The automotive aftermarket has a long history of adapting to change. For a perfect example of how that resilience and adaptability has played out during challenging times, we can look no further than the pandemic of 2020.
Deemed an essential business, many parts retailers responded to the public health crisis with a number of measures to keep customers and employees safe, such as installing plexiglass barriers, implementing social-distancing policies and restricting (during the height of the pandemic) the number of customers who could enter the store at one time. And these past few months have been a shining moment for retailers and distributors with strong e-commerce capabilities, as buy online/pick up in store has become an even more attractive option for customers, with a new twist: curbside delivery.
Curbside service isn’t an entirely new twist, of course. There’s a restaurant chain here in the Cleveland/Akron area called Swenson’s where the servers come out to your vehicle, take your order and bring your burgers and milkshakes, just like the drive-in places did in the old days. But, combined with online ordering, I have to believe this is somewhat uncharted territory for parts stores.
Before I go any further, the title of this month’s column – “Curbside Letdown” – isn’t referring to the automotive aftermarket. My hunch is the aftermarket has executed curbside delivery without a hitch. But I can’t say the same for a national home-improvement retailer that I visited recently.
I ordered some landscaping materials from the store’s website, and selected the curbside-pickup option. I had done this once before at the same
location, and the process was relatively smooth (albeit slow). This time around, though, it was a different story. Most of the designated parking spots for curbside pickup were full, and as I wedged into the last remaining spot, the driver in the car next to me rolled down his window and said, “Don’t even bother. They’re not picking up the phone.”
After resigning myself to the fact that I’d have to enter the store, I hustled inside and took my place on the first available “X.” As I waited, I saw a familiar cast of characters make their way into the store (the people outside who’d been waiting, in vain, for someone to deliver their curbside orders – or even pick up the phone). To make a long story short: It took 10 minutes to get to a person at customer service. Then, they couldn’t find my order. An hour after pulling into the parking lot, I left with my merchandise.
I don’t have an issue with the workers on the front lines. They were extremely apologetic for the wait, and I’m sure they were understaffed. I tend to believe that a debacle like that is a failure of management – at the very least a failure to properly convey expectations (potential wait times) to the public.
If your store offers curbside pick-up, let us know how things are going. Or just let us know how things are going in general. Stay safe out there.