An examination of the curbside pickup experience

As states have introduced restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, most restaurant and retail organizations have worked quickly to shift operations to phone/online ordering and curbside pickup. While curbside pickup has reduced the number of in-person interactions required, each companys' implementation and success has been wildly different. Restaurants built on years of takeout/delivery experience are thriving while some sit-down restaurants and retail stores are struggling to adapt.

Let's talk, with a smattering of snark and candor, about some of the curbside pickup experiences I've seen in the wild, where they fall short, and how they can be better.

# What do customers want?

I want to arrive, let you know I'm here, and get my order. That's it. No muss, no fuss.

This is surprisingly difficult to find. Let's dive into some of the major pain points.

# Don't force me to go inside your establishment

We aren't all wearing holsters strapped with lysol cans looking for germs to spray. If you aren't enforcing social distancing guidelines and promoting customer/employee safety in public, I don't have high confidence you're doing so behind closed doors.

Customers are unlikely to return if they feel required to sanitize all goods purchased from your business.

We know your top priority is keeping your staff healthy and your building clean so it can stay open. In addition to the impact on sick employees and their families, you're facing a quarantine, deep cleaning, and sanitization. This is a huge expenditure and loss of revenue that lasts beyond reopening day. No one is champing at the bit to patronize a business immediately after a reported COVID-19 outbreak.

Even if your state is re-opening, reported cases continue to rise. This isn't going away anytime soon.

Limit exposure to limit business risk.

Instead of forcing me to go inside, make me wait outside of the building, in my car, or outdoors. I don't need to be breathing on you or another customer's food.

# Don't make me install an app

I know, I know. You've got an app. You want to send me push notifications with the latest deals. Bump those engagement metrics, I get it.

Not all customers want to be part of your loyalty program.

The app might be a worthwhile experience once I have it, but think about how this plays out for those who don't. We’re expecting a quick interaction and pickup and this isn’t it.

I pull into the parking lot to pick up my order of Sriracha, Lucky Charms, and toilet paper. Before I can get my order I have to wait to download your app, accept permissions, and sign up for an account. Do I already have an account? What is my password? I have to do all of this just to let you know that I’m here to pick up my order. Too many hoops that take too long.

What is the market penetration for your app amongst your customer base? What percentage of those customers without the app will purchase for curbside pickup? These are all of the customers that are negatively impacted by this process.

"I should receive my order and leave in less time than it takes me to download your app."

Andrew Hawker

Consumer of goods and services

Instead of an app, why not a website? I don't have to download it and it's accessible by every smartphone on the planet. Make it available via a QR code, NFC tag, or short url. Heck, include it in my receipt. Viewing a website and providing my information is infinitely (math checks out) faster than installing an app.

# Do not make me wait on hold

You only have one phone line that you're using for curbside pickup calls and taking new orders. Not great.

Einstein wrote a paper in 1905 positing that flavor = time * salt / moisture ^ 2. Once it enters that clamshell, takeout food has a shelf life of around four seconds. The longer I have to wait to notify you that I'm waiting decreases the quality of the food exponentially. Soggy burger buns make me question returning to your restaurant and humanity in general.

Help me help you.

Don't make me block your phone line from taking new orders while I tell you that I'm in parking spot #4 driving a Pontiac Fiero and would like extra ketchup. How many potential customers call back a restaurant to make an order if the line is busy? How many potential food orders are you losing?

Instead of waiting on hold, I'd rather do anything else. Do you have a business line with multiple numbers? Use a different one to separate orders and pickups. Use different phone extensions. Use anything other than the phone for pickups if it's going to be in contention!

# Don't ask for redundant information

Why do you need my name and order ID? Why aren't your order IDs unique? A description of my car? I just gave you the reserved pickup parking spot number I'm in.

I'm wearing a hat. Does that help?

I made a curbside pickup at a big box electronics company recently. I filled out the required online check in form upon arrival. A worker came to my car, asked me if I had filled out the form and then proceeded to ask me for the same exact information that I had already provided.

Don't ask for three pieces of information when one will suffice and sure as heck don’t ask twice!

Dr. Seuss

Ambassador of curbside pickup, Whoville.

Instead of asking for more, change your workflow to ask for less. To complete a curbside pickup, you only need information for the following:

  • Uniquely identify an order
  • Identify my current physical location

Leverage technology for this.

Provide customers unique order identifiers in their email receipts that can be easily referenced. Identify your reserved curbside pickup spaces with separate phone extensions or unique QR codes. Customers notifying you that they are waiting will automatically have location context provided. Are they in parking spot #3? Are they at the side door? That's another piece of information you don't have to ask for and they don't have to think about.

# What tools are available to help?

With all that said, I am biased. I have a dog soggy bun in this fight. I built Routegy to create wonderful customer experiences within physical spaces and since the COVID-19 pandemic, people have started leveraging it to improve their own curbside pickup experiences.

With Routegy, you can create signage outside of your establishment with QR codes and/or NFC tags that customers can interact with directly from their phones. Customers are asked for only the information you need to identify their order and Routegy will gather the rest. That's it. No app required!

With Routegy’s integrations, employees inside are instantly notified when customers arrive and have relevant order information at their fingertips. Once an order is delivered to the customer, it can simply be marked as done.

# Want to learn more?

Routegy is helping a number of local businesses in the Washington area with contactless curbside pickup. Take a look at our case study for Orenji Sushi & Noodles, our contactless curbside pickup tutorial, or contact us at

# Don't want to use Routegy?

Hey, that's fine too. I hope after reading this that you've discovered some ways to improve your own curbside experience to build loyal customers and fans.

Using different tools/technology? Looking for an integration with your PoS system? Want to discuss problems you're experiencing with curbside pickup? I'd love to hear about them in our comments section for this post.

Last Updated: 7/20/2020, 10:10:14 PM