By Lauren Thomas  |  April 30, 2020  |  CNBC

A major U.S. shopping center owner is making curbside pickup a permanent feature at its properties, as more customers are turning to this option during the coronavirus pandemic.

Kimco Realty, which owns more than 400 shopping centers and other mixed-used developments, is rolling out designated curbside pickup spaces in parking lots at 23 centers in Texas, starting as soon as this week. It will be adding these spaces to its shopping centers nationwide in the coming days, Kimco told CNBC.

Kimco said it initially tried the service at its Grand Parkway Marketplace in Spring, Texas, whose tenants include Ross Stores, Party City and PetSmart. It made 60 parking spots designated for curbside pickup, which all retailers at the property are able to use as a shared amenity. When shoppers place orders from these retailers — opting to use curbside pickup — they are instructed which parking slot to arrive at.

“While curbside pickup was already gaining traction before the pandemic, some of our national retailers are now reporting a 200 percent increase in curbside pickup orders,” Kimco Chief Executive Conor Flynn said in a statement.

“By formalizing the process and expanding it beyond national retailers to our local mom and pops, we hope to help tenants quickly ramp back up sales as the economy begins to open again,” he said.

The trend has only been gaining steam in recent weeks after stores across the country have been shut down to try to halt the spread of Covid-19. Some companies, like Kohl’s, have still been able to offer curbside pickup from their stores while barring shoppers from the store. And essential retailers such as Target and Walmart have continued to offer this as an option during the pandemic.

The number of orders placed online and picked up at stores by customers surged 208% in the first 20 days of April compared with a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics.

Two major industry trade groups — the Retail Industry Leaders Association and the National Retail Federation — released their broad-based blueprint for how retailers, in a phased-in approach, should be thinking about getting back to business.

Phase one is to ramp up online sales and offer curbside pickup. In phase two, stores can reopen to the public, using social distancing protocols and limiting capacity. Phase three calls for establishing “protection,” and then lifting all remaining restrictions, RILA and NRF said.

Apparel retailer Chico’s FAS, which also owns White House Black Market, said earlier this week that beginning Monday, it will kick off its first of three phases to reopen. To start, it will be fulfilling online orders using store inventories. Then, it will allow customers to buy online and pick up in stores. Finally, it will allow people to shop in its stores by appointments only.

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