April 12, 2011, 3:30 PM

Harris Teeter rolls out more store pickup deals

The grocer is expanding the number of stores where consumers can pick up online orders.

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Harris Teeter, a chain of 202 grocery stores in the eastern United States, plans to expand to 88 from 68 the number of stores that provide store pickup of online orders, the company says. The grocer expects to offer the service within a year.

To encourage online grocery shoppers to buy more often, even for small orders, Harris Teeter last week introduced a $16.95 monthly fee as an optional alternative to its regular $4.95 per-order fee for its Express Lane Online Shopping service that requires the consumer to come to a store to obtain her groceries. “Harris Teeter understands that its busy customers do not always have the time to stop into the store for smaller purchases and, by offering this convenient monthly fee option for Express Lane Online Shopping, hopes to encourage Express Lane Online shoppers to use this service for both their smaller orders throughout the week and their larger weekly order as well,” the retailer says.

Harris Teeter provides its online shopping option through a web site integrated with HarrisTeeter.com and hosted by MyWebGrocer Inc., which lists more than 100 retail grocery chains as clients. MyWebGrocer charges its retailer clients a per-order fee of $4; its clients charge their customers an average per-order fee of about $8, according to MyWebGrocer CEO Rick Tarrant.

Another MyWebGrocer client, Atlanta-based Publix Super Markets Inc., recently started testing a store pickup service at three locations in Atlanta and Tampa, FL, with a per-order fee of $7.95. Several years ago, Publix tried fulfilling online orders for home delivery from its own warehouses and with its trucks, but ended that effort in 2003 because of low customer activity, a spokeswoman says. The new store pickup service so far appears to be generating strong customer interest, with at least 80% of online shoppers returning for additional orders, she adds.

Although some MyWebGrocer clients offer home delivery of online orders fulfilled from supermarkets, including Wakefern Food Corp.’s ShopRite chain in the northeastern U.S., most offer only store pickup, Tarrant says. The process of how customers pick up their orders varies from one chain to the next, he adds.

At Harris Teeter, an Express Lane Online Shopping customer drives up to a parcel pickup lane adjacent to a store, pushes a button on an Express Lane call box, and waits for the Harris Teeter “Personal Shopper” who picked the order to load the groceries into her vehicle.

Harris Teeter, a unit of Charlotte, NC-based Ruddick Corp., doesn’t release figures on online sales or comment on how they’re performing compared to total sales, a spokeswoman says. Ruddick reports that Harris Teeter’s total sales increased 7% to $4.10 billion for the fiscal year ended Oct. 3, 2010, up from $3.83 billion the prior year. That sales increase was helped by a net increase of 10 stores during the 2010 fiscal year, when comparable-store sales declined 1.1%. Comparable-store sales refer to sales at stores open for at least a year.

For the first quarter ended Feb. 3, Harris Teeter’s total sales increased 5.9%, to $1.03 billion from $972.3 million a year earlier, Ruddick reports.

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