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MARK VAUGHAN-JACKSON: Dominion: new tech meets old-school grocery delivery

Dominion parent company Loblaw has teamed up with Instacart to launch a program of online grocery shopping with home delivery at five Dominion stores in the Northeast Avalon. The program was launched Thursday.
Dominion parent company Loblaw has teamed up with Instacart to launch a program of online grocery shopping with home delivery at five Dominion stores in the Northeast Avalon. The program was launched Thursday. - SaltWire Network

Grocer teams up with Instacart to launch home-delivery service on Northeast Avalon

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

It’s funny, getting old.

The older I get, the more I’m in a constant state of déjà vu, especially when it comes to consumer trends.

Those bellbottom jeans that got me tormented at boarding school back in 1982 — they came back.

The old mail-order catalogue — it came back. It ditched the hardcopy and morphed into online shopping from the comfort of your phone.

Heck, even the movies of my youth came back, with Holywood seemingly hell-bent on rebooting all the old movies in their catalogue these days.

Which brings me to groceries.

Growing up in England, I can remember the local grocer, even the butcher, delivering the goods in response to a phone call. My early years in Newfoundland, I recall relatives having Belbins deliver their groceries every week in east-end St. John’s.

So, when I came to work on Thursday and saw the news release that Dominion stores in the Northeast Avalon were launching a new home-delivery service, I confess I felt a little bit of a time warp.

As of Thursday, shoppers using the Long Pond, C.B.S., Blackmarsh Road, Pearlgate, Memorial, Cabot Square (Stavanger Drive) Dominions can buy their groceries online. For those keeping score at home, if you live in the following postal code areas, you can avail of the new service: A1A, A1E, A1N, A1W, A1B, A1C, A1D, A1F, A1G, A1H, A1K, A1L, A1M, A1X, A1S, A0A. If it’s successful, the program might expand across the province in the future.

It’s a service Dominion parent Loblaw has been rolling out in select markets across the country for a while.

Last year, it was launched in Halifax and met with considerable pickup from customers, according to Marc Boudreau, Loblaw’s director of corporate affairs.

The service is a partnership between Loblaw and Instacart. Based in San Francisco, Instacart has spread across the U.S. and now into Canada as one of the leaders in online groceries. 

"Our service today reaches more than 250 Loblaw stores coast-to-coast, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, as well as Walmart Canada customers in 17 stores across Toronto and Winnipeg," Andrew Nodes, VP of Retail Accounts for Instacart said in an email. "While the majority of our customers are currently based in the Greater Toronto Area, we’re seeing high levels of growth in Calgary, Kingston, Hamilton and London."

"I think what this is in response to is the expectation of our customers that we’re going to give them a service that offers more convenience to them.” — Marc Boudreau

Here’s how the system works.

You go online to Instacart or get the Instacart mobile app for iPhone or Android device. Select your city/store, add items to a virtual cart, then choose a delivery window — within one hour, within two hours or up to five days in advance, and then check out.

An “Instacart shopper” receives the order on his/her smartphone, uses the Instacart shopper app to guide them through your shopping and then delivers your order to you within the designated delivery timeframe.

For an order of $35 or more, delivery will cost you $3.99. There’s also an Instacart Express membership option, which offers unlimited, free same-day delivery. After a free trial period, that membership costs $9.99 a month.

Instacart is in the process of bringing more than 100 Instacart Shoppers on board for the program — the independent contractors who’ll be picking up your groceries and delivering them. Those interested can get more info on being a shoper at shoppers.instacart.com 

Instacart is in the process of bringing more than 100 Instacart Shoppers on board for Loblaw's new home delivery service from select Newfoundland Dominion stores.
Instacart is in the process of bringing more than 100 Instacart Shoppers on board for Loblaw's new home delivery service from select Newfoundland Dominion stores.

When I was speaking to Boudreau, he admitted it might sound a bit counter intuitive for Dominion to offer a service that seems to discourage people from actually coming to the store.

But the new delivery service is just another evolution in customer service.

“Some people like going into the stores. To be quite honest, I’m in that category, I actually like going into the stores and to pick my own stuff and talk to the dietitian or use the community room or have that experience,” Boudreau said. “But for some people this is another option. We don’t expect every customer is going to use this service all of the time, but it’s more of a convenience thing for them.”

Boudreau says Loblaw does a lot of customer surveys and keeps an eye on trends in the market.

“One of the things we’ve heard from our customers is that they not only want more product selection, but they really want the capacity to personalize their own needs. Sometimes that means they can’t leave the house or they don’t have time or they want that service available to them. I think what this is in response to is the expectation of our customers that we’re going to give them a service that offers more convenience to them.”

To do that, teaming up with Instacart made perfect sense, he said.

“Our focus is on getting good products into the store, making sure it’s fresh, delivering a good experience,” he said. “Partnering with organizations who have worked internationally and do it well makes more sense for us because they’ve already figured out how to make it happen on the ground. For us it’s about leveraging that partnership and using their assets in making sure we’re focused on the customer service and the quality of the products rather than being distracted by figuring out the delivery component.”

I’m not sure if I’ll try the new system.

I happen to like the act of shopping: the spur-of-the-moment potato chip purchase; the squeezing, sniffing, the palpating of produce to find the one that’s just ripe; the browsing for that perfect pork chop. That’s my kind of shopping.

But I can think of a bunch of people who might go for groceries delivered to their door – just like grandma used to get.

Mark Vaughan-Jackson is The Telegram’s business editor. He can be reached at mark.vaughan-jackson@thetelegram.com.


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