Curbside Service: How Small Businesses Can Join the Delivery Scene

Delivery man standing at the door of the house and carrying box with groceries, smiling at camera.

One appealing feature of ordering a pizza is that you can almost always find somewhere that delivers to you. Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, even local, one-shop pizzerias will hire drivers to carry your dinner from the oven to your doorstep.

Sometimes you need to stop on your way home and don’t want to run in, wait, and go back out to your car. Personally, this happens to me on rainy days. Chili’s and Applebee’s instituted a curbside approach: Place your order, park in a specially designated spot, and a server will bring your containers to go.

At some point, retailers took notice of these ideas and thought, “Would our  customers appreciate such a service?” In the age of Internet shopping and home delivery, the answer still sounded out clearly: “Yes!”

Big names such as Target, Walmart, CVS, and Kroger each offer their version of curbside delivery in select markets. Some businesses use their own staff to provide this service while others outsource to upstarts in a fresh market (pardon the pun). All the customer needs to do is place his or her order – typically through the Internet or via mobile apps now, less frequently via phone-in order – and await notification of the order’s readiness. Seems deceptively simple, like there should be more to the process, doesn’t it?

Depending on how you choose to organize things, you might be right. Some SBs offer their own in-house curbside and delivery services but charge users an additional fee for the service. Constantino’s Market in Cleveland, Ohio, charges an additional $5 or 10 percent (whichever is greater) on orders under $150; the market also requires a minimum order amount of $20 for eligibility. This money helps offset the costs of delivery itself as well as the time and effort spent on website updates for new prices and sales information, not to mention the increase responsibility on staff members.

For instance: Staff may need to contact the customer to check on item substitution in the event a previously-selected product is out of stock. Some orders might be confusing and require the customer’s clarification. Other times, delivery personnel want to make sure an authorized person will be at the drop-off site when they make scene.

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Kowalski’s Market in Minneapolis, Minn., offers approximately 50 deli items for curbside delivery from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., but the market enlists FlyBuy to handle orders. Kowalski’s staff bring the purchases to waiting customers, but orders and payment go through FlyBuy.

Young man on bike with apron delivering groceries to a lady

FlyBuy, a small business itself that looks to bring the convenience of drive-thru service to traditional brick-and-mortars, doesn’t require a minimum purchase amount to use its service and honors all sale prices customers would find in-store. The app does not charge a convenience fee to its users: Any fees incurred are charged to their retail partners, but still offer other SBs an opportunity to compete with big names in customer convenience without the added cost of additional staff.


Related Article: NOT JUST DELIVERY: THE FUTURE OF COMMERCIAL DRONES

Another route taken by some businesses sees a third party perform the delivery itself. Target, for instance, partnered with upstart Curbside to branch into the curbside service market. Like FlyBuy, the app is free to the consumer and earns commissions per order through each retail partner. Customers order through the app, which then users the customer’s smartphone GPS to alert Curbside deliverers with updates on the customer’s location. Food orders can make it to your vehicle piping hot or freezing cold as ordered. Attendants can meet you directly as you pull up, no waiting for either party involved.

Some businesses choose to outsource the entire process to a third party, creating yet another new market out of an old notion: Surrogate shoppers. Companies can partner with smaller entities in a B2B relationship to bring quality service to waiting customers. Instacart and Shipt hire private individuals, just as you might a counter clerk or stocker, who receive customer orders through the companies’ apps. They then act the part of the shoppers: Instacart and Shipt employees will go through the aisles of local grocers, retrieve the requested items, and then drive from store to consumer home at a prescheduled time. Prices may vary from store costs, a compensation method for driver pay, and both services require paid memberships to join.

Delivery fees, however, are another matter: Shipt, for instance, offers free delivery on orders more than $35. Given the likelihood that a typical grocery bill will easily exceed that amount, as well as the gas and vehicle use saved on the part of the consumer, users seems to find $99 per year per membership quite reasonable.

Why should small businesses outside of food services or retail strike up such a partnership, though? On Time Logistics, a Springdale, Ark., based courier service, offers four thoughts on this; I added a fifth.

OTL’s view                               

  1. Scalability: When you need the extra assistance, you get it; when business levels don’t call for the additional personnel, you don’t spend the extra payroll.
  2. Professionalism: You earn your living off the quality of your service and your reputation; so does your delivery service.
  3. Qualified: Look for someone local who hires locals and knows the area; this can be especially helpful if you happen to be a transplant to the neighborhood!
  4. You do what you do best and let the service handle the footwork.

The fifth reason

  1. Networking with your neighboring businesses to help foster a community. Support your local businesses to help out SB family and watch everyone benefit.

How do you think your small business could benefit from curbside or home delivery service? Does a courier service exist in your area? Could that be your next venture?

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