ADVERTISEMENT

Leslee Chilcott dreads grocery shopping. With four kids ages 2 through 13 in tow, one can imagine why. So, to Chilcott and many busy moms like her, click-and-collect grocery shopping sounds like magic.

With click-and-collect, consumers make a digital grocery list, choosing what they want on a website or on their phones via a smartphone app, then drive to the grocery store and pick it all up at the curb.

“No lines. No child wrangling. Not having extras put into the cart,” said Chilcott, of Hamburg. “It sounds great.”

Wegmans is testing the service, which has a $10 flat fee, at its Pittsford store, and Dash’s Markets is considering implementing it at its five locations.

It’s a trend that’s gaining popularity in Europe and Canada and taking hold in major markets throughout the United States, where the most successful efforts are seeing some customers increase purchases by as much as 700 percent. But for all the benefits to store and consumer, there is an art and science to pulling it off. Wegmans tried a similar program in 2002 that it just couldn’t get off the ground.

This time around, aided by advances in technology, Wegmans has been more successful. It started with a pilot program limited to a test group of customers, and has now expanded to include all its Pittsford store customers.

Wegmans started in the fall with three “personal shoppers” trained to pick and pack customers’ online grocery orders and will soon have 20 people who can do the job.

“We’re adding people every day. We’re really ramping up very quickly,” said Heather Pawlowski, a vice president at Wegmans in charge of the program. “So far we’ve heard great feedback.”

At the Pittsford store, Wegmans has replaced its defunct video rental area with a bank of coolers and freezers, where orders are stored until customers arrive. Customers use the same grocery list generator available now on Wegmans.com and the Wegmans app, but when they’re done clicking the items they want, they submit it to the store with the date and time (at least four hours in advance) they want to pick everything up.

There is even room to leave notes for their “personal shopper,” such as, “grab the freshest milk from the back of the cooler” or “I like slightly green bananas.”

At their chosen time, the customer drives up to the “helping hands” area and calls a phone number listed on the side of the building to let workers know they’ve arrived. A worker collects the customer’s coupons and payment (credit card only), brings the groceries out and loads them into the vehicle.

“I would do that in a heartbeat, no matter the cost,” said Danielle Fleckenstein of Buffalo.

Owner of the children’s fitness facility Rolly Pollies and mom of three children younger than 4, Fleckenstein considers her time extremely valuable, and the opportunity to outsource grocery duties priceless. She believes she might even save money by avoiding the impulse buys she picks up in the store.

“This service was made for me,” Fleckenstein said.

Other groups who have shown interest in the program are adults who shop for elderly parents, empty nest parents who shop for their college students and customers with disabilities who have difficulty maneuvering through the store.

Wegmans has made no plans to roll out its personal shopping program to the rest of its stores, and is still in the early stages of testing and analyzing the program, Pawlowski said.

The most important focus so far has been on getting every order right, which is not as easy as it might sound.

There are many opportunities for errors when selecting the exact brand, flavor, quantity and size for each item, and sending the wrong product can quickly frustrate customers.

Though it is labor intensive, stores have found they can maximize the extra labor capacity they have during the day by having workers fill online orders during downtime. Wegmans, for example, offers personal shopping pickup from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

And the payoff for those companies that have successfully implemented click-and-collect shopping has been tremendous. The most successful stores have increased their average transaction price for those using the service by up to 700 percent, said Burt Flickinger III, a retail expert and managing director at Strategic Research Group.

Generating sales

Though Wegmans has built its grocery pickup program from the ground up, Dash’s Markets has been working with a third-party provider, Ithaca-based Rosie App, in weighing whether to implement a similar program.

Dash’s has been busy with its acquisition and renovation of the former Budwey’s store on Kenmore Avenue, and hopes to study the online program by June.

“We just need to spend a little more time looking at the details of the program,” said Mark Mahoney, director of operations at Dash’s. “We’re definitely very interested.”

For curbside pickup programs to be viable, they have to spur shoppers to spend more per transaction than the average in-store customer.

“With online ordering, people tend to just buy the necessities and you lose those added sales of impulse buys,” Flickinger said.

In order for Wegmans and Dash’s to break even, Flickinger estimates they would have to sell at least $80 per pickup order and $110 per delivered order. His research indicates both stores would do significantly higher sales per transaction than that.

If Dash’s went ahead with Rosie, the company would provide the technology, teach Dash’s how to implement the program and provide customized marketing.

In addition to click-and-collect, Rosie offers grocery delivery through third-party delivery companies. It charges a flat fee of $1.99 for grocery pickup, while grocery delivery would start at $3.99 within a 5 to 7 mile radius. Customers would also pay a percentage markup on each item. The company declined to disclose the size of the price markup, and Rosie does not accept coupons.

Rosie App anticipates shopper preferences based on their demographics and shopping history and suggests products accordingly. It can also remind a customer when they might be running low on paper towels at home, or let them know when their favorite cut of meat or brand of oatmeal is on sale.

“We make it super easy for stores to open up their online channel so they’re better able to digitally engage the consumer,” said Nick Nickitas, CEO of Rosie. “It’s allowing the grocery store to enter the 21st century and bring their product to the customer.”

That will be increasingly important as family-owned grocers find themselves competing with powerhouses such as Walmart – which has been pushing online grocery ordering – and Amazon – which has launched Amazon Fresh to offer grocery delivery in select and expanding markets.

Walmart’s grocery delivery program is basically the same as its regular delivery of online purchases. Easily transported items – boxed noodles, coffee beans and canned soup – are delivered at the standard shipping rate, with free shipping on orders over $50. Nonperishable grocery items are available in Western New York at Walmart.com.

Amazon Fresh offers free same-day or next-day delivery on more than 500,000 perishable and other grocery items to Prime Fresh members who pay $299 per year. The groceries arrive in insulated packaging within an agreed upon three-hour window.

Peapod, a division of Ahold that does click-and-collect as well as click-and-deliver, fills millions of orders in 24 markets in the Northeast and Midwest. Wegmans’ biggest competitors in Pennsylvania, Wakefern and ShopRite, have found great success with grocery delivery and curbside pickup.

More acceptable

For a long time, online grocery shopping was considered impractical. A number of grocery delivery websites sprang up and failed during the dot.com boom of the 1990s, finding customers just weren’t ready to embrace the concept.

In fact, early grocery deliverer Webvan is often cited as the biggest dot.com flop in history, losing more than $1 billion.

But if customers weren’t ready for click-and-collect grocery in the past, many are ready for it now. With consumers steeped in e-commerce, shoppers are much more willing to add groceries to the list of things they’re already buying online.

Janet Stellmacher-Pattison, a former North Tonawanda resident, uses click-and-collect at Lowes Foods in North Carolina and loves it, paying $4.95 for the service every time she shops.

Chilcott, the busy Hamburg mom, said she would switch from Tops to Wegmans if they began offering the service. In fact, stores using Rosie have found 60 percent of the customers that use it are new customers who formerly did their shopping elsewhere, according to the company.

Nickitas calls it a sign of the times in the Internet age: People are ready to surrender more of their daily tasks to technology if it means saving time and making life easier.

“Our focus with Rosie is not just selling groceries online, but making it easier for customers to manage this really important part of their lives,” Nickitas said.

email: schristmann@buffnews.com