Area grocery stores, online firms partnering to deliver the goods

Area grocery stores, online firms partnering to deliver the goods

Grocery stores are beginning to offer online delivery, and it's not just for lazy millennials.

Though "you might be," said Art Sebastian, Meijer vice president of digital shopping, said. "You may use that time to nap. I don't know. Whatever makes sense for you. You're in control."

Freedom and saving time are the selling point for Meijer's new online grocery delivery service, which launches at its Champaign and Urbana stores Aug. 24.

It follows the recent expansion to the area of Instacart, which ships groceries for Schnucks and other stores.

"This is for every customer, anyone looking to save time," Sebastian said. "We see this for college students, working professionals, in some cases, the elderly."

Meijer is partnering with startup Shipt to power its service, which will cost $99 a year. This includes unlimited deliveries for orders over $35. Orders less than that will include a $7 delivery fee.

Meijer launched its service in other cities in September, and Sebastian said it has been popular, with Shipt making more than 250,000 deliveries for Meijer so far.

With online delivery at Meijer, customers can order fresh produce, refrigerated and frozen items, pet food, health and beauty supplies, and even back-to-school items.

For fresh food, customers will be able to make notes about what they want, such as how green they want their bananas.

In July, startup Instacart expanded to Champaign, making deliveries from Schnucks, Binny's Beverage Depot and CVS.

Its service costs $149 a year, or $5.99 for two-hour deliveries over $35.

Instacart general manager Dave Osborne said Instacart saw "nice demand" in its first week here and that the expansion is going well.

"We've had a great reception from our customers," said Paul Simon, a spokesman for Schnucks, which also has an Instacart-powered delivery service branded as Schnucks Delivers.

People will buy most anything online today, but groceries are still mostly bought in person.

Some startups, such as Instacart and Shipt, are trying to enter this arena in partnership with existing stores, though it isn't necessarily profitable.

Instacart has "figured out how to be profitable in specific markets at a gross margin level," said Osborne. "We're able to do that in mature markets, but right now we're focused on growing."

Shipt spokeswoman Julie Coop said, "The majority of our established markets are profitable, and our new markets often reach profitability approximately nine months after launch."

Meijer sees the new online services as a way to sell more product more efficiently, Sebastian said.

With its online delivery service, and with online pickup, where customers order online and employees have their order ready to go when they pick it up, "we're maximizing our brick-and-mortar footprint," Sebastian said. "It's efficient for us as well. We're moving more volume through the store. Our intent is to give customers more options."

Walmart also offers free online pickup and is experimenting with Uber for online delivery in certain markets, though not in Champaign-Urbana.

"It definitely complements what we do for our customers," said Sarah Borgmann, Walmart e-commerce coach.

Not everyone has added online options.

Aldi, which focuses on low prices and efficiency, doesn't have online grocery delivery or pickup. Neither do Target, Harvest Market or County Market.

However, Niemann Foods, which operates the local County Market and Harvest Market stores, said it would like to add these services.

It is testing these in some of its stores, said Gerry Kettler, Niemann's director of consumer affairs.

"It's just a matter of implementation," he said.

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