Groceries on the web: New trend coming

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A growing trend in grocery shopping -- one that will arrive in Shelbyville in the next few months -- is online ordering combined with curbside pickup.

It works like this: You go to the store's website, at your convenience, and select your groceries. You make payment arrangements online, and then schedule a specific time to pick up the groceries. Some chains offer same-day pickup, while others require pickup the next day. This service isn't intended for last-minute or emergency purchases, or for those who buy a few things every day or two. These services are more aimed at people who traditionally buy a lot of staple groceries at once.

Picking them up

At your appointment time, you drive up to a designated curbside spot next to the store and use your mobile phone to let the store know you have arrived. You don't have to get out of the car; your groceries are loaded into your vehicle while you wait. Your credit or debit card isn't charged until you pick up the groceries, although there may be a pre-authorization hold when you place the order.

Some grocery chains charge a fee for using the pickup service, although they may allow you to try the service out the first few times for free, or offer discounts on your first order.

Melissa Eads, a spokesperson for Kroger in Tennessee, confirmed that online ordering/curbside pickup, which Kroger markets under the brand name "ClickList," is being planned for the chain's Shelbyville store, which is currently undergoing renovations. Eads said the plans are to have the service up and running "sometime in May."

Walmart calls its program "Walmart Online Grocery." Molly Blakeman of Walmart Corporate Communications said Wednesday there are no plans to offer it in the Shelbyville store in the coming months. On its website, the company says it added more than 400 grocery pickup locations nationwide in 2017, and reported that it had a total of 1,000 as of September. Blakeman did say the company would be enhancing the process of general merchandise pickup inside the Shelbyville store.

Yes and no

The service isn't for everybody. Last month, the Times-Gazette asked local shoppers on our Facebook page whether they were interested. Some were excited, and some are already driving out of town to take advantage of the service in other cities where it's offered. Others considered it wasteful, or even lazy, and said they prefer to do their own shopping, so that they can choose their own meat and produce and examine things like expiration dates.

"I'm not that lazy," wrote Mary Holley on the Facebook page. "After a while, people won't even get up and walk."

The service seems to be especially popular with parents of infants or young children, who have large grocery needs and who find it inconvenient or disruptive to take the kids shopping.

Jennifer Kirby commented that she uses the service at a Kroger in Murfreesboro.

"It's much more convenient with a baby for me to make my list from home and drive to Murfreesboro to pick up the groceries without leaving my car than to have to get her out," wrote Kirby on the Facebook page.

Special trips

Several other commenters said they were already using the service in Murfreesboro or Franklin. Lisa Schlatter said her husband works in Smyrna and swings by a Kroger there to pick up their grocery order after leaving work. Others apparently make a special trip to Murfreesboro just to take advantage of curbside pickup.

Some people, like Karen Smith, would use the service only for non-perishable items and then make a separate, much shorter, shopping trip for meat and produce, which allows them to be more selective.

"I'm too picky about my produce," wrote Cisco Mantanona.

Walmart, however, says that almost half of the items it sells through Walmart Online Grocery are from fresh food departments (produce, meat and seafood, bakery, and dairy). Some stores offering grocery pickup allow customers to leave special instructions when placing their order -- how ripe they want their bananas, for example.

No impulse buys

Former Times-Gazette photographer Jim Davis, who lives in Smyrna, said in an email that the service helps keep him from making impulse purchases. He uses Walmart's version of the service, and it shows him previous purchases online, which saves him time looking for frequently-purchased items. But it also showed him some items that he'd bought in person, which he thought was "Big Brother and 1984ish."

Davis said he makes a separate trip, to a different store, to shop for meat and produce himself.

Candice Vinson said she'd love to be able to use curbside pickup during flu season.

"Easier on us," she wrote, "and we don't have to expose others to our germs throughout the store!"

This curbside pickup service for groceries is a separate offering from the normal online sales of non-perishable items, with home delivery or in-store pickup, that some stores have offered for years. Walmart has had online ordering and home delivery of many items for years, and currently allows items ordered online to be picked up at a designated location inside the store.

One of our Facebook commenters, who's ordered items for home delivery in the past, complained about a price difference between an item in the online store and the same item picked up from a store shelf. But Kroger and Walmart both say their prices for curbside pickup are based on store prices. Kroger specifies that the price is based on the store price on the day you pick up your order; if the price of an item changes between the day you order it and the day you pick it up, you pay the current price.

Minor adjustments

The exact total for your order when you pick it up may vary slightly from the estimated price when you placed your order online, depending on things like the weight of your produce, items that might no longer be in stock, or changes in the store price.

Kroger's website says the fee for using ClickList varies by market, although several online sources mention a price of $4.95 per order. Walmart offers most pickups for free, but requires a $30 minimum order. According to Walmart's website, in some cases you can pay a fee to arrange for an earlier pickup time.

Kroger does allow shoppers to present paper coupons when picking up their order, although the company notes that this will slow down the checkout process.