High-Tech Checkout

Whole Foods Market fans may soon be able to shop from home

Whole Foods Market fans may soon be able to shop from home

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, soy milk and cage-free eggs from Whole Foods Market and pick up your order at the nearest store.

The Austin-based natural and organic grocery retailer is testing 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.

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.

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

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,” said a Whole Foods representative. “We love to make shopping easier and more enjoyable, both in our stores and online.”

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. Although it is a relatively new business model at U.S. 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 U.S. 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.

“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 U.S. 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.

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 Retalix that every store will use to ring up purchases. As it stands now, the chain’s stores don’t share a common 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.”