Service of Where’s the Milk? Confusion When Grocery Stores Move Things Around

October 8th, 2018

Categories: E-Commerce, E-tailing, Food, Instore Pickup, Retail, Supermarket

If you routinely visit a grocery store that’s being remodeled, you know your shopping expedition will take longer than usual while you search for the milk, favorite cookies or pasta. One of my favorite stores also keeps switching things in the meat department even though its renovations are over. There must be a good reason, other than to hope I become tempted by other items while looking for what’s on my list.

Expecting to pick up a bag of M&Ms at the checkout counter at a grocery chain? Soon some will have freezer cases placed in front instead. Heather Haddon wrote about the motivation behind major product location shuffles as stores prepare for increased orders placed online for in-store customer pickup. They hope these customers, as they wait for their order in the front of the store, will add a few major items–an ice cream cake, a few frozen dinners or bags of fries and veggies–rather than a pack of gum or a candy bar. She wrote about the displacement of impulse items and other anticipated changes in her Wall Street Journal article “E-Commerce Reshapes Grocery Stores.”

Americans spend $800 billion a year on food and drink, she reported, and supermarket chains don’t want too big a chunk going to Amazon and other giants. Haddon wrote: “E-commerce represents less than 5% of U.S. grocery sales currently, but food and beverage sales are growing far faster online than in traditional supermarkets. Forrester Analytics predicts that by 2022, the U.S. online grocery market will total $36.5 billion, up from an estimated $26.7 billion this year.”

According to Haddon, Walmart and Kroger are “spending tens of millions of dollars to acquire digital-ordering technologies, implement home-delivery systems and build thousands of store pickup points for online orders. Kroger, the U.S.’s largest supermarket chain, has hired or assigned nearly 19,000 workers to run an estimated 1,400 pickup sites for online orders, covering roughly half of the company’s stores.”

Haddon identified risks for the chains from the enormous upfront investment to irritating traditional customers who compete for goods whisked off shelves to fulfill online orders. Currently, supermarkets don’t have warehouses as Amazon does, though they may in future.

Meanwhile, “Clerks fulfilling online orders can clog aisles and checkout lanes or pick over the best produce, customers and grocery consultants say.” Haddon concluded “Through it all, grocers are struggling to find a balance between encouraging customers to place orders online and drawing customers into their stores.”

Do you shop for your groceries online? Are you tempted? It must be a time-saver to simply show up at a store and drive away minutes later with packages of groceries. Does the concept work for cities where people don’t usually own cars? Would you miss seeing what’s new in categories such as ice cream, frozen food, bakery and yogurt? Do you ever pass an aisle, see something like mustard or strawberry jam which reminds you you’re about to run out? How will internet ordering gain such purchases without irritating customers with popup suggestions?

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10 Responses to “Service of Where’s the Milk? Confusion When Grocery Stores Move Things Around”

  1. ASK Said:

    I buy little processed or canned foods, some frozen items…I still prefer to choose my own fruits, vegetables, and meats. And I don’t expect a store clerk to be as fussy as I am. Also, I have encountered clerks who have never heard of artichokes, Italian parsley, and parsnips. I’ll continue to do my own grocery shopping.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I wonder how many of the 19,000 workers will be trained to pick onions without brown soft spots or broccoli that’s more than a bunch of heavy stems and what do you do if your Italian parsley turns out to be cilantro or mint?

    I use Cortland or granny smith apples for baking and I love to eat honey crisps raw. I put them in separate bags and I noticed on my receipt the other day that the clerk had identified them incorrectly. [They cost the same–the store wants to know the type for inventory purposes.] I suppose he could read the signs over the apples were he selected to prepare orders but you are right–I want to choose. I have no idea how many pounds I’m buying–if small, I’d need six to eight for a dessert and if giant, only four or five. So how would I know what to order? I suspect that the ordering/pickup works best for those who don’t cook much.

    I tried Oui yogurt the other day–pretty good–when I first saw it on a shelf. I doubt I’d have tried it based on a photo.

  3. EAM Said:

    My Mom does market research and one of their clients works on how people shop. The selected interviewees wear a device that helps track where their eyes go in a video of the aisle at the supermarket so that they can alter how to display items on the shelves (which is interesting).

  4. Protius Said:

    Some of my earliest memories are of being taken by my mother to market to shop. In those early times you bought your bread from the baker, your vegetables from the green grocers, your fish from the fish monger and so forth. You knew each other and trust usually developed between you, but you got what you paid for, and the buying experience was generally pleasant.

    We have come a long way from primitive days, and this is another great leap forward. No doubt they are celebrating in the streets with this latest successful application of technology to Western culture. I’d celebrate with them if I didn’t value quality and fear what electronic hackers and trackers no doubt will soon be doing to take advantage of new “systems” to abuse all those consumers like me sucked into this inevitably advancing technological “brave new world.”

    Therefore, since you know cannot stop progress, you might as well gird your loins and prepare to suffer it.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I am fascinated by this kind of thing. WOW. I wonder if supermarkets “sell” the best shelf space to the highest bidder, or if brands pay for the studies to test labels.

    In the dark ages the first jobs of recent college grads heading to be marketers at some big corporations was to visit the supermarkets in their areas to make sure that shelves were properly filled with product and that they got the space agreed to. At the time we thought this was a bit strange for a college grad but now I see how crucial it is for a marketer to understand what customers see as well as to observe the kind of customer filling a marketing basket with the appropriate brands.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Did the butcher give you a slice of bologna or the baker a cookie? That was the best part!

    Just last weekend, at an upstate grocery store I frequent [with four branches], I didn’t see the special chopped meat I like–a mix of brisket and short ribs. I asked the butcher if he had any and he immediately ordered some to be packaged. You couldn’t get better service.

    Specialty cheese stores and butcher shops have become so pricey that I don’t frequent them. There’s one of each a block or two from my apartment. Staff at deli counters and butcher departments at standard grocery stores are often extremely helpful and accommodating.

    Just guessing but maybe there will be people to chat with at the online ordering sites to tell you how long to cook your turkey or how much thus and such you need to create a particular recipe. I asked a young woman ahead of me in line at Trader Joe’s just now. Like ASK, she said she’d order online everything but produce and meat especially if she knew the brands.

  7. ASK Said:

    A final note: I once worked for a short time at a very “social” PR agency where a VIP account exec (once allegedly married to an earl) always ordered her groceries by phone for home delivery from a specialty store on the Upper East Side. The morning after the delivery there was always the follow-up call to that same store to complain about the mushy raspberries at the bottom of the container or the too-tough veal cutlets or the squashed baguette at the bottom of the grocery bag. Everyone else in the small office would smile,and someone once had the audacity to suggest she do her own shopping. I confess to wondering if the bills were paid in a timely fashion.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What a great story! I wonder if she whined at them or, as you noted, she may not have paid her bills on time, making her the candidate for the squished raspberries or crushed baguette! Or maybe her doorman did the dirty deed.

    My mother was an A&P habitué on the UES and on occasion she went to one of the butcher shops in the neighborhood. There was also a specialty grocery store which she didn’t often visit or call but when she did, they treated her as nicely as though she sent them orders daily. I remember her mentioning this…and no doubt, with that as a standard, I was aware when others didn’t meet the mark which, in turn, led to my interest in service and eons later, to “The Importance of Earnest Service.”

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    Shopping on line is a fine idea as long as you trust someone to pick out produce properly. Since that could have consequences, I visit the store, as distasteful as the experience might be!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The commenters before you agree on the picking out of produce as do I, and I add meat as well. Zillions who use frozen and canned veggies and fruit can best take advantage. The model is growing and chains are risking $millions to prepare to accommodate even more orders. Data tells the chains what people buy most so they are not shooting in the dark. Time will tell. I hope that Protius is wrong and that this doesn’t become our only choice.

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