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Whole Foods tests ‘click and collect’ online grocery ordering at 2 US stores

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Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsyslvania
Whole Foods is testing a "click and collect" program at two stores, including this one in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods
In the not-too-distant future, you may be able to shop online for organic hummus, soymilk and cage-free eggs from Whole Foods Market and pick up your order at the nearest store.

In the not-too-distant future, you may be able to shop online for organic hummus, soy milk and cage-free eggs from Whole Foods Market and pick up your order at the nearest store.

Austin-based Whole Foods, the top retailer in the natural and organic grocery business, is testing what it’s calling a “click and collect” online ordering system at its store in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. A company representative said the test will be expanded in early 2014 to the Whole Foods store in Laguna Niguel, California, near Los Angeles.

Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, said “click and collect” bridges the “physical world” and the “digital world” of grocery shopping.  

Based on the results of this pilot program, Whole Foods eventually could roll out the concept at its more than 320 stores throughout the United States.

Shoppers in Plymouth Meeting “have been really excited about the new option,” a Whole Foods representative said, “and we’ve received very positive customer feedback. We’re seeing a steady increase in adoption as more shoppers learn about click and collect.”

Shoppers participating in the pilot project pay a $5 fee for any online order under $100; the fee is waived for any online order over that amount.

“Projects like ‘click and collect’ are part of our ongoing effort to respond to customer needs and anticipate even better ways to serve them. We love to make shopping easier and more enjoyable, both in our stores and online,” the Whole Foods representative said.

Food industry consulting firm Willard Bishop describes “click and collect” as a “very efficient process that often resembles completing a drive-up bank transaction.”

Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, said “click and collect” bridges the “physical world” and the “digital world” of grocery shopping. While “click and collect” is a relatively new business model at US grocery retailers, it’s more prevalent in places such as Australia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom. 

Aside from Whole Foods, Albertsons, Giant, Harris Teeter and Safeway are among US grocery retailers that have experimented with “click and collect,” according to grocery industry analyst Steven Johnson. Online retailers Amazon.com and Peapod also are testing the concept.

Industry analyst Steven Johnson predicted that within five years, all US grocery stores will be offering a hybrid of in-store and online shopping. 

“‘Click and collect’ is an inexpensive way for a grocery store to maintain customer relevance without the expense of a full-blown online-ordering food delivery service,” Johnson said.

Johnson predicted that within five years, all US grocery stores will be offering a hybrid of in-store and online shopping. A 2012 report from consulting firm A.T. Kearney identified young business professionals and young mothers as the main targets for online grocery shopping.

“By 2020, millennials will control about 30 percent of retail sales,” according to the Specialty Food Association. “For those millennials, technology is very important and changing the way they do business as well as the way they interact with the products they buy.”

Grocery industry analyst David Livingston isn’t so keen on the “click and collect” concept. He said that since the mid-1990s, it’s been tried — and dropped — by several grocery retailers.

“Grocery shopping is still fun for most people, especially at Whole Foods. Why remove the fun?” Livingston said.

For his part, food industry consultant Bob Goldin said he expects the “click and collect” concept to continue to spread, as it’s convenient for many consumers. 

Robb said that while the jury’s still out on the success of the “click and collect” program at Whole Foods, “I think there’s a lot of potential there with that sort of experiment.”

At the recent Wells Fargo Securities Retail and Restaurants Summit, Robb said Whole Foods is installing a new point-of-sale system from a software company called Retalix that every store will be using to ring up purchases. As it stands now, the chain’s stores don’t share a common point-of-sale setup. The Retalix system will allow an “integrated, seamless experience” for online and in-store shoppers, Robb said.

“Ultimately,” he said, “you have to set yourself up to be able to serve your customer wherever they are, however they want us to interact with you.”

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