Right Time and Place for Curbside

Curbside

Curbside a new mobile shopping app has formally launched with almost $10 million in funding. Jaron Waldman is CEO. He was the head of the “Geo Team” at Apple following the acquisition of his mapping startup Placebase.

Simply put, Curbside taps into the “buy online, pick up in-store” infrastructure of major retailers such as Target, Toys R Us, Home Depot and Crate and Barrel. Just as that suggests, users shop and buy within the app. They then pick up the merchandise at the physical store.

It’s very analogous to online ordering for restaurants; however it’s about products. Waldman launched the app in private beta earlier this year (he and I had a quick discussion about it some time ago). He told me today that their early repeat usage numbers are strong and that people find the app “pretty compelling.”

Lots of startups have in way or another been trying to solve the real-time product inventory problem for years. The first of these was Kendall Fargo’s StepUp Commerce, later followed by NearbyNow, Milo, Krillion, Retailigence, Goodzer and others. Nokia dabbled in this space for a little while.

Curbside arguably offers the most complete consumer experience available to date: inventory + in-app payments. Waldman and his team are only able to do this because the digital inventory systems of major retailers have matured to the point where he can access their data.

The “omni-channel” movement in retailing is also helping his cause. Many retailers, he told me, see this as another way to combat pure-play e-commerce. He added that he’s getting access, as far as he knows, to all the real-time inventory the retailers make available on their own sites.

Curbside

I asked about smaller retailers; is there a plan for them? Like others before him Waldman said that smaller retailers’ inventory systems are mostly not ready for prime time and so cannot participate at this point. He would like to help and include them however. Indeed, that was his original vision.

The company had to turn to larger retailers when it became clear that SMBs weren’t able to support Curbside. Waldman thus found out what StepUp, which had a similar vision, discovered more than eight years ago.

The difference now is that new POS systems, such as Square Register and others, could enable SMBs to participate in Curbside. Most of the inventory in the Square Market is coming from inventory cataloged in Square Register. As more SMBs adopt iPad-based POS systems they will be increasingly able to participate in digital product syndication.

One interesting thing the company is testing with the Oakridge Mall in San Jose California is a multi-retailer curbside pickup. Currently only a couple of retailers offer this (e.g., Target) but on an individual basis. However we’ll probably see this feature expand.

He also told me that at the Oakridge Mall customers get temporary preferred parking (and can go into stores to shop thereafter). That’s another incentive to use the system.

Most of e-commerce is about convenience rather than price. This is a hybrid: ensure the product you want is there waiting for you and then go into the store/mall to shop for other stuff. This buy online, pick-up in store solves many of the same problems as e-commerce same day delivery, but without the massive cost involved. (Google Shopping Express is probably not going to survive long term for this reason.)

There are many product extensions available to Curbside over time: coupons/promotions, FSI circular data and even indoor location. Regardless, Curbside appears to be at the right place at the right time. Retailer inventory systems are mature enough to support this; consumer mobile shopping (and payments) usage are fairly well established and retailers are investing in supporting multiple sales channels.

Waldman is therefore lucky but he’s also experienced and smart. He knows the local space well and is familiar with its challenges and opportunities. And I think that based on the early feedback and momentum, Curbside looks like it’s tapped into a big one.

Leave a Reply