Making Curbside Pickup More Accessible & Convenient

Catharine McNally
5 min readJul 7, 2020


Have you recently gone through a Curbside Pickup experience? Was the experience smooth as butter? Or was it a bit rocky? For me with national chains, it’s the latter as it often requires a phone call in the final step and that’s a challenge to me due to my hearing loss. I’ve found more success working with small businesses who are better able to tailor to my accessibility needs by text messaging or simple use of markers and writing on bags.

A few years ago, I was stoked that online ordering became an option. No more picking up the phone to place orders or speak with someone who I wasn’t sure I’d be able to understand. Going to get the items from the restaurant’s pick-up table or store was relatively convenient. Progress!

Then this COVID-19 pandemic happened. The first few months of the stay-home order meant that curbside pickup became the new norm. No more walking into the restaurant to pick up your order, or browsing retail aisles. The options became:

  • Wait in line to enter a store,
  • Use the store’s app or website to place an order for shipping, or curbside pickup, and/or
  • Use delivery services.

During Phase 1 of the lockdown, I needed a bottle of glue. It was either I had to wait in line to enter a national craft store chain, or use their mobile app for curbside pickup that same day. The latter pleased my efficient nature.

Meme with Forrest Gump, “And Just Like That…Every Restaurant in Town had Curbside Pickup”

Curbside Pickups Everywhere

Easy enough, right? Well, here’s the challenge: I’d arrive at the craft store and there would be instructions to call for curbside delivery. It’s an inconvenience because the person couldn’t always understand me when I’m trying to state my long order number, nor can I always understand the questions they are asking me. It’s a mess. I’ve avoided that craft store since and half-finished art projects are piling up in the corner.

These phone calls upon arrival are a divergence from my experience when I was able to independently handle everything from home in an accessible manner, on my mobile web, app or computer. Now I’m forced to use the “voice” phone in order to complete the final task of picking up glue. I felt bait and switched.

Target, FTW

Contrast this experience with Target, where the app experience is clearly thought-through:

  1. You receive a e-mail or app notification that your order is ready for pickup
  2. You open the app to say, “I’m on my way.”
  3. The App will ask you for the style / color of the car (e.g., SUV, White.)
  4. Upon arrival, pull up to the designated parking spot and select “I’m here.”

A Target Associate is there with your items for contactless curbside pickup. No waiting in line. No parking. Best of all, no phone calls. It’s truly futuristic. My colleague Rebecca Fanning recounted her recent experience:

“I legit pulled into a spot, turned off my car to check the app and didn’t even have time to do that cause the associate was already at my car.”

Man in a SUV looks on as a Target Associate approaches with a cart full of items

This is remarkable of Target to have this in place so quickly. We all know there wasn’t much time to prepare for the stay-home orders as it was thrust upon us, and we all responded immediately, the best we could, and we’re still doing just that: refining and improving the experience for everyone.

This greatly increases the ease, convenience and independence for many customers, such as those with:

  • babies or small children;
  • mobility or physical disabilities;
  • hearing loss; or;
  • vocal or speech disabilities.

Thanks to Target, ordering and picking up glue has never been so quick and easy.

What we can learn from Small Businesses

However, not every business had the head-start (or scale) Target has, most were busy pivoting to identify new ways to keep business afloat, such as doing curbside pickup as a first step. I think we can really learn from a few of the small businesses and how they are handling the customer service experience. In my community in Alexandria, VA I’ve been amazed with how many have offered contact and communication through social media, text messaging, e-mail, and phone calls. They not only graciously take my order, but also talk about the different ways of which I could pick up the items:

  • Send a text message when I arrive and someone brings out my order (my favorite deli);
  • Stand at the door and wave, and someone will bring out the item (my dog food shop);
  • Leave coffee cup with my name on it on a table just inside the entry (with doors open);
  • A paper bag with my name placed in the back of the building for after-hours pickup (my hardware store);
A Bakery Storefront by a bridge underpass, with a large poster display saying “CURBSIDE.”

By providing every communication pathway possible and listening to me and my preferences for the pick-up experience, I experienced a heightened sense of connection with the shop. They were clearly empathetic and willing to work with me — their valued customer. I quickly became their #1 fan.

Happy Customers are Loyal Customers

Next time you find yourself saying, “Let’s just make an app! That’ll solve all the problems!” Think about the entire experience from ordering online to picking it up in real life (IRL). What’s the most valuable thing your business can do? And work backwards from that value proposition.

Look at not only the Target App experience, but also what your local businesses are doing to attract customers. Consider all types of users and how they will receive your product, your orders. Think about reciprocity, and mirror that experience when the customer has arrived at the physical location.



Catharine McNally

Accessibility Lead at Phase2 Technology. Cochlear implant recipient. Focused on mainstream digital experiences for all. @cmcnally