Is Kroger’s pick-up only store a solution for grocers now and in the future?

Photo: Kroger
Mar 30, 2020
Tom Ryan

A Kroger store in Cincinnati has converted to pickup-only due to the surge it has seen in online orders. A byproduct of the change may be that the store is now better suited to address many of the shopping challenges associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pickup-only model is ideal for all customers, especially for senior and higher-risk shoppers,” Kroger said in a statement. “Because of the ongoing increase in grocery products and services at this time, it’s also important for our customers to know they may experience limited inventory options and longer wait times than usual.”

The store’s pharmacy remains open, with healthcare staff available for consultations. Nearby Kroger locations will continue to offer in-store shopping.

Delivery and pickup orders have jumped for grocers in recent weeks following calls for social distancing by medical professionals and government authorities.

A survey of more than 1,600 shoppers from e-commerce platform ShopperKit taken from March 23rd to 25th found 31 percent used grocery pickup and/or delivery over the last 30 days compared to 13 percent in August 2019. Forty percent of people over 60 ordered groceries online for the first time.

Due to heightened demands, however, delivery wait times for some grocers are running more than a week.

A pickup-only store may also help limit hoarding and be a better safety option than in-store shopping. Grocers continuing with regular operations are currently limiting the number of shoppers, installing plastic shields at checkout counters and regularly cleaning stores as steps to make in-store shopping safer.

A March 27 USA Today story asked whether grocery stores and pharmacies had become “super-spreading virus vectors” with touching shopping carts, freezer door handles, cardboard boxes and plastic packaging nearly unavoidable. A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found the virus was detectable up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

On Friday, Trader Joe’s temporarily closed eight stores for cleaning because workers had contracted the virus.

“The biggest concern about a grocery store is everyone wants to be there,” Virginia Tech epidemiologist Charlotte Baker told USA Today. “That means you’re closer in proximity than we’re recommending people be.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are grocery stores “super-spreading virus vectors” or are the safety steps being taken sufficient to create safe-enough environments for customers and staff? What do you think of the utility of pickup-only grocery stores at the present time and after the coronavirus pandemic has finally ended?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Minimizing virus spread is the highest priority (next to finding a viable treatment) and pick-up groceries is one of the most effective ways to do this. "
"We take all the precautions we can inside our store and older stores simply can not convert to BOPIS as the infrastructure of the building is not set up for this."
"Robotic warehouse automation will likely eventually make BOPIS a major phenomenon at retail. But it will never replace the immediacy and 360 experience of personal shopping."

Join the Discussion!

27 Comments on "Is Kroger’s pick-up only store a solution for grocers now and in the future?"

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Art Suriano

A pick-up only store during the current pandemic is smart and should show excellent results. I especially like how the article spoke of the ability to control hoarding, which has become an enormous problem. However once the pandemic is over and things return to normal, it’s hard to know if a pick-up only store makes sense. Keeping a store open is expensive and, without the ability for customers to come in and pick up last-minute items or something they want to add to the online order, this may negatively impact profit. If Kroger and other grocers who may experiment with this concept have strong online sales, and they see customers like the idea of a pick-up only location, then this could become something we see a lot more of in the future. Only time will tell as with any new concept or strategy.

Bethany Allee

Grocery stores are “super-spreading virus vectors.” Kroger’s move to a pick-up only model is a socially responsible way to support customer needs and protect their employees. Minimizing virus spread is the highest priority (next to finding a viable treatment) and pick-up groceries is one of the most effective ways to do this. I think all grocery stores/vendors should move to a pickup-only model until the pandemic subsides. After the virus has ended, I think there will be a larger propensity of folks to use curbside/pickup, because they’ll be more familiar with how convenient and easy it is. COVID-19 forced the adoption of a model the grocery store has been moving to for years.

Suresh Chaganti
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
5 months 25 days ago

It is going to take a while for new protocols to stabilize. While retail environments, particularly grocery, are more susceptible to virus spread, the online retailers and pick-up options are not completely off the hook. Product has to flow through packaging, shipping, handling and delivery.

Airport security protocols changed irrevocably post 9/11. There is going to be change on the same level with this pandemic, but across every aspect of life. Though it could be short- or medium-term as people lower their guard.

Bob Amster

As a short-term change yes, some chains will convert some stores. As a long-term trend, no. We must remember that humans are social animals. We like interaction (no man is an island). When this virus subsides some habitual changes will have happened for the foreseeable future, and we will also return to some other, interrupted habits. There may be a move to creating a permanent, small number of pick-up only stores in demographic areas in which there is a specific need for them and chance for success.

David Naumann

Grocery stores that are dedicated to pick-up only are essentially micro-fulfillment centers (aka dark stores) on steroids. Several grocery chain have been testing dark stores as a way to increase the efficiency and profitability of online order fulfillment and delivery. Similar to the “dark kitchens” that some restaurant chains have tested.

The coronavirus is changing customer habits today and many of these habits will be changed forever. It is likely that we will see more dark stores in the future, but they will likely be smaller than full-sized grocery stores.

Ken Morris

Grocery stores are vectors for the contagion. My physician daughter-in-law tells me that despite what the government says everyone should be wearing a mask and gloves in a supermarket and anywhere else they may come into contact with carriers of the virus. Pick-up only locations are a great idea now and going forward. This epidemic will forever change the way we shop.

Georganne Bender

Pick-up only grocery stores are an extremely viable option right now. It makes sense in stopping the spread of the virus, and keeps store associates safer because they are not exposed to the public at large.

I cringe at the thought of going to a grocery store so I have shifted to shopping via Instacart. It’s a wonderful service and I applaud the workers but, truthfully, I am looking forward to choosing my own groceries again when this is all over. And I never thought I would say that!

Paula Rosenblum

Within the next two months? No. Over the longer term? Yes. It takes too much, I think, to get this done in a reasonable period of time, and the summer months will demand having too many of them, so that frozen and refrigerated foods don’t melt en route.

Maybe it’s the Floridian in me, or maybe it’s the melted ice cream that has shown up from Publix/Instacart because they don’t fill from a store near me, or maybe it’s the hyper-localization of part of the assortment, but I just don’t see it replacing “pick up at MY store.”

Bob Amster

Ice cream, Floridian sunny days and beaches — sounds like real drudgery Paula. 🙂

Brandon Rael

The evolution of the grocery store as a micro-fulfillment center has been underway with the emergence of BOPIS, lockers, curbside pickup, etc. In light of the current COVID-19 pandemic, grocers are now challenged to not only keep the supply chain and operations going, but also keep their consumers and store associates safe, especially as the virus continues to spread. If they have the capabilities to do so, all grocery stores should have a pick-up option or smaller locations available to those more vulnerable consumers.

From a personal perspective. shopping in grocery stores has changed dramatically over the past few weeks. Social distancing, additional wait times, and the need to wear protective gloves and masks are now the norm. With the anxieties increasing, and the quarantine remaining in effect for the month of April, consumers may want to only pick up or have their groceries delivered.

Al McClain

Supermarkets and other essential retailers should all move to pick up and delivery only, as much as possible for now. It protects the customers and really helps protect the workers, who will be exposed to many fewer potential carriers of the virus. Yes, some consumers sacrifice a teeny bit in that they can’t make impulse purchases as easily or as often, but setting up a weekly order is easy and if an older person can’t do it, a relative, neighbor, or friend can walk them through the process. Until and unless we get more people out of stores and staying at home, the curve won’t flatten as fast.

Gene Detroyer

I agree with my colleagues. This is an excellent solution for the current situation. But what Kroger and other retailers will discover is that the logistics activity for a BOPIS-only store will be considerably more efficient for the retailer.

BOPIS continues to gain traction with shoppers (depending on the data, 60 percent to 70 percent of shoppers are using it at one time or another). Let’s say that BOPIS morphs into 50 percent of grocery shopping being conducted via BOPIS. Will it make sense for a retailer to take their current stores and split them into shopping stores and BOPIS stores?

Shep Hyken

Just as airline passengers learned to buy their tickets online (instead of calling a live agent) and then learned to check-in and get their boarding passes online (instead of waiting in line at an airport) grocery store customers are going to learn how to shop online to pick up at the store without having to go in. This is something that retailers have been trying to teach their customers to do for several years. Now it could become mandatory as we focus on the safety of our employees and customers. Necessity is the mother of invention. Necessity is also the mother of adoption.

Neil Saunders

In theory, this is a good idea. However there is no way that an online-only store can serve as many shoppers as a normal store. This also needs to be done on a selective basis; making a store online-only in some areas will inevitably deprive access to groups with no or limited online service or those who are less digitally savvy.

Longer-term, I don’t see this as a viable solution save for a handful of locations where online ordering is highly developed. Online only shops are way less profitable than traditional shops, or shops where online picking and normal public access are mixed. They are also not able to drive volume like bigger online picking centers. So in essence, they are an imperfect solution.

Ricardo Belmar

Pick-up only retail locations, especially grocery, help to minimize contact and potential exposure to the virus, so this is definitely something all essential retailers should explore. However, the logistics of setting this up may be difficult for some. I have seen stories from other countries where grocery stores are having employees escort a customer around the store (at appropriate distances of course) to manage the flow of people throughout the store. Customers are expected to have their shopping list in-hand when they arrive and they are kept to only shopping for those items. The store escorts ensure that a minimum of merchandise is handled this way and that social distancing is enforced. They also limit the number of simultaneous customers in the store this way. It’s an alternative to a formal online order and pick-up scenario. All alternatives like this should be considered during these times.

John Karolefski

No amount of cleaning will make any supermarket “virus free,” but it can greatly minimize the chance of infecting shoppers. It’s interesting to note that Austria has mandated that all grocery shoppers wear masks that the store distributes at the entrance. And they clean their stores thoroughly as well.

A store dedicated to curbside pick-up of groceries is a smart move for the short term, but it won’t be so for the long term. However, I predict that curbside pick-up will increase in frequency once the virus is vanquished. More shoppers who tried it during the pandemic will simply like the convenience and use this option more often.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

I believe online shopping and the related pickup options will continue beyond this pandemic. Recent research conducted by Coresight Research found the following:

Around two-thirds of those surveyed expect to make more purchases online if the outbreak continues — the same as the prior week. In addition, there was a meaningful increase in the proportion of consumers who expect to keep changed behaviors: up almost 10 percentage points to 56 percent.

This pandemic will change many behaviors permanently. With online school at home advances, students may never have to make up snow days. Hand washing will change dramatically. Traditional shopping of all types will never be the same.

Tony Orlando

For those who think this is a permanent solution for supermarkets, and that we all should be doing pick-up only, you need to talk to store owners. We take all the precautions we can inside our store and older stores simply can not convert to BOPIS as the infrastructure of the building is not set up for this. The investment needed to do this properly is beyond our means, and we have a fire lane across the entire frontage of our building, which is enforced for safety reasons.

When everyone is working at 100 percent inside the store, it simply can not happen without major changes in layout and buying coolers and freezers to protect orders being filled. We are taking care of our customers very well, and the senior citizen days are helping those who need extra space and feel comfortable having their special time.

Peter Charness

Now, yes — in the future, not so much. Retail in general is all about making it more convenient for the customer to shop and has been for many, many years. Stores went to the suburbs to make it more convenient. Online shopping, BOPIS, etc. is all about convenience. Customers may not be terribly close to the dark stores, but they are close to their local stores. Offering pick-up (or delivery) from any location, and also Paula’s ability to pick her own ice cream if she wants is all about convenience. Store designs will have to change to make in-store picking faster and less obtrusive to the in-store shoppers. I can see wider aisles, more tailored assortments, and better pick and pack facilities in the back rooms …

Rich Kizer

Every service invented works for somebody. But the cost of those services will have to be clearly analyzed before becoming a constant. Staying out of the store at this time makes sense. However from a retailer’s point of view, customers that elect not to walk in miss a lot of impulse purchases. I think most retailers will certainly vote for foot traffic once this virus is history. And yes, they will also vote to supply any services which the competitive marketplace will demand of them.

Brian Cluster
Supermarkets have in the last month shown significant flexibility in changing to meet the needs of their community. As one of the last acceptable places of social gathering, they are a point of potential infection. However, they have put in place numerous new policies and approaches that cater to specific customers and minimize health risks. In the LA area, there are more than 14 different chains offering some type of senior shopping hours. Additionally, every store that I have been to in the past two weeks has added the social distancing marks on the floors by the checkouts. Store employees are tasked with cleaning handbaskets, shopping carts, doorknobs, high traffic countertops and other areas of the store. Could they do more? Perhaps, but the grocers that I have seen are employing all of these strategies quickly. As more and more consumers opt to go to pick-up, the grocers will learn much more about delivery preferences. Can you better cater to your customers by answering: Do they want contactless, trunk delivery or does the shopper want… Read more »

The positives are obvious: safer environments, fewer contaminants, and fewer worries. However, supermarkets and other stores that deal with pick-up only perishable goods must also be ready for the risks. These include needing a high selection quality, similar to the way the shopper would treat their own groceries. It also means having the infrastructure to handle returns when they inevitably happen.

Overall it’s a positive move for the virus and a good time to do some testing and gather data for a post-COVID-19 world.

Lee Peterson

YES! We say that the “store of the future is not a store,” and that many will convert or be created along these lines — this in the “new normal.” Restaurants too. I would advise keeping certain stores open that offer a great “experience” (i.e. service, atmosphere, product display and quality distinction, speed checkout, plus BOPIS/Delivery), but otherwise, grocery delivery will soon be a major challenge for all retailers who dwell in this category. Once the consumer is trained on the benefits of this, which is happening now and in the next 2-3 months, there’s no going back — just like the rest of retail.

Herb Sorensen

I highly recommend this discussion, for anyone seriously interested in the BOPIS (buy-online-PU-in-store) option.  This clearly has significant relevance, globally, during this Corona-virus challenge.

I do think BOPIS will get a permanent boost from this challenge, but I do NOT think a retailer paying their staff to “do YOUR shopping FOR you” makes much sense.  SELF-service shopping (the standard today) is essentially a FREE service shoppers provide to retailers.  (SELF-checkout advances this to payment at the exit.)

Robotic warehouse automation will likely eventually make BOPIS a major phenomenon at retail.  But it will never replace the immediacy and 360 experience of personal shopping.  Adding in/at-home delivery to BOPIS will continue to grow, but cannot impact the permanent bricks advantage of “immediacy/360!”

Craig Sundstrom

“Safe” is a relative term, none of us are particularly competent to judge. In this example (assuming the groceries are picked by a team) there will be fewer “hands” touching things, but of course if one of them somehow ends up contaminated, the spread would be more extensive, so I don’t know what the aggregate effect will be.

A few experiments may be worthwhile, but I can’t see it being much more than that: people also want continuity in their lives right now and a wholesale changes in distribution methods — whatever the health benefits might be — probably isn’t welcome.

Ananda Chakravarty

Groceries are virus vectors as much as hospitals or rental units in a building would be. The only super spreading factor is that they are open to the public. There is still a threat even with pickup and delivery as the virus can stay on surfaces from hours to days according to WHO. There would need to be a high degree of wiping down products with cleaners and in some cases harsh ones like bleach to truly sanitize the products. This becomes challenging for produce and deli meat. BOPIS and curbside pickup will partially reduce the threat, which will allow them to trend higher now, but will drop back down, maybe a little higher than before, but certainly not at the same levels they would be during this crisis.

James Tenser

I’m not too keen on converting existing supermarket locations into pickup-only stores. I suspect the real estate (locations and physical proportions) are a bad fit in the majority of instances.

As an experiment, however, the Kroger location in Cincinnati will likely yield a wealth of learning.

One thing is certain — the Covid-19 incident has given online grocery adoption a kick in the pants. Consumer trial is up. Habits will be forever changed. Everything we thought we knew about this trend is suddenly wrong.

"Minimizing virus spread is the highest priority (next to finding a viable treatment) and pick-up groceries is one of the most effective ways to do this. "
"We take all the precautions we can inside our store and older stores simply can not convert to BOPIS as the infrastructure of the building is not set up for this."
"Robotic warehouse automation will likely eventually make BOPIS a major phenomenon at retail. But it will never replace the immediacy and 360 experience of personal shopping."

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