OPINIONIndustry Partners

Scaling Grocery Pickup Programs for the Holiday Season

Tips for wrapping up a pandemic holiday shopping strategy
Image courtesy Mercatus

The holiday season preparations have begun for a year that will look very different from others. But what remains the same is that consumers will be looking for the food central to special celebrations, and quick meals to fuel them during this busy month. This year, shoppers are also seeking safe and healthy options, leaning on grocery retailers to supply the products that meet their needs.

Demand for curbside pickup surged by 370% in second-quarter 2020, according to Incisiv’s 2020 Grocery Digital Maturity Benchmark report. Based on the rush we saw in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you can expect an even greater number of orders the week before Dec. 25. But be sure to prepare for a monthlong rush, with Hanukkah beginning Dec. 10, and shortly after, Christmas will bring even more orders leading up to New Year’s Eve.

How can grocers best prepare for the increase in traffic this holiday season? Here are five tips:

1. Maximize Your Floor Space

Higher order volume sales require more efficient fulfillment techniques. Augment your current storefronts by working with your operations team to identify opportunities that maximize floor space utility in a safe manner. You can leverage traditional marketing techniques such as placing high-demand products at endcaps and in displays to make them easier to find for physically distancing customers and pickers. Have you set up dedicated paths to reduce in-store congestion this year? If so, consider how those paths may factor into reorganizing your plan-o-grams.

2021 Tip: When you invest in future expansion of your pickup program, consider options that will fit your business needs. These could range from adding a dedicated pickup area near the front of the store to adding a microfulfillment center or warehouse.

2. Bundle Up Popular Products

Another way to add some speed into the mix is to pre-pack bundles of holiday essentials. This makes fulfillment more efficient, and it allows pickers and in-store shoppers to choose items commonly purchased together in a single click. Examples could include holiday table accessories (paper napkins, Christmas crackers, candles), festive snacks (sweets, nuts in the shell, special chocolates), or main ingredients for a holiday meal.

3. Cater to Rushed Shoppers

Buying prepared meals is one of the ways many shoppers can affordably delegate a time-consuming chore. With many restaurants closed or only providing takeout or delivery, customers will be looking to you more often for a helping hand at meal time. Dedicate more space at your existing prepared food stations and prep areas for anticipated order influxes. Update your prepared meals menu to account for seasonality and holidays. And streamline the online shopping experience for customers by categorizing meals by key factors like dietary preferences and number of people they feed.

4. Increase Curbside Pickup Parking

Reduce the risk of order handoff mishaps by dedicating more, clearly marked parking spaces for curbside pickup (space permitting). With more shoppers using dedicated parking spots, your employees can easily locate customers for a fast and seamless order handoff.

2021 Tip: In the new year, consider technology enhancements that can empower employees to communicate with shoppers in real-time and track expected time of arrival down to the minute.

5. Employ a Compassionate Marketing Strategy

This year has been especially difficult for consumers and retail employees, but with compassionate marketing, you can support both without compromising your bottom line. Promoting those product bundles can also serve to help shoppers find the right product offers at the right price point for their budget ($30 meals, $10 dinner for two) instead of driving sales with traditional marketing tactics like “Buy 1, Get 1 Free." By promoting off-peak hours to your customers through email, social media and on your website, you can encourage safe and responsible shopping in-store, while filling up less popular online order time slots.

Taking the time to make adjustments to better serve shoppers during this festive season will leave a warm glow among COVID-fatigued customers. It also sets the stage for long-term success by turning those customers into loyal online shoppers. 

Sylvain Perrier is president and CEO of Mercatus.

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