December 30, 2013, 11:00 AM

The drive-thru meets the web

France-based Chronodrive enables shoppers to order and pay for groceries online and pick them up at their convenience and without paying a delivery fee. The company opened its first location in 2004 and now has 67 warehouses throughout the country.

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On her way home from work, a busy mother and wife in the city of Lille, in northern France, drives into what resembles a gas station on a weekday evening. The hurried mom of three drives up to a kiosk and presses a few buttons. Within a few minutes, an employee emerges from a large warehouse nearby carrying out a week’s worth of groceries for her family, and loads the items in her trunk. She never has to leave the comfort of her warm car.

The working mother is at Chronodrive, a French e-commerce company that merges the web and the drive-thru, enabling  shoppers to order and pay for groceries online and pick them up in between two and 24 hours (or just 30 minutes if ordering from a mobile phone at their convenience and without paying a delivery fee. Customers pull into one of Chronodrive’s warehouse parking lots and get their goods within five minutes of arrival. Customers can even inspect the produce to ensure their bananas aren’t too ripe or meat too fatty before they leave.  Chronodrive sources its own food.

Chrondrive was founded by French retail professionals Martin Toulemonde and Ludovic Duprez, who together began working on the concept in 2002. They wanted the process to be convenient and fast without the consumer having to leave her car—essentially a grocery store meets a fast food restaurant. Chronodrive opened its first location in Marcq-en-Baroeul, France, in 2004 and now has 67 of what it calls ‘drives’ in cities throughout the country and more than 3,000 employees. Chronodrive targets busy suburban households. The average customer owns a home, lives in a household with two cars and where both adults work, the company says.  More than 65% of Chronodrive customers live within 15 minutes of a warehouse, and for 70%, a warehouse is located on their route to work.

In the United States, online grocer Peapod offers a similar service but in most cases the order isn’t available for same-day pick up. Peapod, No. 55 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide lets online shoppers pick up their orders the next day in nine states and Washington D.C. In five locations, four of them in Peapod’s home state of Illinois, consumers can pick up their orders the same day at a Peapod warehouse.

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