For over two decades, Pat Convery, retired former president of the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce, perused the aisles of her local Kroger store in Hartland, Michigan, almost every week to shop for groceries. Then, the pandemic hit, and like most shoppers, she had to quickly change her routine. Convery started relying on Kroger’s curbside pickup option. In those early days, Convery says Kroger took days to fulfill orders. But as the months wore on, the delivery order windows shortened dramatically. Now, if Convery orders in the morning, she can expect to get her items in the late afternoon.
“Now it’s pretty routine, and I think it’s because Kroger has gotten the hang of it, and it’s all more efficient on their end,” she says.
The rapid rollout and adoption of curbside pickup by businesses like Kroger is just one example of the myriad ways brick-and-mortar retailers, which saw foot traffic plunge nearly 83% in the spring of 2020, reimagined the shopping experience during the pandemic. The retail industry has been on a steady rebound since June 2020, ushering shoppers back into a sanitized, socially distanced shopping experience, where safety is paramount and options like online shopping, curbside pickup, and contactless payment are more common. Retailers have embraced this unprecedented situation to transform the shopping experience, changing seemingly entrenched consumer habits almost overnight and redefining shopping as we know it through technology.
“The pandemic accelerated the table stakes of digital transformation, the things that companies already should have been doing,” says Omar Akhtar, research director for the research firm Altimeter. “But it’s also normalized some of the innovation that may have been seen as too far-fetched before the pandemic.”
The reimagined store
Many consumers, like Convery, say they’ll stick with shopping behaviors they adopted during the pandemic. An IPSOS survey found that 78% of shoppers increased their use of buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) services, and 69% expect to continue shopping that way, arguably because they’ve become used to the sheer convenience.
But as COVID cases go down and vaccination rates go up, retailers are banking on shoppers returning to their stores in person. And to draw them back in, retailers are enhancing their shopping experience. As consumers re-enter the retail store, passing by designated curbside pickup spots on the way, they’ll discover items they may not have expected to buy, and encounter more spacious aisles, sanitizer stations, and signs alerting them to safety precautions — all part of the new normal.