Curbside Is Here to Stay

Shortly before he passed away in 1937, George Gershwin composed the music to “Our Love is Here to Stay.” His wife, Ira, finished the lyrics to what became a musical standard for many years. Some large shopping center owners who quickly adapted curbside pickup believe this may be a solution to their long-range challenges.         

An earlier article discussed the upsurge in online and pick up in store orders. More recently, Adobe Analytics reported a 208% jump for the first three weeks of April compared to the same period a year ago. Adobe added that online sales in the U.S. alone surged 49% from March 11 to April 21 compared to an earlier March 1 to 10 baseline.         

National and essential retailers like Walmart and Target had been successfully offering curbside pick-up before the pandemic. Now, the option has been expanded by some large shopping owners to include all its tenants.         

After the pandemic was declared and restrictions placed on merchants, New York-based Kimco Realty Corp set up curbside pick-up areas at 23 of its shopping centers in Texas for its essential retailers. The centers at Georgia were next on Kimco’s list.          

Kimco owns 409 shopping centers and mixed-use properties in the U.S. and said it would be adding curbside pick-up to its remaining centers to help consumers ease back into shopping while feeling safe. They and Federal Realty Investment Trust, another large shopping center owner, said they wanted to help their merchants and customers adapt to the altered shopping routines created by COVID-19. Conor Flynn, Kimco’s CEO, expressed a concern about their smaller merchants who have been closed because of the pandemic and said this service will help them and their customers as well.         

In Kimco’s scenario, consumers place orders through the merchant’s website or via phone app and select curbside pick-up. The store then directs the consumer to a pick-up zone at the center and asks the consumer to call the store when they arrive and inform them of the stall number they’re parked in. The store then delivers the merchandise and places it in the customer’s car trunk. Flynn believes that curbside pick-up is the new normal and here to stay.         

Kimco’s concern for their tenants also went a step further. The firm started a Tenant Assistance Program that helps its merchants apply for government-sponsored COVID-19 aid.         

Federal Realty was another early adopter and rolled out its curbside pick-up for its tenants on May 15. It owns 104 shopping centers. Other large shopping center owners and managers report receiving requests for similar curbside pick-up programs and are considering them.          

The Pros and Cons          

Grocery curbside pick-up in Twin Cities has also been helpful and productive. Deb Carlson, a director in that city’s Cushman & Wakefield office told the National Real Estate Investor newsletter that during the pandemic, curbside pick-up jumped from single digits to 40 and 50 percent. She agreed with Flynn that curbside is here to stay, not just with grocers, but retailers as well. Carlson said she expects consumers to continue relying on curbside pickup until a COVID-19 vaccine is available and public fears are relinquished.          

On the positive side, Carlson felt that consumers would eventually return to stores when they feel it’s safe again. She cited the main reason as the need to see and try new products. She estimated that this could cut curbside delivery by 50%.         

One of the biggest disadvantages to curbside delivery, according to Carlson, is the absence of impulse buying, usually because not everything in the store is online. Also missing is the customer experience, something that CMOs need to pay more attention to while offering curbside delivery.