Digital First

by Katie Lee

— By Mike Welsh —


Retail curbside pickup and mobile apps are here to stay — what that reliance on a digital platform means for the industry moving forward in a post-COVID world.


In an effort to understand how retail curbside pickup, mobile apps and other digital-first retail strategies will change shopping habits even post-COVID, Retail & Restaurant Facility Business interviewed Mike Welsh of the Waltham, Massachusetts-based digital consulting firm Mobiquity.

Mike Welsh, Mobiquity

R&R: In this new era of the COVID-19 pandemic, retailers must offer a digital-first option in order to keep up and stay open. How can stores create a digital strategy — quickly — and ramp up their mobile apps to continue serving customers?

Mike Welsh: Retailers should keep in mind three key factors when creating a contactless strategy:


Ask if your teams, operational methods and inventory can sustain retooling and rethinking the way you conduct business. Can you maintain your brand experience and your offerings while continuing to support your business goals (beyond just surviving)?


Consider the long term opportunities now. What will it take to make your business evergreen in the “new normal?” How can you create a better long term business strategy as touchless, socially distant interactions, pickup, delivery and other forms of fulfillment become the standard? If you alter your thinking about these methods being temporary or seasonal, and instead think about how they may become a permanent addition to the business, you’re more likely to reap the rewards now and post-COVID.

Always On

Now that customers have moved to digital channels, your store hours are less important. Digital solutions are automating some of the operational tasks for your employees to keep them safer, such as order management, queuing and traffic, digital payment, pickup times and more. For your customers, keeping the lines of communication open with conversational tools, chat functionality and SMS messaging for an “always-on” approach can also help teams throttle up and down during regular business hours.

R&R: What are some of the pitfalls of which retailers should be aware when embarking on a new digital strategy?

Welsh: New solutions that we sometimes coin the “shiny object” or a “quick win” may not be conducive to your long term strategy. A “quick win” can be good for the short term, but it often poses sustainability issues in the long term. It’s important that the digital transformation you outline ladders up to your core goals as an organization. This will save you time and resources that could have otherwise been leveraged for “stickier” solutions that offer what we call “digital traction,” which are solutions that offer real value. It’s also important not to set your expectations too high. When embarking on a new digital strategy, businesses have to be willing to pivot and change course when data or behaviors indicate something isn’t working.

R&R: What are some of the new and innovative ways retailers are choosing to engage with customers via mobile apps and other digital promotions?

Welsh: We’re seeing a variety of innovative methods across the board. It’s interesting that in times of trouble, some smaller, regional retailers are taking the “what’s old is new again” approach. Calling in orders and paying for them over the phone has become a great way for essential businesses to stay open. Other retailers are leaning more heavily on off-the-shelf or third-party solutions, such as Instacart, DoorDash and UberEats. Instacart is seeing such an uptick that users are signing on multiple times a day to get a delivery time assigned! Lastly, the most evolved and digitally savvy companies are falling back on their own, custom mobile apps to institute delivery, curbside pickup, ordering, digital payment, and even fuel activation and digital fuel payment. All of these are great options, but the one that is most sustainable for the long term will be custom mobile apps. How will other companies evolve their programs over time as we slowly reopen businesses around the world? Especially as consumers start to think about how their behaviors will change post-COVID, businesses will need to meet their customers wherever they are.

R&R: How can retailers gauge the success of a curbside pickup program?

Welsh: There are several aspects of a curbside program that teams will measure to determine success. Right now, however, it’s important to remember that metrics have undoubtedly changed. How you measure your programs will change because the way in which you deliver your goods and services have changed. In any curbside program, factoring in metrics such as orders, average order value, units per transaction, inventory metrics and monthly active use are a good place to start. In the current COVID-19 climate, labor costs, inventory fulfillment, additional safety and other operations measures should be baselined around initial pilot software costs and other investments that need to be considered when launching a curbside program.

R&R: Do you think retail curbside pickup is here to stay? What does the ‘new normal’ look like to you, once retailers hopefully come out on the other side of this?

Welsh: It’s likely that curbside is here to stay. There are predictions that the reopening will happen in phases over time. Companies that want to continue to thrive during the pandemic — and beyond — would be wise to implement a curbside strategy now that will last them for the long term post-COVID.

R&R: How should retailers adapt their success metrics to account for more customers ordering online and picking up, rather than shopping in-store?

Welsh: Retailers should adapt their success metrics by thinking more about monthly active users (MAUs) in their mobile app. Aside from the obvious reasons, tracking monthly active users in a mobile app experience will enable businesses to establish trends over time, even after they reopen. Some consumers are expressing their desire to carry over digital engagement with the stores they love long after COVID-19. For this reason, it’s important for companies to track whether the trend continues so that they can adjust and adapt the way that they deliver their goods and services as consumer behaviors change. Data will be the lifeblood of decision-making in the post-COVID, contactless world. Metrics that track order timing, fulfillment timing, and traffic patterns will play new and different roles in future planning for labor, operations, inventory, CRM, loyalty and lifecycle management of key segments. Brands that follow these trends and act on them will bring to life new segments, models and journeys from which to view and think about what truly defines success.



— Mike Welsh is chief creative officer at Mobiquity, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based digital consultancy that partners with the world’s leading brands to design and deliver compelling digital products and services for their customers. Welsh works closely with Mobiquity’s restaurant & convenience store clients.



You may also like