How stores are using tech to adjust to the pandemic

Who would’ve thought that my takeout lunch was decided by a restaurant’s app? In these days of the pandemic, if you choose to be extra cautious and isolate yourself, curbside pickup has become a perfect solution for restaurants and stores. Call in your order, arrive at the restaurant, and your meal is delivered to your trunk. Yesterday, I had a choice of a couple of nearby restaurants, but chose the one that directed me to their app designed for curbside pickup. I used the app to order, pay, turn on tracking, and describe my car.  When I drove up to the restaurant the tracking told them I arrived and my order was brought to the car within two minutes.

The other restaurant, whose food I prefer, had a confusing presence on the web. When I searched for the restaurant, Door Dash, the delivery service, popped up pretending to be the restaurant’s site with menu and all.  But I had no interest in a delivery, and the phone number went to Door Dash. Also, I try to avoid these third party services that take 30%-50%, and prefer to give it all to the restaurant. I searched elsewhere and found the restaurant’s phone number, but it went to a recording telling me to order from another delivery service.

A business’ on-line presence today can make a huge difference in attracting and keeping customers, and an app is the perfect solution to announce new services and options. With many of us reluctant to go into stores, we want to find safe alternatives, and we’ll do business based on a criteria that never existed before: an easy to use app, home delivery, curb-side pick up, drive through windows. Some businesses get it, while others seem to struggle. Much of this is just common sense: make it easier and safe to order, to buy, to pay, and to pick up. And do it all from an app or the website.

A nearby CVS has been my pharmacy for twenty years, but they’ve done a terrible job adjusting to the pandemic.  I now have an aversion to walk into a pharmacy all the way to the back of the store, next to their walk-in clinic, especially where there could be other sick people. So I downloaded their app to manage my prescriptions and to arrange delivery.

Their app and website are awful. They’re both missing basic features and are hard to use.  If you want your prescriptions delivered you need to call once your prescriptions are filled to request delivery, often waiting 20-30 minutes for the pharmacy to answer. On several occasions the prescriptions never arrived and we needed to call back several times; there was no way to manage it from the app. Once they had the wrong address and on another it just sat in the pharmacy waiting for a courier…..for three days. We ended up taking our business to a Walgreens, 15 minutes further away, but with a terrific app, free delivery, and a drive in window. They even made it easy to transfer prescriptions by just taking a picture of the prescription bottle… using their app.

I also use two banking apps, and they are as different as day and night. Chase’s app, as do many other banks, let you deposit checks by taking a picture from the safety of your home. Citibank’s app doesn’t have that capability and requires you to physically go to an ATM or the bank.

Many of the big box stores, including Target, Best Buy, Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods, offer curbside pickup with designated parking spaces. It’s all managed using their excellent apps, much like the restaurant. This is a big switch for stores, since they want to get you into the store where you’ll find other items to buy. But it’s also a way to expand their online business and to compete with Amazon. Why order from Amazon and wait a day or two for your items to arrive when you can order it at target,com and pick the item up at your locals Target store in fifteen minutes? In fact, my grandson, who lives 400 miles away, called last week and asked if I could buy him a video controller; I said sure and would order it from Amazon. He hesitated a bit, and said that he needed it an hour, and then explained that if I ordered at his local Best Buy on-line, his dad could pick it up within the hour.

Once things return to normal expect to see these curbside services remain. They’re a great alternative to delivery and provide a great convenience to their customers.



by Phil Baker