If you found your brand in sudden need of low-contact order fulfillment methods with the onset of COVID-19, you’re not alone. Restaurants, retailers, and other local businesses were left scrambling to establish new ways of doing business as consumers were forced out of shops, workplaces, and routines.
Curbside pickup, in particular, became an attractive option for customers looking to have their needs met without potential exposure to the virus. Early on in the pandemic, in April 2020, Google was already recommending that businesses use pickup, delivery, and curbside pickup attributes to highlight the availability of these options in Google My Business listings.
How can your brand better market curbside pickup availability to connect with shoppers and diners who prefer not to do business in-store? In this column, we’ll explore different ways multi-location brands can enhance the visibility of alternative fulfillment methods at the local level and drive more conversions from search to curbside pickup or delivery.
Local Customers Have Come to Expect Curbside Pickup
Retailers found that offering curbside pickup was not only effective for saving some revenue and avoiding associated transportation costs with delivery options, but expected by local customers. It was a welcome relief at a time when everyone was grappling with new safety protocols, limited store hours, and store closures.
We may be in it now for the long haul, though. Even once vaccines are widely available and some level of immunity is achieved, consumer behavior has changed dramatically—maybe forever. In fact, close to half of consumers expect to retain these changed behaviors after the pandemic is over.
Google Search volume spiked in early April 2020, but interest in the shopping method has remained higher than pre-pandemic.
Curbside pickup is here to stay.
Consistency in Location Information is a Key Aspect of Customer Experience
With a hefty portion of customers admitting to switching brands or retailers for better convenience since the onset of the pandemic, businesses need to keep prioritizing the customer experience. More and more often, that experience begins with a search.
Companies with sites in multiple locations tend to struggle to keep local listings and online business profiles up-to-date unless they have the technology and processes in place to support real-time monitoring and updates.
However, it’s critical for brands to get this right. Inaccurate or outdated information on one of your store or restaurant’s GMB listings can leave a long-lasting negative impression on potential customers. For example, if you advertise curbside pickup but there are a few outliers in your enterprise that do not offer the service, customers who visit that location will have a poor experience. In doing so, you risk tarnishing your reputation and losing trust—both with local searchers and with Google.
Consumers opting for curbside pickup are also prioritizing immediacy; they don’t want to wait for their items to be shipped. Instead, they want to be able to see at a glance whether their local store offers pickup options, for which items, and at which times.
Those looking to make the most of their GMB opportunities need to keep current on these new attributes available for their specific business type.
In addition, Google recommends checking and updating the following information:
- Business hours – registering any change of hours, secondary hours, or temporary closures.
- Delivery options – these include delivery, pickup, and in-store shopping.
- Health and safety – letting customers know about any safety measures in place, including masks to be worn.
- Google Posts – these are great for providing information about any extra services not otherwise covered and whether customers can expect any delays.
- Contact information – to allow customers to speak to someone onsite.
- Messaging – this provides customers with another way of getting in touch with you should they have any queries or concerns.
Surveys show that a staggering one in three customers would choose to walk away from a company they love because of a single negative experience. With this being the response from a previously loyal customer, just imagine the kind of impact this one bad experience could have on a searcher who hasn’t had any other experience yet with your brand.
Go Deeper & Feed Local Customer Needs at the Consideration Stage
The pandemic has turned even the most routine tasks—getting groceries, picking up a prescription, or grabbing dinner—into a journey fraught with questions.
- Who has what I need?
- Are they open right now?
- Do employees wear masks, and do I need to wear one?
- Can’t I just order ahead and pick it up?
Today, customers need more in-depth information about local businesses than they ever have before, which explains why visits to local landing pages have increased exponentially.
Local searchers want to see descriptions of the location, parking information, local landmarks, driving directions, photos of the interior and exterior, local reviews, and more. All of this helps inform a local customer’s decision to choose one brand over another—and all of these are elements of a well-optimized Local Page.
It’s also important that search engines can understand the content of your Local Pages, so they can see the relevance of that page to any given local consumer’s search query. Make sure your local landing pages are properly marked up with schema, which can also help trigger featured snippets and other rich search results.
The Necessity of Real-time Local Updates
Companies with physical stores and fixed opening times have never really had to contend with variable information outside of weather events and holidays. However, with things at present in a constant state of flux, you can’t just set up curbside pickup information relevant to each site and be done with it.
Communicating changes to your customers is critical for all the reasons covered above. Suppose curbside pickup isn’t available on a specific day due to staffing issues, weather, safety issues, etc. In that case, the brand and its locations need a reasonably quick and painless way of updating their customers on which locations are open and which are not. Special Hours won’t work here—not if the location is still open to walk-in or delivery service.
Brands must be able to update location information in as near to real-time as possible at both a high-level (brand-wide) and granularly (for each location, or groups of locations). Engaging local managers and franchise owners is a great way to ensure local information is kept up to date, but the enterprise needs to ensure consistency and ongoing participation in order for this to work.
Look for a solution that enables both brand and local access, with publishing permissions and other controls in place.
Make the Most of Curbside Interactions
The lack of facetime inherent to surviving a pandemic is taking its toll on human relationships, and interactions between local businesses and the customers they serve are no exception.
How can you connect with customers if they never set foot inside your location?
It might be time to invest in an e-commerce experience, even if it’s for online ordering only and instead of shipping, customers pick up curbside or have items delivered. This can facilitate personalized recommendations, cross-selling and upselling, and other aspects of the traditional shopping experience that your customers may be missing out on with phone-in orders.
SMS push notifications could be used to enhance the curbside pickup experience by providing helpful instructions or other useful information to customers as they await their pickup.
Think about the physical space used for curbside pickup, as well. Are there any opportunities there to create a drive-through experience for customers en route to pickup? Could you display promotions or offer upsells at pickup?
Difficult times call for level heads, creativity, and innovation.
Finding new ways to meet local customers’ needs doesn’t mean starting over; in fact, applying best practices in your local listings and landing pages is more important than ever. Are you effectively communicating and marketing curbside pickup and other fulfillment options across all of your locations? Let’s take a look and see how your local presence appears to motivated searchers—and the search engines that direct them to you.