Ryan Rodenbaugh's personal site

Grocery stores

Going to the grocery store this morning (2020/03/29 8:30am PST) was a weird experience. I live near a Safeway and Whole Foods. I usually go to Safeway, which opens at 6:00 but the line was wrapped around the store by the time I arrived. I went over to Whole Foods which opens at 9:00 and I was the 4th person in line. By the time 9:00 came, the line was ~30 people long

Most people in the store were not wearing gloves or masks. Many people were acting as if it were a normal morning. This got me thinking about grocery stores.

Some ideas for grocery stores during COVID19:

  1. Grocery stores should not allow people who are not wearing gloves or masks to enter. They should consider selling single-use gloves and masks at the entrance. In urban areas, grocery stores are one of the last remaining businesses staying open (along with banks and pharmacies). It’s particularly hard to social distance from others in grocery stores given small aisles. Grocery stores seem to be particularly good for sharing disease given crowding, all of the items will be returning to your home and potentially touched many more times, some items like produce and meat will be ingested directly.
  2. Similar to how stores now have senior hours, some should consider offering dedicated hours for Instacart shoppers. Instacart workers are efficient in that they can shop for multiple people at once. Allowing them to quickly go through the store shopping on behalf of multiple customers seem preferential to all of those people having to instead go to the store. Instacart could also easily pass the burden of sanitizer, masks, and gloves for Instacart shoppers onto purchasers via an extra $5-10 fee in the delivery checkout. I don’t think users would mind. There are, of course, logistical issues about how Instacart could get sanitizer, masks, and gloves to stores.
  3. Why aren’t there more grocery store ‘CloudKitchens’ (err..‘CloudGrocers’)? The closest example of this idea is GoodEggs. GoodEggs no physical storefronts and has an inventory of high-quality, organic, etc. products that you can have delivered to your home the same day. They seem to be the only player in this market. What I imagine is possible is that existing chains like Safeway (or a startup) could buy up cheap warehouse space, stock inventory Costco-style, and then allow people to place orders online. Over time, they could augment with robotics to make the packaging of items seamless and inexpensive. It seems like what GoodEggs doesn’t have is their own inventory though. I could imagine a startup that creates its own private label products (e.g,. Safeway’s “Signature Select” or Whole Foods “365 Everyday Value”) and supplements with other manufacturer brands so that they own the whole value chain. They could either start doing delivery via Instacart or have delivery be a key part of their own company from the start. I have to imagine that in many cases, consumers don’t actually care whether they are buying private label or Clorox. Consumers want the highest quality at the lowest cost. A ‘CloudGrocer’ could be uniquely positioned to deliver this.

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First published on March 30, 2020