Grocery Pick Up Sees Significant Growth in Canada into 2022: Interview

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A recent survey by Field Agent Canada, a company that leverages crowdsourcing and mobile technology to collect retail audits and conduct mystery shops for retail operations, indicates 51 per cent of Canadian grocery shoppers have used Grocery Pick Up services at least once in the past month.

JEFF DOUCETTE

Jeff Doucette, General Manager of Field Agent Canada, said in the early days of the pandemic it was often very difficult to book a Grocery Pick Up appointment right across Canada as shoppers looked for a way to get their groceries while avoiding a trip to the store. 

Field Agent wanted to check in and see how Canadians are using grocery pick up almost two years later. A survey of 3,369 Canadian shoppers was taken between January 12 – 16.

The survey also found that 52 per cent of users report using these services now more often than they did a year ago.

Image: Grocery Pick Up (Field Agent)

The two Grocery Pick Up services used most often are PC Express with 67 per cent and Walmart with 63 per cent.

Also, 77 per cent of Grocery Pick Up users are buying less than 50 per cent of their groceries through Grocery Pick Up services.

“In general, the overall adoption rate was boosted by the pandemic obviously. There’s sort of a decade of growth there kind of overnight which helped,” said Doucette. “The year before there were a lot of struggles in actually getting a picked up spot because the infrastructure was built for a slower, smaller business and then overnight everybody wanted to do it.

“Having just over half of consumers using a service like that in the last month just shows that the adoption and the acceptance of that is still really high. They continue to use the service but it’s rare that someone is buying all of their groceries for grocery pick up. They’re still making trips to the store. They’re still interacting with the physical bricks and mortar but they do use that pick up service at least for a portion of their groceries.”

PC Express PHOTO: RETAIL ANALYSIS

Doucette said it’s not a surprise that PC Express and Walmart are the two leaders in the field because they’re available nationally. 

“For me, when we talk to consumers about grocery pick up and what’s important it’s still very similar to what it was prior to the pandemic which is quality and freshness of produce, order accuracy, minimum amount of substitutions or out of stocks. Those are the three big areas that are important in online ordering,” he said.

“Then the other piece is just having a slot available at a time that is convenient for you to pick up . . . You want those slots available on the weekends and the evenings. It becomes a staffing issue. Like anything else now during the pandemic, can you get enough people working your pick up operations in those peak times to meet the demand?

“There’s eight or 10 parking spots out in front of the store and if you needed more parking spots you could always add more signs. It’s not really a constraint. It’s really the capacity of how many pickers can you have going up and down the aisle and do that in an efficient way.”

An example of what’s happening today, Doucette said, is a renovated Walmart store in Northland Mall in Calgary where they’ve built an entire section of the building that’s orange in colour, labeled grocery pick up with its own door.

Image: Walmart Canada
PICK-UP CENTRE AT A WALMART STORE. PHOTO: WALMART CANADA

“It’s one of the first examples I’ve seen of a purpose-built grocery pick up facility in Canada. That’s very similar to what they operate in the US where in their US stores they have almost like drive-thru lanes set up, parts of their building are orange, and they actually have a fulfillment centre happening in the back there,” he said.

“That’s the future at scale. Now we’ve gotten to this point where there’s some scale here and then the next part of that business is how can I take those operations and make them more efficient. Have a separate part of the store, give people the space and really staff it appropriately.”

Doucette said for many stores it has been a learning curve in the past two years and they have tweaked their operations to meet the growing demand for grocery pick up services. 

“There’s been a lot of learning. Sort of trial by fire really,” he said. “I think Walmart has a bit of an advantage because they can tap into their US experience and that business in the US is much more advanced.

“Two years ago when I was in northwest Arkansas the primary focus of the store almost felt like it was grocery pick up. They were really, really focused on it. Yes, it’s a learning curve and yes it’s still going to evolve but I think the investments will still be there and now it will become more about service and efficiencies.”

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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