Should grocery shoppers and delivery personnel be talking?

Photo: RetailWire
May 09, 2022

Asda is testing an hourly delivery option that lets customers communicate directly with the “personal shopper” who is collecting their orders in-store.

A three-month trial of the service in Leeds and Bristol in the U.K. is being conducted in partnership with delivery platform, Buymie.

Asda wrote in a release, “Buymie’s network of personal shoppers will exclusively pick, pack and deliver each order, giving customers the ability to submit any preferences and discuss their requests — including the type of substitutes they would accept, if their original choice is unavailable.”

Delivery fees for the service range from £3.49 to £4.99 ($4.31 to $6.16). A processing fee of £1 ($1.23) also applies with the fee rising to £3 ($3.70) for small basket orders under £30 ($37.02).

Simon Gregg, SVPP of e-commerce at Asda, said, “We know that customers are increasingly looking for a more personalized service. The trial in Leeds and Bristol will give access to our full online range and a ‘personal shopper’ experience for bigger basket shops through Buymie’s interactive platform.”

Surveys show many consumers still prefer picking their own produce and meat and that a personal shopper option could virtually guide that process. A bigger benefit, however, could be managing out-of-stocks and finding the best substitutes.

According to Lucidworks’ “Shoppers Stay Hungry Online: Groceries on the Internet in 2022” study based on a survey of U.S. and U.K. grocery shoppers:

  • Fifty-eight of customers frequently or at every visit experience unavailable products online.
  • While customers are mostly open to purchasing recommended items as a substitute, roughly 90 percent have at least one grocery item that they will never substitute for based on ingredients, preparation and brand.
  • Seventy-nine percent want to be notified when an item they like is back in stock (66 percent via email, 44 percent via text and 20 percent via auto-added to cart).
  • Only about a quarter of shoppers say that grocery sites are making recommendations every time an item they want is unavailable and 11 percent reported that they rarely see recommendations for substitutes.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Would enabling grocery shoppers to talk with their delivery personal help reduce substitution shortcomings and other e-grocery challenges? What do you see as the execution complexities? Would consumers pay enough of a premium to support the service?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Yes it adds a level of complexity, but as a shopper it also brings me into the fold of being willing to try a delivery service."
"What am I missing here? Sounds like what Instacart has covered for years..."
"Maybe a different type of clerk – like a concierge possibly?"

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26 Comments on "Should grocery shoppers and delivery personnel be talking?"

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Mark Ryski

This solves one problem, but creates another. The shortcomings of stock outs and substitutes are well understood, but eliminating or reducing these is a challenge. Allowing shoppers to speak with grocery delivery folks would help, but it will also slow the process down considerably. Furthermore, while some shoppers may pay a premium for this service, many will not pay for it – especially in a climate of high inflation and shoppers being hyper cost conscious.

Neil Saunders

Communication helps those picking products to understand the consumer’s preferences. In theory, this should improve satisfaction. This is not a new thing: when I used to use Instacart, the shopper would frequently text while in the store to ask about substitutions or different options. All that said, there are two issues. First, it adds to complexity/time and, therefore, cost. Second, it should really be an opt-in service as it can be annoying for a customer who just wants their order delivered rather than to have an ongoing conversation about it.

Michael La Kier

Two-way communication between the “buyer” and “shopper,” however it happens, would be huge in terms of not only order competition but also buyer confidence. Giving buyers greater confidence that their personal shopper will “get it right” will increase online shopping.

Bob Amster

We are talking about hiring and/or training to a higher level of associate who can be trusted to communicate directly with the customer. At what cost can grocery afford to do this? Or will grocers be forced to raise their prices slightly in order to offer this additional convenience?

Lee Peterson

Great point — I’ve witnessed people waiting outside to see if they had hours that day — this would take a trained FTE, different ballgame entirely.

Jeff Sward

The grocery store equivalent of a fashion stylist (kind of)! Love it! Yes it adds a level of complexity, but as a shopper it also brings me into the fold of being willing to try a delivery service. Sounds like next level personalized service for a shopping function that has to be done at least weekly. This is a marketshare grabber.

Carol Spieckerman

Although enabling direct communication between shoppers and customers adds complexity, the uptick in sales should more than make up for it. Packaging sizes, brand options, and other nuances get lost in most retailers’ online ordering systems. Efficient shoppers are adept at managing these communications and even promoting substitutions.

Dr. Stephen Needel

To me the question is a financial one, because the benefits to the consumer are obvious. If tests show that this doesn’t take much time or effort on the part of the picker/deliverer, and doesn’t add much to the cost, then it has to be a big customer pleaser.

Richard Hernandez

The stores are already crowded with large carts used to gather online orders. Now the clerks are going to take longer chatting with customers while they are shopping? Maybe a different type of clerk – like a concierge possibly?

Brad Halverson

Richard, you’ve identified an important point. Most order pickers/delivery people won’t either have much time to chat, nor would they understand the product nuances well enough to be of great value to the customer.

An in-store concierge, though, tilts the game in the customer’s favor.

Andrew Blatherwick

This is a great step forward in delivering truly customer-focused service for online shopping in grocery. Recent research has revealed that customers are happy to pay more if they can set a time of delivery. I am sure they would also be prepared to pay more if they can know they are getting what they want or, if that product is out of stock, they can get the substitute they want by talking to the picker. This would offer a comfort for shoppers to make sure they are being well looked after and having their wishes followed. Great idea and a real differentiator in the market. Congratulations ASDA.

David Spear

Well, with such a low percentage of shoppers receiving recommendations for substitutes when an out-of-stock occurs, fostering a two-way communication between shopper and delivery person would be an improvement. hat said, the threshold for additional fees is getting smaller with rising inflation. It feels like we’re in a bit of a conundrum, which is why the results of the Asda POC will be super interesting to see.

Lee Peterson

Adding complexity to the situation is only going to make it worse. Just imagine the conversations with people that have never been in your favorite grocery store (I see a cluster of available “help” waiting outside my grocer every day, waiting to see if they’ll get some hours that day) on where to go or what the name of that cheese was. You know, if you need to do that you might as well just go over there and get it yourself.

Brandon Rael

The e-grocery operating model is built on efficiency, economies of scale and, ultimately, meeting customers’ needs. However there are instances where the delivery personnel have to interact with customers, especially when certain items aren’t available. While this introduces additional complexity to the customer journey, this level of personalization will help differentiate one e-grocery company from another.

Communicating with the customer solves one challenge and introduces another step of the customer journey. The e-grocery model meets the customer’s needs and provides viable alternatives when certain grocery products are not available. There will be some additional time needed for the grocery shoppers to interact with the customer. However, ultimately, it leads to a good experience.

Gene Detroyer

An example of a discussion I often have with my wife while shopping:

ME: They don’t have the product on the list you gave me.
WIFE: OK, do they have X?
ME: No, they don’t have that either.
WIFE: What do they have?
ME: They have A, B, C, and D.
WIFE: Get D, but the small package.
ME: They only have a large package.

…and so on, and so forth.

Consider that I have some idea of what my wife buys and uses. Now imagine a store shopper who is a stranger and my wife discussing what product to buy. UGH!

Georganne Bender

This isn’t anything new. I order groceries for an elderly relative regularly through Instacart. There is a “it’s getting low” substitution screen, and if something isn’t available or the Instacart shopper has a question, they text me with photos so I can choose. Shoppers and customers being able to talk is a good thing.

Lisa Goller

Connecting shoppers and delivery personnel could boost accountability and order accuracy, and humanize players in this competitive category.

End-to-end personalized experiences give shoppers real-time influence, making picking and delivery less anonymous. At their doorsteps, a consumers could take time to review the order with care before the delivery person drives away.

Complexities include tight time constraints, urgent, real-time communication and ensuring efficient pickers also excel at customer service.

As prices rise, shoppers may decline new premium services like this, thinking, “Forget it. I’ll just go to the store myself.”

Gary Sankary

The idea sounds good, but I do not think it’s scalable. The two big issues for retailers around this space at the moment are 1.) driving down costs associated with the extra handling of products and 2.) finding the people to do the work. This would slow down the picking process significantly and add time and costs. I think a better approach is what I’ve seen many U.S. retailers do – allow customers to select alternative items for key products. This allows the picker to keep moving and the customer to get what they need.

Ken Morris

Shoppers would love it if grocers took the mystery out of remote shopping. With produce in particular, there’s often the suspicion that online shoppers are getting the least attractive items. But something needs to be done to reduce substitutions or at least make them more acceptable to customers.

Some shoppers will be over-demanding, of course, which will drive pickers crazy and reduce productivity, so there will need to be new metrics and KPIs that align to the added dimension of accepting real-time “coaching” from customers.

Shep Hyken

It’s nice to have the human-to-human connection between customers and delivery personnel, but that creates a potential efficiency issue. If we want to deliver quickly and efficiently, having conversations with customers can slow down the process. While there may be times it is appropriate for conversations, it would be better to create a website that consumers uses to place their orders that manages most options, questions, and even suggests substitutions when their requested items are out-of-stock. Get as much done in the ordering process to mitigate – and ideally eliminate – reasons for the customer to have to call.

As for paying for the service, if the value is there, the consumer will pay. Convenience may come at a cost, but it is one that many customers are more than willing to spend a little money on. The goal for the retailer is to find the balance between value and price.

Jeff Weidauer

The most surprising thing about creating a “personal shopper” option is that it has taken this long. There will always be a segment of consumers who want personal attention – the challenge will be getting them to pay for it.

Ken Lonyai

What am I missing here? Sounds like what Instacart has covered for years: the consumer can select substitutes when placing the order and communicate with the shopper in real-time when they are picking the order for additional substitutes or additions.

Trevor Sumner

This sounds like a good idea for customer experience but exacerbates the core challenge that delivery economics in grocery don’t make much sense. It could take an hour to pick and deliver an order at a cost of $20 per hour, and yet shoppers are only willing to tolerate $7. Add the trouble of trying to get in touch with customers on the picker’s schedules, frustrating communication lapses or even rude consumers, English as a second language for many pickers and this sounds like a disaster in the making to me.

Brad Halverson

Costco was doing this in 2020, 2021, at least in our market.

I can vouch it worked well for us on several occasions. Not only were the pickers efficient by asking in advance if I wanted substitutes before shopping started, but added value during the journey, by seeing if I wanted 1-2 complementary add-ons to my base of basket items, or if I needed meats or seafood heading into the weekend.

As Richard mentioned, the value upside and future are in concierge-like employees who will be better suited to sort out pairings, flavors and quality levels.

Anil Patel

Despite technical advancements, a human “personal shopper” cannot be compared to AI-driven recommendations. Shoppers will undoubtedly use this service to make their lives easier. The key execution problem here appears to be providing a consistent customer experience whenever a consumer uses a personal shopper for grocery shopping. It will be interesting to see how grocers and shoppers react to it because if they can see the value in it, customers will be willing to pay more for more convenience.

Gwen Morrison

This has potential for helping shoppers get more of what they want but also creating nightmares for the retailer. If a third party ” picker” is the direct line to a retail brand experience, they’d need significant skills in customer service.

"Yes it adds a level of complexity, but as a shopper it also brings me into the fold of being willing to try a delivery service."
"What am I missing here? Sounds like what Instacart has covered for years..."
"Maybe a different type of clerk – like a concierge possibly?"

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