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CVS pushes curbside pick-up service launch date

(AP/FILE)

On the eve of rolling out a new curbside pick-up service, CVS Health shut down the service and pushed back the launch date due to malfunctions.

The new system, created in partnership with Silicon Valley start-up Curbside, was supposed to launch at 4,000 CVS store locations nationwide on Thursday, including 260 stores in Greater Boston.

It allows customers to order goods — from milk, to makeup, to a bag of Doritos — and pick them up in an hour, without getting out of their car.

CVS director of communications Erin Pensa said so many people attempted to use the new app during the soft launch phase that orders became backlogged and slowed the system significantly. The Woonsocket, R.I.-based company shut down the service entirely around 2 p.m. Wednesday.

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“We’re trying to figure out what’s going on,” Pensa said. “What we were expecting versus what we’re seeing has us worried. . . . We really felt like we wanted it to be great when people try it.”

The push to offer such services comes as other traditional retailers face increased competition from online outlets like Amazon.com, which has been ratcheting up the pressure with same day and even hourly delivery services.

The way the new service is structured, customers can use either the CVS app or the Curbside app to place an order.

The app then transmits it to a CVS employee equipped with an iPhone.

The employee fills the order and has the ability to track a customer’s whereabouts and arrival for pick up in the parking lot.

Sucharita Mulpuru, a retail strategist at Shoptalk, said many companies from Walmart to Mercedes-Benz are experimenting with such services. She predicted consumers will see retailers continuing to offer new ways to pickup goods as technology advances.

Curbside services are a step in that direction, Mulpuru said.

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“It’s another form of choice for customers is really what it is,” she said. “It’s like a drive-through at McDonald’s. Does everybody use it? No, but a lot do.”

Yet CVS’s delayed launch comes several months after another national retailer, Target, ended a pilot program with Curbside after testing the technology in more than 100 stores, according to the website Consumerist.com.

A Target spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Curbside co-founder and chief executive Jaron Waldman said in an interview earlier this week that CVS and Curbside had successfully pilot tested the new CVS service in three US cities.

Waldman said about 55 percent of people who tried it in the CVS pilot came back to use it again.

He could not be reached for further comment about the shutdown Wednesday night.

Waldman, who formerly led the development of location-based services for Apple products, had said a key feature of the transaction is speed.

A customer should not have to wait for an order because a runner should appear with a purchase at a designated parking space so fast it “feels like magic,” he said.

That magic has been delayed for now.

CVS’s Pensa said the service now has a new launch date of Monday, Sept. 26.


Megan Woolhouse can be reached at megan.woolhouse@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @megwoolhouse.