Pickup, Curbside, and Delivery after COVID-19 was written by Steven Baker, AIA, NCARB, Meghan Vincent, AIA, NCARB, Rebekah Wierson, Miranda Sawyer, NCARB, Justin Whiteside, Assoc. AIA, Lindsey Huntsman, and Michelle Mace.

Before this outbreak, consumers had extensive choices regarding where to shop, what to eat, and what convenience retail looked like daily. Many had already started embracing the trend towards online shopping, in-store pickup, meal carry-out, or delivery. Those retailers who hadn't previously adopted these services are now challenged to quickly implement solutions to help customers maintain social distance and avoid contact with others as much as possible. This makes alternative shopping methods much more valuable to both customers and retailers. Proof of concept: the number of orders purchased online and picked up in-store via avenues like curbside pickup increased 208% between April 1 and April 20, compared to the same period in 2019. (Source: CNBC)

This begs the question—what happens next? When doors reopen, how can companies maintain the trend towards social distancing as part of their business model? And how can the design industry help shape the future response? First, understanding how businesses have responded to date is the most crucial part of the implementation process.

What Are the Primary Changes Across the Retail, Restaurant, and Convenience Store Industries in Response to COVID-19?

As the world slowly moves through a phased approach to reopening stores, restaurants, and other businesses, we as designers must be mindful of the fear and unease customers may have in returning to a crowded retail environment. We have seen a variety of reactionary measures implemented across the retail sector already: from one-way aisles in the supermarket to increased numbers of designated pickup spots outside restaurants to striped lines on the ground and plastic shields in front of the checkout that help customers maintain social distance from both employees and each other. We know not all of these solutions are designed for the long term. Still, they are necessary given our current circumstances, and consumers seem to have readily embraced this approach thus far.

When looking towards the future, businesses must evaluate these reactionary measures and determine which require permanent solutions. Now more than ever, the customer experience of a brand is significant for instilling confidence in its consumers. We can help our clients design safe spaces and comfortable experiences for all through socially conscious design. This is where extensive experience with the proposed options for responsibly distanced shopping (or RDS) come into play to determine the best fit for each unique company.

What Are the Different Responsibly Distanced Shopping Options?  

There are three primary methods for responsibly distanced shopping: in-store pickup, curbside, and delivery. These all have the mobile (or online) ordering system as the primary step of their process, with variation in the actual acquisition of food or products.

  • With Pick-up, or BOPIS (Buy Online Pick-up in Store), the consumer places their order online and travels to the pickup location to get the items themselves. This requires employees to gather orders before the pickup time and a storage location where customers can go to find their items quickly.
  • Curbside (or pump-side, in the convenience store example) follows the same pattern of online ordering and employee gathering, but with the added convenience of the products being placed in the car by employees at a designated parking or pump-side location.  
  • Delivery is the only option where shopping does not require the consumer ever to leave their home. They simply place their order online and have it delivered to their desired location. Many brands implement this through third-party delivery vendors.

This study will focus on critical components for successful implementation of pick-up, curbside, and delivery services in retail settings.

How Can Convenience Stores Implement RDS?  

Convenience stores have led the charge, in many ways, concerning the COVID-19 retail response. Deemed an essential business from the start, they have had to mobilize extremely quickly to comply with current governmental restrictions on operations. However, unlike the retail or restaurant sectors, where pickup, curbside, and delivery options have been embraced for some time, this is a relatively new model for c-stores. Indeed, the industry has trended this way for some time, as we've seen various solutions offered by many different retailers.  Still, we have not seen any one method taking a significant foothold. It's become clear that an efficient pickup, curbside, and delivery solution is now a business necessity, both for public health concerns as well as for the store's retail success.

But the critical question for the c-store retailer is this: how can we provide an RDS solution that limits customer/employee interaction while still providing a welcoming and convenient customer experience that one has come to expect their local neighborhood store? And perhaps more importantly, how do we do it on sites which lack the generous square footage of large retailers and grocery stores in both parking spaces and storage? The spatial constraints of the convenience store site, particularly when a retail fuel element is provided, make the pickup, curbside, and delivery solution challenging, but not impossible.

The standard requirements to seamlessly execute pickup, curbside, and delivery options at c-stores includes:  

  • Storage space for orders (dry, cooler, freezer)
  • Signage for wayfinding, both on the site and in the store
  • Visible and apparent adherence to good hygiene practices on behalf of employees and the c-store

More specific requirements that c-stores must take into account for each method are broken down as follows:

Pickup:  

  • No designated parking required
  • Designated "checkout" lanes for customers with mobile orders
  •      With an option to scan items in the store right on their phone and check out digitally
  • Separate, automatic entrance/exit for order pickup
  • Drive-thru option for pickup
  •      Perhaps not the best option for the smaller c-store, as car queues take up much-needed space in the parking lot
  • Walk-up window service—something that hasn’t been addressed on a widespread basis, providing a walkup window creates the potential for socially distanced connection—views into a nicely merchandised store window makes it a more appealing experience with a reassuring “hometown” feel
  • Pickup lockers, accessed by the customer only (signaled with app)
C-STORE LEGEND: 1 = FOH PICKUP AREA, 2 = DRIVE-THRU LOCATION, 3 = BOH STORAGE, 4 = CURBSIDE PICKUP, 5 = WALK-UP WINDOW, 6 = PUMPSIDE WINDOW

Curbside:  

  • Curbside/pump side service gives customers flexibility and ensures that they do not have to wait in long  lines
  • Pump side may work better for c-stores, which are at a premium for space most of the time.
  • Multiple "drive-thru" windows/spaces for curbside, along the building
  • Designated parking spaces for curbside if needed; this does not count toward the required parking count (i.e, designated curbside spaces would need to be provided above and beyond the required parking count)
C-STORES LEGEND: 1 = FOH PICKUP AREA, 2 = DRIVE-THRU LOCATION, 3 = BOH STORAGE, 4 = CURBSIDE PICKUP, 5 = WALK-UP WINDOW, 6 = PUMPSIDE WINDOW

Delivery:  

  • Same storage requirements; additional delivery-specific personnel needed when self-operating
  • Less profitable for the c-store when using third-party delivery vendors (i.e., GrubHub, DoorDash, EatStreet, etc.)
  • The order and delivery market is a robust industry, with customers spending more than $10.2 billion on delivery services alone in 2018 (SOURCE: Convenience Store News)
C-STORES LEGEND: 1 = FOH PICKUP AREA, 2 = DRIVE-THRU LOCATION, 3 = BOH STORAGE, 4 = CURBSIDE PICKUP, 5 = WALK-UP WINDOW, 6 = PUMPSIDE WINDOW

How Does This Translate to Restaurants?

As opposed to convenience stores, restaurants have been implementing pickup/curbside/delivery services long before the pandemic hit. What has become more important is the need to incorporate RDS ideals into the existing models.

There are two restaurant types to evaluate: freestanding and inline. A freestanding restaurant is an independent building, detached from any other structures. On the contrary, an inline restaurant is a space built adjacent to other spaces, which may include a variety of tenant types. This building may have a storefront  adjacent or “inline” to other tenant storefronts These are each impacted differently by pickup, curbside, and delivery processes since site conditions and scale influence the design elements. However, there are instances of shared responses that impact the site and in-store experiences.

These common elements required to execute pickup, curbside, and delivery restaurant options are as follows:

  • Precise communication method to place orders
  • Distinct meal preparation or assembly locations
  • Wayfinding and signage to direct traffic and patrons  
  • Limit touchpoints for any patrons visiting locations for a limited amount of time to mitigate the spread of potential spread of COVID-19

More specific requirements for responsibly distanced shopping in restaurants are broken down as follows:

Pickup:  

  • Does not require dedicated parking spaces on-site
  •    Orders can be directed through a separate dedicated drive-thru via wayfinding and signage when available. This option may not apply to most in-line restaurants
  •    Customers can use regular parking spots to pick up in the restaurant
  • Requires a dedicated staging space accessible by both the drive-thru serving area and the serving area within the restaurant
  • Within the store, there shall be a dedicated pickup area near the entry
  •    Dedicated entrance/exit door is recommended
  •    This station may include an employee station to accept patrons
RESTAURANTS LEGEND: 1 = FOH PICKUP AREA, 2 = DRIVE-THRU LOCATION, 3 = BOH STORAGE, 4 = DEDICATED PARKING

Curbside:  

  • Dedicated parking spaces are required a short distance from the entrance
  •    These spaces will require area signage—surface striping or vertical signs.
  • Requires a dedicated assembly and staging space
  •    Assembly area should include drink preparation, meal packaging, and storage of condiments
RESTAURANTS LEGEND: 1 = FOH PICKUP AREA, 2 = DRIVE-THRU LOCATION, 3 = BOH STORAGE, 4 = DEDICATED PARKING

Delivery:  

  • Dedicated parking spaces are required a short distance from the  entrance
  • These spaces will require area signage—surface striping or vertical signs
  • Requires a dedicated assembly and staging space
  •    Assembly area should include drink preparation, meal packaging, and storage of condiments
  • Third-party delivery should have dedicated queuing area separate from in-store customers

Looking to the Future of Retail, Restaurants, and C-Stores

As retail locations, restaurants, and convenience stores continue to implement and update the way they interact with customers (virtually or in-person), many in the architectural and engineering sector are looking to the future. Creating solutions that work in this highly restrictive post-COVID-19 era, while balancing the needs, desires, and health of those valuable customers is at the top of everyone's mind these days. How can we implement solutions that not only provide the things our customers crave but also in a way that continues to stay relevant long after the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020? Only time will tell – and the solutions will be as varied as the retailers who implement them, as each has different goals and needs. We look to experts in the field with experience in the pickup industry to help guide solutions and give feedback on options that do or don't work.

Here at HFA, we’re proud to have a vast knowledge of pickup procedures from our work with some of the nation’s largest retailers and c-stores. Have you or your business started researching additional methods for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in your new or existing restaurant, c-store, or retail projects? We would love to share our knowledge with you!

Contact Steven Baker, AIA, NCARB to learn more about how we can help you today.

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