June 24, 2013, 4:33 PM

Skipping the checkout line: a first look at Ahold USA's pick-up service

A look at what the consumer gets out of ordering groceries online for in-store pickup.

Danny Silverman
Vice President
Etailing Solutions

Every retailer, from Walmart to Kroger to Home Depot is experimenting with different ways to bring technology to the checkout lane to ease the near-universal pain of waiting in line, which can easily add five to 10 minutes to the shopping trip. But what if you could skip the checkout lane altogether? A recent innovation from Ahold USA's Peapod and sister supermarket companies gave us the chance to find out first-hand. Called Pick-Up, it's a new, no-fee offering whereby customers shop and checkout online, and then pick up their groceries at their local Stop & Shop or Giant supermarket rather than receiving home delivery.

In the grocery home-delivery space, Peapod is the benchmark by which all others measure themselves. With over a decade of experience, and the largest geographical footprint in the space, they continue to evolve and innovate to meet the needs of their customers while improving operational efficiency. Yet Peapod knows that home delivery isn't for everyone.

As a Peapod customer and a resident of Sharon, Mass., I can relate—every Peapod order is a luxury, and a welcome break from the traditional trip: My wife and I can take days to build the cart from any device, add items 24/7, skip the parent/child battles that wage in the aisles of most any grocery store, bypass the long checkout lines and, best of all, a kind, courteous Peapod driver schleps the bags into the house for us! And yet, for one or more of the reasons mentioned above, we use Peapod only on occasion.

So… Pick-Up? What would it take to move from the near-luxury of home delivery to picking up the bags ourselves? Would this be the innovation that would tip us from occasional to regular Peapod customers? It took one sick child, 18 dinner guests, and one very jam-packed week to figure it out.

Dinner for 18 is a carefully orchestrated event, with a daily schedule of cleaning, shopping and cooking. What wasn't planned for was our son waking up with a 103-degree fever the morning before Grocery Shopping Day. With me out of town and the daily routine cast to the wind, the entire, perfectly planned schedule was crumbling before our eyes.

Was Peapod delivery the solution? Between doctor's appointments, coordinating carpools, and the general chaos of running a house with a sick child, the two-hour delivery window just wouldn't work for us. Even knowing Peapod would text us when the driver is on the way would be little help if my wife was sitting in a doctor's waiting room or picking up our daughter from school.

And that was when my brilliant wife remembered all the Pick-Up signs in our local Stop & Shop, Peapod's sister company, and realized that it made perfect sense: Let Peapod do the shopping and we would just pick up the groceries at our local Stop & Shop on our schedule. Genius.

It worked perfectly. In between taking temperatures and fixing snacks, my wife started shopping on Peapod.com. From my iPhone, I added a couple items as well. And before long, almost the entire menu was shopped for and in the Peapod virtual cart. From there, we chose a pick-up window for the next day, (8am-9am, which was right after drop-off time for our daughter), confirmed payment information and checked out. We were reminded via email that we had up until 3pm to add items to the order, which my wife certainly did as last minute needs were identified. And at 3pm, the order was finalized, paid for, and confirmed for the next day.

Having returned that night, I took our daughter to school the next morning. We were running later than usual, but no worry – I had an hour-long window to work with. After dropping her off, I pulled into the Pick-Up area at my local Stop & Shop around 8:30. I was immediately greeted by Sherri, who confirmed who I was, and had me sign for the order. She also let me know there was one item out of stock but because we had opted for no substitutions, a credit had been applied to the order. She then proceeded to empty a series of green totes filled with shopping bags and loaded them into the car. The entire process took less than three minutes. Glorious!

Along the way, we quickly realized another benefit to the pick-up option. Even though Peapod offers a huge variety of items, not every single random item is on there…like jalapeno stuffed olives, the dinner guest-of-honor's favorite. But since I was already in the Stop & Shop parking lot for the pick-up, it was easy enough to just run inside to top off the list – what could have been a two-hour shopping trip was done in eight minutes. Meanwhile, my wife was able to stay with my son, we stayed on Schedule, and dinner was saved!

That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. For example, we would love to see all items added to Peapod.com so the extra run into the store for jalapeno stuffed olives isn't needed. In addition, we found communication the day of pick-up lacking: We didn't receive any e-mails or texts reminding us about the appointment, alerting us that the order was ready for pick up, or letting us know about the out-of-stock item. We also noted the service wasn't available on a recent national holiday.

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