As we start to see the re-opening of stores across the country, not everyone is looking forward to stepping inside malls and shopping centers. According to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, 67% of Americans say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a retail clothing store. What does this mean for the future of retail and brands who are gearing up to turn the lights back on?

New guidelines and ways of engagement are being put into place to ensure both store associates and shoppers are safe. Major retailers like Nordstrom plan to re-open their doors in the coming weeks. They are taking steps such as closing fitting rooms and adding plexiglass dividers to protect cashiers from customers at the check-out area. But is that enough to put shoppers at ease?

Ulta Beauty is one brand taking additional steps to meet customer demand while allaying concerns. Like several other retailers such as Home Depot and Tractor Supply, Ulta is offering an extension of its existing (and paused) buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) service with its newly announced curbside pick-up option.

With a major shift towards contactless order fulfillment, here are 5 ways that curbside pickup can help retailers be successful during this pandemic:

1. Reduce physical interaction. Yes, stores are opening up across the country, but it’s not the same store you are used to. Avoid social distancing challenges that may arise in your storefront by allowing shoppers to stay in their cars. Curbside pickup empowers store associates, and your physical store, to serve as a fulfillment channel. With a simple alert to the store upon arrival, shoppers can quickly grab their order, leverage contactless payment options, test products on-site and even process returns/exchanges. “While free Curbside Pickup is a new Plus member benefit, we recognize all of our members are looking for contact-free shopping options as part of the current environment,” said Lance de la Rosa, Chief Operating Officer, Sam’s Club.

2. Accelerate time to fulfill orders. Delivery channels are currently delayed and unpredictable. Retailers must be faster, more efficient, in fulfilling key necessities for shoppers. The coronavirus pandemic caused a surge in demand for products that people need to work from home. Companies like Best Buy met that demand by shifting entirely to curbside service and delivery. This allowed them to move in-store inventory quicker, while getting shoppers what they need within hours – not days or weeks.

3. Save on shipping costs. This one may seem like a no-brainer, but shipping can quickly make a drastic impact to your bottom line. Shoppers are demanding more, faster. But that comes at a cost. Curbside pickup cuts out the add-on cost to ship an order – a key differentiator between you and the competition.

4. Build customer loyalty. With so much unease around COVID-19, shoppers want to feel safe, but empowered, to continue shopping and maintaining some sense of normalcy as stores re-open. Retailers displaying safe means of engagement such as associates wearing masks and contactless payment will encourage shoppers to return to your brand. As a bonus, promotional discounts for shoppers who choose to leverage curbside will help move inventory and eliminate sales erosion.

CVS Health customers now can order items and pick them up curbside at a nearby CVS store at 21 locations across Massachusetts and New York. “With social distancing in place and our customers’ needs evolving, we remain committed to bringing our customers innovative solutions to safely meet their health and wellness needs,” says a CVS spokeswoman.

5. Enable shop local. In an effort to support small businesses, many shoppers are turning to neighborhood stores when purchasing must-have items. Regardless of how orders are placed (social, email or phone), the ability to deliver in a safe and convenient way will help keep small, local stores afloat.

The ability to offer curbside fulfillment starts with having an omnichannel view of your inventory, including what has been sitting on shelves for weeks. Order management software lets you orchestrate your entire fulfillment network with powerful core capabilities and next-level options such as curbside and BOPIS. On top of that, your in-store fulfillment engine will drive the overall efficiency to pick, pack and ship (or in this case, hand-deliver) each order. Of course, success during the “next” phase of retail depends on tactical and strategic decisions taken now in preparation of the new normal.

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