Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver, before their shop reorganization.
As retail store owners weigh how to safely reopen, protecting the health of employees and customers is paramount. Curbside pickup provides an enticing middle ground for stores that want to increase local sales with less risk. With precautions in place, some craft businesses are using curbside service to connect with local customers — from a distance.
Adding Curbside Pickup
Curbside service can be broken down into three steps:
- Customers place an order online (or over the phone) for curbside pickup.
- The store sends a notification (often email or text) when an order is ready for pickup.
- Customers collect their purchases from a designated location (usually outside the front door)
For Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver, Colorado, offering curbside pickup has made processing online orders easier for their employees, and sped up fulfillment time. “It just takes less time than shipping,” says co-owner Jaime Jennings. “We can just put the order in a bag. We don’t have to weigh packages or print postage.” With USPS facing delays due to an increase in shipments, curbside pickup presents a speedier option for local customers.
Curbside pickup can often be added to a website’s shipping options at checkout, either natively or with an app. Some ecommerce platforms have local delivery options built in, and integrate seamlessly by sending email or text notifications to customers. Stores without ecommerce could advertise curbside pickup for virtual shopping appointments or phone orders.
One key for safety is contactless payment. Stores can reduce exposure risk by accepting payment in advance, via an online shop, PayPal invoice, or processing a credit card over the phone.
A display of appreciation at Bolt Fabric.
The CDC offers health and safety guidelines for reopening businesses, but stores shifting to curbside pickup face additional logistical challenges.
Before the pandemic, Fancy Tiger Crafts was a beautifully merchandised crafts paradise. Hanks of yarn hung from wall pegs, creating an enticing, rainbow-hued display. Owners Jaime Jennings and Amber Corcoran have now transformed their store into a makeshift warehouse.
Jennings and Cocoran repurposed two sewing studio classrooms at the back of their shop into order packing stations, providing their employees isolated space to work that meets distancing guidelines. Backstock and shipping supplies were brought up from their basement storage to keep inventory centralized.
“We used to have everything displayed beautifully for our customers… but that isn’t efficient for fulfilling online orders. So we’ve rearranged the entire store. The yarn isn’t hanging on the walls anymore, it’s in bags, alphabetical by color name and by vendor,” said Jennings. Sewing patterns have also been moved to alphabetized bins, making it easier for staff to find items for customers’ orders.
“It’s not beautiful in our store right now, but it’s efficient,” said Jennings.
Safer Operations with Curbside Service
Gina Cadenasso, owner of Bolt Fabric in Portland, Oregon, has found staff and customers alike are ready to adapt. “Our crew is in regular communication,” said Cadenasso. “We email, use shared Google docs and have [safety procedure] printouts up in the store to help ensure we are all on the same page. It helps that we have a shared interest in our own well being, the well being of our wonderful customer community, and the strength and vitality of the store.”
Berkeley’s Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics is using signage in shop windows to advertise the availability of online shopping and curbside service. “We created clear signage on our closed brick and mortar, since our local customers are used to just popping by to pick up whatever they need,” owner Suzan Steinberg said.
They are also using window signs to communicate safety protocols to customers, and have taped neon pink guides on the ground near the entrance to illustrate safe distancing measures. “We bring them their purchases wearing a face covering,” said Steinberg. “We also make sure that customers are wearing masks when picking up.”
Neon pink tape marks a safe distance for order pickups.
Photo courtesy of Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics
Setting Customer Expectations
Communicating turnaround times before an order is placed can help avoid customer frustration. Stonemountain & Daughter Fabrics posts a notification in the header section of their website, alerting shoppers to their current processing time. Customer communication has been a priority for owner Steinberg; her team has been updating customers via their email newsletter, email order notifications, and through their website’s FAQ page.
Limiting curbside pickup hours is a logistical necessity. Clearly communicating pickup times and instructions can help ease customer confusion. Fancy Tiger Crafts offers curbside pickup from 11am – 4pm, six days per week. The Workroom in Toronto is offering curbside pickup only on Fridays and Saturdays. Listing curbside pickup hours on your website will help customers plan ahead.
“We offer curbside pickup for a five hour window,” said Karyn Valino, owner of The Workroom. “[Customer arrivals have been] spread out. Once in a while we’ll have two or three customers arrive at the same time, but they’ve been conscientious about keeping their distance.” Valino says she’ll make adaptations if things get busier, like using taped queue markers or barriers she’s seen at stores in her neighborhood. “We’ll see how it goes, things are always changing.”
Local pickup orders are hung on a hook just outside the front door window at Touch Art Supply.
Coordinating Curbside Pickups
Katie Wilson, co-owner of Touch Art Supply in Los Angeles suggests a friendly, but upfront approach to communicating procedures with customers when they arrive. “Customers are looking for rules right now,” said Wilson. “We’re all re-learning how to shop.”
Wilson sends an email to Touch Art Supply customers detailing their pick-up location, and a phone number to call or text upon arrival. Wearing a face mask, Wilson gives instructions to customers through a window in the front door. “I’ll say, ‘I’m going to have you step back, please,’ so I can hang their order on a hook outside the door. Then I can step back, and give them space to retrieve their order,” she says. Wilson sanitizes communal surfaces and washes her hands after each pickup — another step that she’s adding to her training manual of new procedures for when Touch employees can safely return to work.
At Fancy Tiger Crafts, co-owner Jennings decided to invest in a dedicated cell phone for the store. “Texting is a lot easier. Customers text their name and order number when they arrive, then we can have their order ready for them,” Jennings said. Fancy Tiger’s curbside pickup manager fields calls and texts to the cell phone during pickup hours.
“During pickup hours, we have our front door propped open, with a table that we put across the door to block people from coming in. We have a basket on the table where we place an order during pickup.” Jennings suggests having a dedicated employee tasked with handling pickups, so other employees are not distracted when customers arrive to retrieve their orders.
At The Workroom, some customers approach the front door to pickup, but some opt to stay at the curb. “Some customers will stay in their cars, and we’ll put orders into their trunks if they leave that open for us,” said owner Valino.
For stores that need further optimization, there are already tech solutions to help streamline contactless pickup systems. Zapiet offers a Shopify app that allows customers to schedule pickup times. Curb to Car and Rakuten Ready offer software to automate the customer pickup process.
Adapting to a New Normal
During their first week offering curbside pickup, Fancy Tiger Crafts didn’t have an optimized storage area for orders ready for pickup. “At first we had a table in the front of the store, but the orders would start spilling onto the floor because there were so many of them,” said Jennings. During their second week of curbside service, they repurposed a big shelving unit (previously used to hold fabric) to create an order processing station, where they now keep customer purchases organized by their order number.
Fancy Tiger Crafts is planning to continue with online orders and curbside pickup for the foreseeable future. “There was a steep learning curve for all the changes we needed to make. I think we’ve settled into new systems that are working for us,” said co-owner Jennings. “We think we can sustain our business just doing online sales and curbside pickup, and that is our plan. What we’ve all learned with coronavirus is that things can change anytime. As of May 20th, we don’t have any plans to open to the public.”
Perhaps the best part of curbside pickup for Cadenasso at Bolt Fabric is the chance to reconnect with loyal customers. “It is fantastic to see our customers, even for just a minute and from a distance. We miss them!”
Erin is the textile designer and artist behind the home décor company, Cotton & Flax. She licenses her surface designs for fabric, home décor, stationery, and other clients. She’s also a teacher, writer, and enthusiastic advocate for small creative business owners. She lives in San Diego, California.