The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Em­i­lie Rusch

The Wal­mart that opened this week on East 104th Av­enue in Thorn­ton doesn’t quite fit the big-box re­tailer’s typ­i­cal mold.

By Wal­mart stan­dards, at 4,000 square feet, it’s down­right tiny.

The lat­est con­cept from the Arkansas­based re­tailer, Wal­mart Pickup with Fuel, 1650 E. 104th Ave., is one part con­ve­nience store, one part gas sta­tion and one part phys­i­cal bet on the boom­ing market for on­line gro­cery shop­ping.

In ad­di­tion to gas pumps and your typ­i­cal con­ve­nience store fare — hot cof­fee, cold soda and snacks galore — at Wal­mart prices, Wal­mart Pickup with Fuel is home to a ded­i­cated drive-through for pick­ing up gro­cery or­ders placed through Wal­mart’s on­line gro­cery ser­vice.

“We’re just look­ing for bet­ter ways to serve our cus­tomers,” said Gina Kre­toski, Wal­mart e-com­merce market coach. “The way cus­tomers shop is chang­ing and our time is such a valu­able com­mod­ity.”

The Thorn­ton store, which cel­e­brated its grand open­ing Wed­nes­day, is just the sec­ond Wal­mart Pickup with Fuel na­tion­wide. The first opened this past spring in Huntsville, Ala.

Wal­mart has cho­sen the Den­ver area to test new ef­forts be­fore, in­clud­ing its ini­tial for­ays into on­line gro­cery pickup. Den­ver is also a test market for the chain’s gro­cery de­liv­ery pro­gram.

“This market of­fers great in­sight for what our cus­tomers want,” Kre­toski said.

Na­tion­wide, on­line gro­cery sales are grow­ing at a pace that far ex­ceeds those at brick-and-mor­tar su­per­mar­kets, said Made­line Hur­ley, a lead an­a­lyst at in­dus­try re­search firm IBISWorld.

In re­cent years, on­line gro­cery sales have in­creased 11 per­cent per year on av­er­age, com­pared with just 1.3 per­cent at su­per­mar­kets, she said.

“There’s def­i­nitely a lot more growth op­por­tu­ni­ties in on­line gro­cery than there is in reg­u­lar gro­cery stores,” Hur­ley said.

And while it’s still a small piece of the over­all pie — on­line gro­cery rev­enue was ex­pected to hit $12.3 bil­lion to brick-and-mor­tar’s $600.8 bil­lion this year, ac­cord­ing to IBISWorld — both star­tups and es­tab­lished gro­cery play­ers are get­ting in on the ac­tion, she said.

“On­line gro­cery de­liv­ery has been around for a long time, but to­day it’s a lot more ac­ces­si­ble and eas­ier to use through mo­bile apps,” Hur­ley said. “The tra­di­tional stores like Safe­way and oth­ers are see­ing that, so they’re also in­vest­ing as to not lose market share.”

In the Den­ver area, Wal­mart isn’t the only re­tailer to see the op­por­tu­ni­ties. A flood of food-de­liv­ery star­tups have en­tered the market in re­cent years, and Safe­way re­cently launched its first fleet of on­line gro­cery de­liv­ery trucks in the metro area. King Soop­ers has been of­fer­ing home de­liv­ery for years.

Wal­mart has 20 Su­per­centers and Neigh­bor­hood Mar­kets in metro Den­ver that of­fer free on­line gro­cery pickup, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany. Wal­mart Pickup with Fuel, though, is the only lo­ca­tion that also has a gas sta­tion on site, Kre­toski said.

“If we of­fer more than one ser­vice in one lo­ca­tion, we feel like we’re tak­ing bet­ter care of our cus­tomers and the way they live their lives,” she said. “Cus­tomers are look­ing for that con­ve­nience fac­tor.”

On­line gro­cery pickup is avail­able from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with same-day ser­vice for or­ders placed by 1 p.m. Or­ders are ful­filled at lo­cal Wal­mart Su­per­centers and de­liv­ered to Wal­mart Pickup with Fuel via re­frig­er­ated truck.

Cus­tomers also can have other Wal­ items de­liv­ered there to be picked up — tread­mills in­cluded, Kre­toski said.

Inside, the store looks like a con­ve­nience store — there are hot dogs on roller grills, fresh dough­nuts and a wall of drink op­tions. Signs ad­ver­tise “Same low price. Smaller store.”

A small se­lec­tion of gro­cery items are also avail­able, with an eye to­ward last-minute needs, Kre­toski said. The store is open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Out­side, Pat John­son of North­glenn pulled her Honda Civic into the gro­cery drive-through around 10:30 a.m. Thurs­day. Af­ter a brief wait, a Wal­mart as­so­ciate loaded her trunk with bag af­ter bag of gro­ceries.

The re­tiree said she would def­i­nitely be back again this win­ter.

“If the weather’s bad, we can just drive here,” she said.

The newly opened Wal­mart Pickup with Fuel is pic­tured at 1650 E. 104th Ave. in Thorn­ton. The 4,000-square-foot fa­cil­ity opened Wed­nes­day. It’s the first of its kind in Colorado and only the sec­ond in the U.S. Andy Col­well, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post

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