Even Engagement Rings Are a Curbside Purchase Now

As recovery from the coronavirus pandemic continues, Bloomberg Opinion is running a series of columns looking at crisis-inspired innovations that promise better living over the long run. 

Many aspects of shopping were frustrating at times during the pandemic: Items were perpetually out of stock, shipping delays were commonplace and, in some cases, it was harder to get things at a discountBut there is at least one way in which shopping was vastly improved during this transformational year: Retailers now offer consumers more choice about how their online orders are fulfilled. It’s a welcome change that should persist, helping fuel further growth in e-commerce.

The most obvious example is the explosion in curbside pickup. Major chains such as Ulta Beauty Inc. and Macy’s Inc. that hadn’t previously offered the service cobbled it together on the fly, providing customers with a safe retrieval option that is often faster than waiting for doorstep delivery. Signet Jewelers Ltd., corporate parent of of Kay Jewelers, Zales and Jared, added curbside concierge services in April, meaning even purchases as big-ticket and sentimental as an engagement ring could be received by rolling down the car window. And stores that already had robust pickup programs took steps to make them better. Target Corp., for example, added flexibility by letting customers decide at the last minute whether to collect their purchases at curbside or the store counter.  

The growth of pickup programs is just one example of how pandemic pivots have given consumers more control over the logistics of their online orders. Amazon.com Inc. expanded its in-garage delivery option to 4,000 cities, while Sephora and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc. partnered with Instacart to offer same-day delivery from their stores. Speaking of Instacart, the popular grocery delivery service introduced features such as “leave at the door” to make customers feel safer and enabled them to place orders up to two weeks in advance. Shoppers also got more options when it came to merchandise returns. Nordstrom Inc. added curbside returns in December. And Amazon now allows shoppers to make no-box returns of purchases made on its namesake site at its Whole Foods Market stores. 

Some of these new offerings may not be used all that much. I don’t imagine many women needed a lipstick so urgently they were willing to pay a same-day delivery fee. And Amazon’s in-garage option relies on a certain suite of smart-home technology products that plenty of shoppers don’t have and don’t want. Yet the proliferation of choices signals an important shift in the e-commerce world. For too long, much of the industry’s innovation focus was on simply making doorstep delivery faster. But speed and convenience are not always synonymous – and can vary from one shopper to another or from one purchase to another. 

Sometimes convenience is not having to coordinate your schedule to be home to receive a package, or changing its final destination when it’s already en route. Convenience also can mean feeling like you minimized health risks, or having your online grocery order safely dropped in your trunk without waking a sleeping baby in the backseat. The pandemic awakened more creativity and urgency in retailers to support a wide range of shopper preferences for getting their online orders. Here’s hoping that spirit of innovation continues even when more shoppers return to brick-and-mortar stores. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Sarah Halzack is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering the consumer and retail industries. She was previously a national retail reporter for the Washington Post.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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