Twin Cities shoppers once again get to be guinea pigs for a new program that Target is testing out in its hometown: curbside pickup.
The service, which the Minneapolis-based retailer is calling "Drive Up," went live on Monday at 50 stores around the Twin Cities. Customers who want to use it place online orders through Target's app, click a button when they are on their way to the store, park at a designated parking spot and then employees bring the items out to their car.
The rollout follows an internal test of the service among headquarters employees at three Twin Cities stores over the summer.
Aimed at time-strapped shoppers who would prefer the convenience of not having to get out of their cars, the service is one of the latest ways that brick-and-mortar retailers are trying to fight off Amazon and stay relevant as consumers are increasingly accustomed to having online orders show up on their doorsteps within hours.
Like in-store pickup, curbside pickup also is a more profitable way for retailers to fulfill online orders since customers make the trip to the stores to fetch their orders instead of having to pay for the extra costs of shipping them to people's doorsteps.
Walmart has added curbside pickup areas to hundreds of its stores and is focusing its offering on fresh groceries. CVS also offers a curbside pickup service on orders placed through its website or app.
"We think this is going to be a service that our guests will love, whether they're going to a birthday party and need to grab a quick gift or whether they run out of diapers," said Jamie Bastian, a Target spokeswoman.
She added that the plan is to learn from the test in the Twin Cities, then make tweaks and roll it out more widely. She didn't provide a timeline for when it may be expanded to other markets.
For one, Target is testing how best to house the service in its parking lots. Most stores in the Twin Cities have signs above two parking spaces near the store entrance dedicated to Drive Up. But at two locations — stores at St. Paul's Midway and Apple Valley south — Target has built out larger covered areas similar to a gas station for the program.
Drive Up is only available through the latest version of the Target app, and initially only through the iOS version. When customers check out on the app, they can select Drive Up as one of several options that also include shipping the items or picking them up inside the store.
Customers will get a notification when their order is ready — generally within less than two hours — and customers hit an "I'm on my way" button in the app when they're en route to the store. If customers have their location services turned on, the store will then know when the customer is in the parking lot and will bring the order out to the vehicle.
Nearly 200,000 items that span home furnishings, household essentials, toys and nonperishable food are eligible for the service.
Fresh groceries such as produce and refrigerated or frozen items are not included. No minimum order is required and the service is free.
In recent years, Target had partnered with Silicon Valley firm Curbside to offer a similar service at more than 100 stores in California, New Jersey and Chicago, but it ended that program last year when it decided to build its own program through the Target app.
Most stores in the Twin Cities are testing Drive Up; exceptions are Target's downtown store on Nicollet Mall and its smaller format stores in Dinkytown and Highland Park.
The retailer also recently used its hometown to first test out Target Restock, a next-day delivery service of household items program.
After piloting the program in the Minneapolis area in June, the retailer rolled out Restock to several other cities and will have it up and running in 11 major markets by later this month.