times the rate of in-store sales over the next five years. To meet this growing demand, you may want to conder incorporating innovative grocery retail technology to help you boost efficiency and minimize the use of manual labor. External resources such as automated micro-fulfillment systems, multi-level aisles or racks, and automation technology and equipment can help you provide a safe and seamless e-commerce experience for your customers. Consider solutions such as powered carts to help with order picking, staging, and curbside delivery.

Related Read: On-Demand, Portable Cooling for the Hottest, Most Rapidly Expanding Segment in Grocery

Boost Sales and Customer Service with Efficient Curbside Pickup

Grocery e-commerce and curbside pickup continue to grow in popularity with Americans – which puts pressure on grocery retailers to expand their services, and sometimes their physical footprint. Although there are several challenges in expanding your environment to meet this new reality, the benefits are innumerable. As more and more customers embrace this new reality of online orders and grocery pickup, you can keep them happy and keep sales high with a few strategic adjustments to your space. By reimagining your retail environment and adding supplemental technology where needed, you can position your store to not only meet the demands of today – but to thrive in tomorrow’s e-commerce-driven marketplace.

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