For those who have felt eons slip away as they waited in a seemingly endless supermarket checkout line, there are options.
The past few months have brought a small boom in new ways to skip the line for Pittsburgh-area shoppers, ranging from retail giant Wal-Mart offering to do the shopping and have the purchases ready for customers to pick up at the store to a South Hills startup that promises home delivery for orders placed online — although only in certain neighborhoods at this point.
“The opportunity to expand e-grocery is large, with customer adoption rates still nascent but growing,” said Jennifer Bartashus, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst.
With consumers now confidently ordering books, electronics and clothing on the web, adding butter and eggs to the digital cart isn’t much of a stretch. It’s still early in the shift, and many customers have to get used to the idea of trusting someone else to pick out their apples and greens.
For grocers, they have to be able to offer the service efficiently — particularly when it comes to variable costs like labor and transportation — so that it doesn’t eat into profits, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
Yet pockets of competition are popping up with industry behemoths Amazon, Target and grocery-ordering app Instacart all offering their own versions of online grocery shopping, including pickup or home delivery in select states.
Closer to home, Zing Basket launched in late August, offering groceries delivered in 45 minutes to doorsteps in Downtown Pittsburgh, Oakland, Mount Washington, Green Tree, Mt. Lebanon, Robinson, Scott, Dormont and Crafton. The service includes organic and gluten-free items as well as local brands. Delivery is free if the order exceeds $50.
The startup company is part of Green Tree-based Ablak Holdings, a franchiser with experience in home delivery — one of its franchises is Vocelli Pizza, which can have about 200 drivers on the road on a given day, CEO Varol Ablak said.
“Early on, we thought about home delivery, aside from pizza,” Mr. Ablak said, adding that Zing Basket was two years in the making.
The company is offering service from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. but is moving toward being open 24 hours a day and expanding into other neighborhoods in the region as well as Washington, D.C. The company has 15 drivers and plans to expand to 80-100 in the next six months.
“We want to build out with franchises,” Mr. Ablak said. “A lot of this has to do with population, traffic flow and where people are already used to ordering online.”
Other companies that have launched delivery services elsewhere in the country, include New York’s FreshDirect with service along the East Coast and Illinois-based Peapod, a subsidiary of Ahold Delhaize, which partners with Stop Shop and Giant food stores.
O’Hara-based grocer Giant Eagle has expanded its Curbside Express service to seven area Market District locations, including South Hills, Shadyside, Pine, McMurray and Waterworks, after introducing the service at its Robinson store in 2012.
“From a numbers standpoint, we’ve seen notable double-digit growth,” said Dan Donovan, marketing and corporate communications director.
The chain also has 12 Curbside Express locations in Ohio.
“Columbus has become a good market to pilot new things to ensure that it maximizes customer value without creeping into other markets — the distance between the stores in Ohio is farther. So we can fine-tune it and bring it to additional locations,” Mr. Donovan said.
Curbside Express customers can redeem coupons and get Fuelperks online, Mr. Donovan said.
“It’s a great convenience for a lot of customers. For the mom or dad with kids in the back seat, you don’t have to leave your car. Everything is brought out to you. And for our older customer base or those with disabilities who may have trouble navigating the store,” he said.
Bloomberg Intelligence notes that young families are an important target audience.
“Finding parking and navigating large stores with children can make it challenging to keep trips quick and on-budget,” Ms. Bartashus said. “The service enables retailers to capture new and potentially lost sales … even without customers entering the store.”
In an April 2015 survey, Nielsen found that maybe the milkman idea — delivering staples to the door or a waiting car — is coming back into style.
“Across the globe, we’re seeing a resurgence of the home-delivery model — with a twist,” according to the Nielsen Global E-commerce and the New Retail Survey. “Consumers aren’t just picking up the phone to order; increasingly, they’re pulling up the retailer’s webpage or using their mobile app.
“One-quarter of global respondents are already ordering grocery products online for home delivery, and more than half (55 percent) are willing to use it in the future,” the survey found. “The milkman is back, but this time he’s gone digital.”
Still, brick-and-mortar stores have perks that digital can’t replace.
“Physical stores also have strong key advantages over e-commerce — especially for fast-moving consumer goods,” the Nielsen survey found. “In fact, the majority of global respondents (61 percent) reported that going to the grocery store is an enjoyable and engaging experience. A similar percentage (57 percent) thinks grocery shopping in a retail store is a fun day out for the family.”
Nielsen found that “clicks do lead to bricks.”
“The connected commerce era has arrived,” said Patrick Dodd, president, global retailer vertical, at Nielsen, in the 2015 report. “Consumers are no longer shopping entirely online or offline; rather, they’re taking a blended approach, using whatever channel best suits their needs.
“The most successful retailers and manufacturers will be at the intersection of the physical and virtual worlds, leveraging technology to satisfy shoppers however, wherever and whenever they want to shop.”
Stephanie Ritenbaugh: email@example.com or 412-263-4910