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VOL. 131 | NO. 238 | Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Grocery Stores in Memphis Race to Transform Shopping Experience

By Andy Meek

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Grocery stores in Memphis are in a scramble to refashion the shopping experience they present to customers, via everything from digital services like pre-order and scheduled pickups to mall-like amenities inside the stores themselves.

Grocery shopping in Memphis is changing, thanks in part to services like Shipt, an app-based experience that lets users order goods from Kroger and have a Shipt employee deliver them to the user. 

(Photo courtesy of Shipt)

Examples of the former include Shipt, an app-based service that lets consumers forgo a physical trip to the store altogether. With a few taps on a mobile device, the user selects what items they’d like to put into their digital shopping bag, and a Shipt worker on the other end makes the actual trip to Kroger, picks up the goods and delivers them to the user.

Memphis is the 31st market that service is expanding into. Shipt offers same-day delivery, as soon as one hour after placing an order. In addition to whatever the user spends on the goods they buy – as well as a nominal delivery fee – they’re also required to have a Shipt membership.

Memberships are $14 monthly or $99 per year. Orders of more than $35 have no delivery fee, while orders under $35 come with a $7 delivery charge.

That service launches soon. A Kroger spokeswoman in Memphis said she’d not heard of the service before but welcomed the arrival and the expectation of more business for the supermarket chain.

Kroger earlier this year rolled out its ClickList online ordering service in the Memphis area. That gives customers a way to pre-order everything they want and schedule a time to drive to a nearby Kroger – as long as it’s set up for the ClickList service, since not all of them are – and have a store employee bring the goods out to them.

Kroger Delta Division spokeswoman Teresa Dickerson said she didn’t have numbers to share related to local ClickList customer activity, offering only, “We’re pleased with the initial ClickList rollout in the Memphis area so far.”

The stores themselves are also thinking about more than the simple transaction of buying staples like bread and milk. The new Midtown Kroger store on Union Avenue that opened a few weeks ago is one example – it’s packed with amenities that make it feel almost like a contained shopping center.

Inside, there’s a sushi bar, Starbucks, a Corky’s BBQ area and more.

The forces reshaping the grocery experience aren’t unique to Memphis. Major retailers like Target, Wal-Mart and even Amazon offer their own grocery options and services, giving customers even more choices to reckon with.

One thing a deep-pocketed giant like Amazon can’t do – besides give customers an easy way to buy groceries online – is offer the kind of experience that something like the new Union Avenue Kroger can. Meanwhile, local stores like Randy Stepherson’s, president of the SuperLo Foods grocery business in Memphis, are likewise stepping up their digital game.

Stepherson said SuperLo is preparing to roll out an online pre-order offering in the near future that’s similar to Kroger’s.

“It’ll be where you can go online, order your groceries, and then come to the store and have them brought out to your car,” he said of the service, which will start at SuperLo’s at 4744 Spottswood Ave. SuperLo’s South Main and Southaven presences will be added next, once the first location gets going smoothly.

“I think, for the most part, most people will continue to go to the grocery store and select their own stuff, but there’s certainly going to be folks that just consider strolling the grocery store to be a waste of their time,” Stepherson said. “So you’ll select a time to pick up your items, and we’ll only have so many slots for each timeframe so we don’t get overwhelmed and can’t handle it.”

Stepherson’s point about “most people” includes shoppers like Jimmy Lewis, managing partner for French Truck Memphis whose previous career in commercial real estate gave him insight into the grocery business. He falls into the category of shoppers who crave the experience of shopping in the store, from getting to know employees to appreciating things like Kroger’s new touches on Union Avenue.

“I’m interested in how grocery stores express themselves, and if that’s not something that gets to live on as part of the (digital) experience, that to me represents a loss,” Lewis said. “You can also learn a lot about somebody by interacting with them in the grocery store, and you can’t do that with the move to digital purchasing and providing drive-up service.

“It’s not an inconvenience for me to go to the grocery store, because that’s just not the way I look at it,” he said. “My life is just not that busy, and I don’t want it to be that busy.”

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