No long checkout lines. No screaming children. No more racing to get home before the ice cream melts.
Valley shoppers can now go grocery shopping from their couches. Two new online grocery shopping services are launching in the Fresno area, letting shoppers get their groceries without ever setting foot in a store.
Earlier this month, Walmart rolled out an online shopping service at four Fresno-area stores. It allows customers to shop online for groceries and pick them up in the parking lot.
Also, grocery delivery service Instacart is coming to town this fall. It partners with stores like Whole Foods and Petco to deliver groceries to Fresno homes using personal shoppers.
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These are just the beginning.
More changes are in the pipeline. Expect to see more delivery services coming to the Valley, Amazon elbowing its way deeper into the grocery scene, perhaps stores without cash registers – even drones are being tested for grocery delivery.
The changes are coming fast – taking months, not years, said California Grocers Association spokesman Dave Heylen.
“It’s just an evolving landscape,” he said. “Grocery retailers ... realize these trends and they adapt to them. Technology is moving so quickly.”
The changes are happening faster in high-tech areas like Silicon Valley. They could take longer to get to a place like Fresno, but they’re still headed our way.
“The appeal of not going to a grocery store and getting an hour or two of your life back seems to be fairly universal,” said Sean Twersky, senior regional director of San Francisco-based Instacart.
Some of the changes are already hitting Fresno.
They’re trained to pick produce like they’re picking it for their mother.
Anthony Jones, Walmart
Walmart’s online grocery service is in 800 stores nationwide and just started in the Fresno area.
Participating stores are 5125 E. Kings Canyon Road and 7065 N. Ingram Ave. in Fresno, along with the Walmart at 1185 Herndon Ave. in Clovis and 2761 Jensen Ave. in Sanger.
How it works at Walmart
Customers shop for groceries via a phone app or a home computer, buying everything from milk to shampoo. The service is free if customers meet a $30 minimum. They pick an hour-long window to come get them – from that same day to days away.
To pick up groceries, customers pull into designated parking spots at the store and workers wheel the groceries out to them. Customers can call Walmart workers to let them know they’re there. Or, they can tell the app when they leave home and it will track the driver, telling the employee how many minutes away the customer is and when he or she is in the parking lot. Walmart workers can’t see information like where you live.
Though a generation of millennials on smartphones are driving these changes, busy moms are one of the major users of the service, said Kings Canyon Walmart store manager Mike Liebsch.
Fresno mom Mandy Silveira uses the service as a way to avoid the challenges of grocery shopping with a 3-year-old and her other children ages 11, 16 and 18.
“It’s horrible. I’d rather poke my eye out,” she said of the trials of shopping with kids. “The one child is bad enough. When I take all of them it’s like, ‘Mom, can I get this soda? Can I get this candy?’ … My grocery bill doubles.”
Now Silveira buys groceries at home and drives to Walmart with just the 3-year-old, who stays in her car seat during the pickup. Or she goes after the kids have gone to bed.
“I just drive over and I don’t even have to get out of the car,” she said. “They load it up for you.”
The Kings Canyon store hired 10 new workers to handle the new service. You may see them pushing carts with big blue bins collecting the items. Software on their phones map the most efficient route through the store and ensures groceries get into coolers and freezers within certain time limits.
Instacart to your home
In September or shortly after, Instacart will start delivering groceries to customers’ homes.
A sort of Uber for grocery delivery, the company uses private contractors it calls personal shoppers who pick up the food from stores, put it in coolers and deliver it. Like Walmart, the customer picks an hour-long window for delivery.
In Fresno, customers will be able to buy from Whole Foods, Smart & Final, Petco and several other retailers that are still being finalized, Twersky said.
Customers pay a delivery fee of $5.99. Or, if they pay $149 for year-long Instacart Express membership, delivery is free.
The first order is free, but there is a delivery charge of $9.95 on purchases of $150 or more, or $12.95 on purchases under that amount. A fuel surcharge may also be added.
Of course, not everybody wants their groceries delivered.
Some people enjoy browsing the supermarket and picking out the perfect size tomato.
What about avocados?
One of the challenges with these services is how customers can trust that they’ll get the perfect watermelon, avocado or bananas. How does the store know if you want ripe avocados to make guacamole that night, or ones that will be ripe this weekend?
At most places, employees are trained on how to pick produce that doesn’t have blemishes or other flaws.
Instacart has a notes field where the customer can tell the shopper if they want ripe avocados or hard ones.
Walmart is working on a notes section for this purpose. Until then, workers have customers approve fruit and veggies before loading them into the car.
Twersky notes that shoppers may know more than customers when it comes to picking quality fruit or veggies.
“Do you know what makes a watermelon ripe? When a cantaloupe is ready?” he says. “They do this all day long.”
While these services are happening now, there are plenty of high-tech shopping services being tested in big cities around the country. They’re not limited to groceries. Here’s a sampling of what could be coming our way.
▪ Walmart is reportedly testing flying drones to make home deliveries of purchases, according to a Reuters story.
Walmart is also testing having workers deliver orders on their way home from work.
In Washington, D.C., another company is testing drones that are essentially rolling coolers delivering via sidewalks.
▪ Amazon has a store called Amazon Go in Seattle with no checkout lines or cash registers. Technology senses the products shoppers walk out with and charges their credit cards.
Expect Amazon to wade deeper into the food delivery business as it plans to buy Whole Foods. It could mean it Amazon can deliver more fresh food via Amazon Prime and make deliveries in less than an hour to more homes.
Amazon already sells a “Dash Wand” that lets customers scan a bar code on say, a package of Oreos, and automatically puts the item in their online shopping cart.
▪ Target is testing a same-day home delivery service in Manhattan where shoppers fill a cart at the store then have it delivered instead of lugging it home via subway or bus. Target Restock, a grocery delivery service, is also available in three states.
▪ Samsung sells a smart refrigerator that lets people look inside via three cameras while grocery shopping to see if they need eggs, for example. It also shares grocery lists among family members’ phones and can place orders to grocery delivery services.