AWS for Industries

Turbo-charge Your Click & Collect Experience with Pickup at Curb

The last year and a half has seen some changes worldwide, including how customers engage with retail brands. As we begin returning to normality, retailers have an opportunity to redefine what that looks like and embrace some of the habits and expectations that arose during COVID. Let’s investigate how customers have been buying during this time and how you can innovate to provide a more delightful customer experience, reduce friction, and deepen brand loyalty.

This article provides an architecture utilizing AWS cloud services that takes a common retail customer proposition, Click & Collect—or buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS)—and transforms it into the extremely popular, COVID-friendly, socially-distanced new kid on the block: buy-online-pickup-at-curb (BOPAC).

Click & Collect is a well-understood service offered by most retailers. It was arguably the original omnichannel experience, back when channels were a thing and no one wore masks. Customers who didn’t want home deliveries could place orders online and collect them in the store a few days later. Retailers like Click & Collect because it provides convenience, increases store traffic, and provides customers with a new engagement method. However, once COVID arrived, and retailers had to shut down (or cut store capacity drastically), shoppers became cautious of in-store shopping. Therefore, Click & Collect dried up. But what didn’t dry up was demand. Customers still craved goods, and retailers still needed sell to them. Everyone began looking for innovative approaches to fulfilling demand.

The solution arrived as BOPAC. This lets customers place orders online, and then drive to the store to collect them. However, once they arrive, they do not need to exit their car. The goods are delivered to them, like a drive-thru shopping experience. Everyone can socially distance while living a semi-normal life. And just like the original Click & Collect, BOPAC has been implemented differently by numerous retailers.

In the example below, we will highlight an implementation that utilizes automatic number plate recognition to alert store staff of a customer’s arrival, thereby eliminating another friction layer. No more parking and calling, or typing a license plate number into an app. The customer opts-in to share their information with the retailer, and triggers an alert when they arrive to pick up an order, including what that order is and where they are parked. The solution is extremely flexible and can be modified, augmented, and tailored for various retail business models.

As more businesses begin offering BOPAC and utilizing automated number plate recognition solutions to enhance the customer experience, expectations will rise. Just like Click & Collect, BOPAC will become the new normal. Even once COVID has been brought under control and masks and sanitizer gels are no longer essential, there will still be a place for collecting by car because customers love shopping and convenience, and they expect and demand great service.

So, if you think BOPAC might be worth a try, you first must figure out where to start. In order to innovate effectively, you need a platform that lets experiment at the edges of your business, can be tested at low cost, and can scale automatically to meet demand. With no up-front investment, AWS services are ideal for experimentation. AWS lets you create new services and experiment with advanced features, such as serverless computing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and over 200 other industry-leading services. And all of these are available on a pay-as-you-go basis, so you only pay for what you use. Try most services for free, and if they don’t provide the business benefits you need, then turn them off. Suppose the innovation takes off and is an overnight success with your customers. In that case, the AWS platform is guaranteed to be capable of scaling to meet the demands of global industry, governmental departments, and some of the busiest websites and workloads worldwide.

The Technical Bit

Let’s walk through a demo, which uses commonly available, commodity-priced, IP-based security cameras (available on Amazon for around $30) as well as Amazon Kinesis Video Streams to record footage from the security camera.

Amazon Rekognition is utilized extract characters from a vehicle’s license plate. Amazon Rekognition is a fully managed and trained, high-level AI-image processing service that does all of the hard work. No test data or ML training is required. The service simply returns all of the text found in the video frames sent to it.

In this solution, we have created a table in Amazon DynamoDB to hold the customer order, customer vehicle number plate, and mobile phone details. This data is encrypted by default, at rest and in transit, and it can be further hashed or obfuscated if required. It is automatically replicated for high availability across three separate availability zones.

Solution demo - BOPAC

The business logic is implemented using AWS Step Functions to orchestrate AWS Lambda functions, thereby allowing flexible business processes to be implemented easily. In our example, the process flow is:

  1. Read the image stream.
  2. Select a subset of frames to send to Amazon Rekognition.
  3. Look up the plate number against the table of previously loaded orders.
  4. Send text message notifications to both the customer and the retail staff using Amazon Simple Notification Service (Amazon SNS).

The AWS services used are entirely serverless, meaning no servers or virtual machines need to be provisioned, payed for, or managed. Therefore, the proof-of-concept implementation cost is minimal, and the solution can scale to meet massive demand without manual intervention. The demo solution is loosely coupled with external ecommerce or order management systems, and an API is provided for easing the loading of customer order updates.

From the customer’s point of view, our demo solution is entirely opt-in. Customers who want to fast-track their collection can optionally provide vehicle registration and mobile phone numbers when placing their online orders. The details are kept safe and secure until the order is collected. Then, they are destroyed once they’re no longer needed. Customers who don’t want to enjoy the frictionless experience don’t need to share their information. Customers’ license plate numbers that are not enrolled are discarded as soon as they fail to match with a valid customer order.

What Next?

If you are a business leader and want to evolve your Click & Collect service into a turbo-charged BOPAC offering, we would love to demonstrate the Curbside Pickup Industry Kit for you and discuss your ideas in more detail. Moreover, we can help you innovate and create delightful customer experiences—it is literally what we live for. If you have your own innovation team, or you are the innovation team, then why not reach out and request a demo or discussion as well? We can help with the design and get you up to speed with some of the services available.

So don’t wait until your competition beats you to it. Innovate today, delight your customers, and build something awesome! Reach out to me via the comments section on this blog or contact your AWS account team today to get started.