More con­sumers are turn­ing to on­line gro­cery shop­ping, and stores are rush­ing to get in on the trend.

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Quee­nie Wong qwong@ba­yare­anews­group.com

Gro­cery shop­ping can feel like you’re nav­i­gat­ing through an ob­sta­cle course filled with crowded park­ing lots, long lines and scream­ing kids.

But a grow­ing num­ber of Amer­i­cans are check­ing off their gro­cery lists with­out even walk­ing in­side the store.

San Fran­cisco res­i­dent Al­li­son Howard gets her gro­ceries de­liv­ered to her home about once a week through In­stacart. The busy mother of four places an or­der on­line for items in at least two or three stores, in­clud­ing Costco, where time flies when you’re munch­ing on free sam­ples.

“It’s just a huge time sav­ings when I think about those ex­tra five and a half hours I have,” said Howard, who has been us­ing In­stacart for more than three years. “That makes it pretty much a no­brainer for me.”

Tech com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Ama­zon, Google and In­stacart have been team­ing up with re­tail­ers to ex­pand on­line gro­cery shop­ping. Com­pa­nies also have been ex­per­i­ment­ing with ways to make pick­ing up gro­ceries in­side the store, or de­liv­ery, eas­ier.

“The ones that jumped in on the early side — it was a lit­tle risky — but they saw the po­ten­tial. Now these re­tail­ers are re­ally start­ing to reap the ben­e­fits,” said Pa­tri­cia Orsini, an an­a­lyst with eMar­keter.

About 23 per­cent of Amer­i­can house­holds are buy­ing their gro­ceries on­line, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 study by the Food Mar­ket­ing In­sti­tute and Nielsen. On­line gro­cery spend­ing has the po­ten­tial to grow five­fold to more than $100 bil­lion

in 2025, the re­port stated.

While shop­ping on­line can be more con­ve­nient, some shop­pers want to make sure they get the fresh­est fruits and veg­eta­bles by touch­ing and see­ing the pro­duce in per­son.

Shane Cau­dle, owner of The SPOT on 25th café in San Mateo, said he prefers to shop in per­son to guar­an­tee he buys the fresh­est pro­duce.

“One of the things I tell peo­ple at the café is I go out ev­ery sin­gle day and pick all the pro­duce my­self,” he said.

With his business just a few miles away from a gro­cery store, he’s also no­ticed

that on­line shop­ping costs more be­cause of the de­liv­ery fees.

Not be­ing able to see the gro­ceries in per­son was one men­tal hur­dle that Howard said she even­tu­ally got over. On­line gro­cery shop­ping also had other quirks. A bag of flour she re­ceived from Costco one day was much larger than she pic­tured in her mind.

Gro­cery stores have been ex­pand­ing the avail­abil­ity of on­line shop­ping in cities through­out the United States.

Wal­mart cus­tomers can or­der gro­ceries on­line and pick them up at the store on the same day. The re­tailer, which opened its 1,000th on­line gro­cery pickup lo­ca­tion this month, also joined forces with Google. Start­ing in late Septem­ber, Wal­mart

plans to let cus­tomers shop for items on Google Ex­press — the Moun­tain View-based tech firm’s shop­ping and de­liv­ery ser­vice — and re­order house­hold es­sen­tials just by speak­ing to Google’s vir­tual as­sis­tant.

When Ama­zon pur­chased Whole Foods, the e-com­merce gi­ant not only slashed prices but made the gro­cery store’s own branded prod­ucts avail­able through Ama­zon’s web­site and gro­cery de­liv­ery ser­vice. Ama­zon em­ploy­ees also have been test­ing a store in Seat­tle, where shop­pers can pick up their items with­out hav­ing to wait in a check­out line.

In­stacart re­cently ex­panded its ser­vice in the Bay Area, al­low­ing more con­sumers to get items de­liv­ered from Smart & Fi­nal,

Safe­way, Whole Foods, Tar­get and other stores.

Smart & Fi­nal last month launched its own web­site for gro­cery de­liv­ery pow­ered by In­stacart, which prom­ises same-day de­liv­ery in as lit­tle as an hour.

“It’s not nec­es­sar­ily that we’ve seen a shift so far, but we’ve seen new cus­tomers in­tro­duced to the Smart & Fi­nal brand,” said Joe VanDette, Smart & Fi­nal’s vice pres­i­dent of dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing. “In turn, we’ve seen a lot of cross­over with those cus­tomers go­ing into our stores and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what we have to of­fer.”

An­ti­och res­i­dent Maria Irma Aguilar uses Wal­mart’s and Safe­way’s web­sites to gro­cery shop on­line with her son, who at­tends col­lege in Ari­zona.

“We were send­ing him

money and he was just eat­ing out or spend­ing his money fool­ishly,” she said.

Now, the mother and son get on the phone ev­ery two weeks to pur­chase gro­ceries on­line. She’s even walked him through how to cook a recipe, through FaceTime.

“He learned how to cook for him­self, and now he’s not eat­ing out as much or the junk food as he was eat­ing be­fore,” she said.

At a Smart & Fi­nal store in San Mateo, In­stacart full-ser­vice shop­per La Ti­gre Wa­ters wasted no time pick­ing out ba­nanas, as­para­gus and other items on a cus­tomer’s shop­ping list.

With about 40 min­utes to shop and de­liver the gro­ceries, she strate­gi­cally placed her cart to the side, scanned the aisles and gath­ered veg­eta­bles so she only made one trip to the scale.

She knew that dried apri­cots were lo­cated on a bot­tom shelf. When an item was out of stock, she alerted the cus­tomer through the app.

“It’s a very at­ten­tive job,” she said. “No­tice I took a step back, an­a­lyzed ev­ery­thing at once and then went in and made sure the only one I touched was the right one.”

And while time was wind­ing down, the qual­ity of the items was also on her mind.

“If I would not eat it, give it to my kids or al­low my grand­mother to see I have pur­chased such an item,” she said, “I would not bring it to the cus­tomer.”

Con­tact Quee­nie Wong at 408-920-2706.

PHOTOS: KARL MONDON — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

In­stacart re­cently ex­panded its ser­vice in the Bay Area, al­low­ing more con­sumers to get items de­liv­ered from Smart & Fi­nal, Safe­way, Whole Foods, Tar­get and other stores.

Full ser­vice shop­per La Ti­gre Wa­ters has 40min­utes to ful­fill an on­line shop­ping re­quest for an In­stacart cus­tomer.

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