Online Grocery Delivery Is Still Wildly Experimental

No one-size-fits-all option here

Grocery stores are still struggling how to efficiently accomplish the last mile of deliveries. Getty Images
Headshot of Lisa Lacy

When you consider all of the available online grocery delivery options in the U.S., it’s hard not to think grocers and platforms alike are throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks.

Sure, online grocery offers convenience for consumers who no longer have to physically go to the store, march up and down aisles with restless children and/or spouses, navigate around other shoppers, wait in line to pay and schlep everything home—but America has 326 million consumers spread across 3.8 million square miles—and they differ as much in their politics as they do in lifestyle.

So retailers are trying just about everything to find the right grocery delivery solution: acquiring last-mile delivery companies, working with third-party delivery platforms, offering pickup options—including pickup from other stores—asking associates to make deliveries for a few extra bucks, seeing what autonomous vehicles can do, offering in-home delivery, creating direct-to-consumer options and even testing rideshare companies. And while we’re likely pretty far from drones delivering shopping carts—Amazon Prime Air can only haul up to five pounds—they have made small-scale deliveries of Slurpees, doughnuts, coffee, candy, pizza and burritos.

Forrester analyst Sucharita Kodali said no one has been able to figure out this online grocery space at a price consumers are willing to pay and that is still profitable for retailers. That’s why so many of these services offer free delivery only over a certain threshold. And, she said, demand remains highest in urban areas, or, as she put it, “Companies are still in the ‘get people to try it’ phase.”


This story first appeared in the November 12, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@lisalacy Lisa Lacy is a senior writer at Adweek, where she focuses on retail and the growing reach of Amazon.