The pandemic saw an explosion in grocery delivery and pickup options but now that things have gone back to near normal, the question is whether such services can distinguish grocery chains and satisfy consumers’ desire for instant gratification.
Albertsons thinks it has the answer: a 30-minute window between order and pickup or no more than 50 minutes between order and delivery for a small service fee on orders of no more than 35 items.
The service, Flash DriveUp & Go, is being rolled out at nearly all of the company’s more than 2,200 stores — Albertsons, Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s, ACME and Tom Thumb, among others – in 34 states, Albertsons said in a September 13 press release.
“Shoppers today want fast pickup and delivery, and Albertsons is meeting this expectation with our new Flash service,” Stephen Menaquale, senior vice president for eCommerce and Fulfillment, said. “Whether you’re missing a key ingredient for tonight’s dinner, or need a healthy snack for your kid’s lunchbox, families can turn to Albertsons to quickly replenish their food and household staples.”
Experts told The Food Institute the program is Albertsons’ way of tapping into the convenience trend, which has been growing in recent years but has largely focused on prepared foods.
Consumers’ “need-it-now” mindset is not going to go away any time soon, and with flu season in the offing, now might be a good time for Albertsons to tap into that attitude.
“While it’s a challenging feat to deliver orders in just 30 minutes, it isn’t impossible,” said Christopher Jackson, chief technology officer at Eco Motion Central. “Albertsons’ large footprint and extensive resources could make this a reality.”
David Bakke, grocery shopping expert at Dollar Sanity told FI, however, the 30-minute window likely is not a gamechanger.
“For the most part, not many folks need their groceries at the last minute,” Bakke said.
Whether the service survives likely will be dependent on consistency and whether Albertsons can make it profitable.
“Transportation costs and a lack of customer demand density make profitability of home delivery extremely difficult in most markets,” said Jeff Bornino, president, North America, of TMX Transform. “I’m sure there are some customers who might want 30-minute deliveries, but I’m not convinced that it matters that much to most of America, and at the moment, I just don’t see a path to profitability.
“Grocers should figure out how to make money on next-day delivery before promising same-day, let alone 30-minute deliveries.”
There’s a $3.95 service charge for the pickup service and $11.95 for delivery within 50 minutes unless the customer is signed up for FreshPass. Customers in the latter category will be charged $2.
Albertsons said the service does not include alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, certain frozen items, and food requiring extra preparation time.
I hadn’t used Jewel-Osco’s DriveUp & Go option since it became relatively safe to go back to the grocery store, and had never used the option at the store on Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, Illinois.
I was not happy with the service at the Jewel in Evanston, Illinois, because of one pickup in in the winter of 2020-21 when the temperature was hovering around zero. After checking in and waiting in the snow-covered parking lot for 30 minutes, I called the store again to tell them I was still waiting – and it took at least 15 minutes more before my order was brought out.
The weather was not nearly as bad on September 19, although it was raining and the wait time – well, we’ll get to that.
I placed the Flash order – 10 items from produce and grocery, none from the pharmacy, refrigerated case or frozen – at 12:35 p.m. and the app said it would be ready at 1:05. About 20 minutes later, I received a text that said the order was ready.
I got to the parking lot at 1:05 p.m. and followed the instructions for receiving my order. The website responded my order would be out within five minutes. I waited 10 minutes and then clicked on the option to phone the store. A person answered and said the order would be out immediately. Another five minutes passed before the order was placed in my trunk.
Once I got home, I checked to see if the entire order was there. During the pandemic version of DriveUp & Go, they did not make any substitutions for items that were out of stock. This time, they substituted regular Miracle Whip for the light version and whole baby portobella mushrooms for sliced. I might have done the same for the Miracle Whip, but likely would have substituted sliced white mushrooms.
The two garlic bulbs I bought were less than acceptable. Several of the cloves were rotten.
I likely won’t be using the service again – unless I’m desperate.