It’s been a few weeks since non-essential retail opened up for curbside pickup. Though no one can pretend it feels the same as before—no, walk-ins aren’t welcome, and stores can’t take advantage of checkout counter tchotchke purchases—main street retailers report that it’s been a helpful inch toward business as usual.
Before curbside sales were allowed, small retailers relied on online sales. Some using social media allowed customers within a certain radius to skip shipping costs in favor of personal delivery, which despite cutting out the middleman, still left a bit to be desired in the “personal service” category.
In the no-contact, doorstep drop-off, call-them-when-you’ve-already-left world of COVID-19 retail deliveries, “you lose the whole personal connection to the store through delivery,” explained Remi Fortunato, retail recruiter for the Partnership for Haddonfield, which manages and handles marketing for Haddonfield’s business improvement district.
“By allowing curbside delivery, it allows the business to still have a personal connection with the customer,” Fortunado said. “They’re picking it up in front of the store so they’re seeing the window displays, so they’re slowly instilling that personal connection that mom-and-pop businesses rely on.”
The rules also raised other issues, said Inkwood Books owner Julie Beddingfield: delivering within a 5-mile radius as she’s been doing can take hours on a busy day.
“My husband and I, we go out and drive and deliver books, and it just takes up a lot of time. It’s not our favorite thing to do. Not having to do that and having people be able to come pick it up is easier on us,” Beddingfield said. “I’m working by myself right now, processing all my orders and getting them ready to ship, and now putting them out on the cart. It just takes a lot of time.”
Beddingfield set up a library cart in front of her Haddonfield store, stuffing bags with pre-orders labeled by customer name. The customer shows up, grabs their order off the cart, waves in to Beddingfield, and goes on their way.
There are advantages and drawbacks. Filling orders from a mix of online and phone customers creates a challenge in keeping inventory up to date, Fortunado explained. But the addition of curbside delivery also allows the owner to pull directly from store inventory that was otherwise just sitting there, said Beddingfield, noting “[t]he overhead is much less, to put what I have in stock out.”
For customers outside of her 5-mile personal delivery radius, she previously had to cover costs for posting and packaging, not to mention gas.
Within In the Kitchen Cooking School, chef-owner Kathy Gold has a boutique that sells linens, personal care items, soaps, and unique kitchen tools. Gold said she’s looking forward to having more communal exchanges with people now with the launch of curbside pickup.
“It’s a personal, well, quasi-personal, touch. We’ll actually be able to see people and talk to them, we’ll be able to show them what we have. It’ll feel as if we’re on our way to broadening our outside world once again. It’s a step that, of course, has to be taken with extreme caution … we don’t want to have things slammed shut again,” Gold said.
Rather than the transactive nature of dropping something off at someone’s door, curbside pickup “is a back-and-forth … It’s a conversation, once again,” Gold said.
Gold is also the marketing committee co-chair at Partnership for Haddonfield, which launched an Open for Business campaign earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic to support its main street businesses by promoting them on social media and keeping residents abreast of what’s open and what’s for sale.
Overall, people are taking well to curbside pickup. Just three days after it got the official green light, 60 percent of Beddingfield’s orders were curbside pickup, she said. People call and ask if she’s got a book in stock, and if the answer is no, they said, “Well, what’s similar?”
“They take another one if they can get it right away. Shipping has slowed down from what we’re used to, and people want to support their local shops,” Beddingfield said. “If they’re worried about us, if they can find a way to support us, they’re ready to do it. It’s very humbling to have that kind of support.”