Federal Realty Launches Contactless Pick-Up at DC-Area Centers

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In response to growing concern about the COVID-19 pandemic, Federal Realty, the Rockville, Md.-based real estate company with more than 100 retail properties nationwide, has started a contactless pick-up program at its shopping centers in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

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Federal Realty facilitated linked technology at all of its properties, streamlining the customer experience from order to pick up. Aptly named “The Pick-Up,” the innovative program is available to all tenants and customers looking for comfortable ways to return to shopping at their favorite stores. 

Stuart Biel, Federal Realty’s senior vice president of regional leasing, noted that while the idea was born out of the coronavirus crisis, it’s designed for the long-term and how consumers will continue to incorporate pick-up into their shopping in the months and years ahead.

“The new initiative creates a singular, reliable, centralized service that retailers and restaurants of all sizes can take advantage of,” he told Commercial Observer. “When a customer places an order with a retailer or restaurant within a Federal Realty-owned property by phone or online, the customer can designate a pick-up time and will be assigned a designated parking space. Employees will then bring the order to the customer’s car.” 

For example, a patron visiting the Pike & Rose shopping center in North Bethesda can order makeup from Sephora, a cake from the bakery across the street, jeans from Uniqlo and lunch from Sweetgreen. These are coordinated via Federal Realty’s technology platform and all brought to a designated “The Pick-Up” spot at a specified time.

The initiative began May 15 at Federal properties throughout the D.C.-metro region, including Bethesda Row, Congressional Plaza and The Village at Shirlington, among others.   

Commercial Observer: What was the genesis behind this initiative?

Stuart Biel: In the early days of the mandated closures, our teams quickly pivoted to provide additional curbside pick-up for the businesses that were able to remain open. Evolving that, to support customers and retailers through and post-COVID, made our Phase 1 rollout obvious. This is partnered with the belief that there is a real need in today’s retail climate (with or without COVID) to create a better omni-channel distribution partnership with retailers, to work with them to get products to customers in a more efficient way, that saves on the costs associated with shipping and distributions centers – but also nurtures the customer engagement, one that is just not possible through online sales platforms.

Why is a contactless pick-up program so important today?

This is a great way to “welcome back” customers by partnering with our retailers—through safe, attractive, convenient pick up areas. The initial rollout is just the start and will evolve over the weeks, months, years ahead. We view this as a permanent demand channel that our open-air properties are uniquely located to take advantage of.

How does it work exactly? 

Today, customers can call their favorite store, to place an order for a list of items they need, or for a special occasion gift. And, when they arrive, they simply call the shop, to indicate they are parked in The Pick-Up. The team brings the items out, places it in the customer’s trunk for a safe, contactless pick-up, and the customer is on their way. This can be used for our restaurants, as well. This process will vary from retailer to retailer. Some are ready for this today, while others are working to make this part of their re-opening strategy. Wherever they are in the process, they acknowledge the need to ease the customer shopping experience, as well as provide a convenience customers are growing to expect.

Can you provide an example of what we might see?

This is the future of how it works. Imagine ordering makeup from Bluemercury, a cake from the bakery across the street, those jeans that you love from Uniqlo and lunch from Sweetgreen and having them coordinated with a technology solution and all brought to your car in The Pick-Up spot number 3 at 11:30 a.m. today.

What do you foresee the retail environment in the D.C. region looking like for the rest of 2020?

We expect to see open air shopping environments like ours, be preferred for shoppers as they carefully consider how and where to spend their time. We’ll of course see some businesses close, many of which may have already been at play, pre-COVID. And, we’ll see others open in our markets for the first time, satisfying a customer demand that still exists.

What do you believe will be the key to retail surviving in the months ahead?

We have to be nimble and able to meet customers where they are and where they feel safe. Federal Realty has a firm belief that customers picking up their own goods in the most comfortable, safe, convenient way is the most important piece to economically delivering goods that last mile and supporting retail.

How will you expand this initiative in the weeks, months and years ahead?

We see The Pick-Up as a long-term solution to finding even more convenient ways for customers to shop and, for our tenants to create meaningful engagement with customers that is just not possible through online shopping. The Pick-Up, which began May 15, takes what is already a growing trend and builds a scalable platform making it easier for merchants and customers to coordinate the quick contactless exchange of products to help our tenants drive demand.

Long term, this national platform delivers a resource for our merchants to evolve with this growing channel within brick and mortar, for which our portfolio is uniquely positioned to take. full advantage of based on the proximity to high-density population and job centers.

How can you best work with retailers to ensure this initiative is a success?

We’ve already started reaching out to tenants, to ensure they are aware and take advantage of this service, as they plan for their re-openings. Additionally, our tenant relationships, and the support teams that are in place allow for regular, one-on-one check ins. Maybe most important is that this program remains flexible and reactive. It won’t be exactly the same at one location as it is at another. It will meet the needs of the customers and tenants it is intended to serve. And, we’ll continue to push and grow it.