Covid-19 has taken over the world, shutting down restaurants, bars, and any other businesses deemed not necessary for essential functions. Grocery stores are remaining open, but at a very high potential risk for store customers and employees. In some ways that risk is unnacceptable and I’ve been surprised that more hasn’t been done to address this issue.
What’s needed are better systems for online ordering, and pickup or delivery. The large stores have some of these systems (but sadly even these systems are far from ideal). Smaller grocery stores need help, since these systems can be costly to develop independently.
The Ideal Grocery Ordering System
What’s needed is an inexpensive and easy-to-use system, for both store employees and potential customers, where the only cost to a small grocery store is a transaction fee of a few dollars per order. The system could be tied to a stripe account for secure payment processing, and security in place to make sure those picking up their order are who they say they are.
The Grocery Shopping Experience for Customers
The system would aim to avoid user accounts and app installs, since both of these are cumbersome to potential users. A visitor would follow something along the lines of the following to order and obtain their groceries:
- A customer visits the grocery store’s website, and visits the “shopping” area which links to the application’s shopping experience. Stores that don’t have their own existing websites could easily create a quick “site” within the software, and provide that link to their customers.
- Customers browse the store’s inventory, with the ability to search for specific products, or browse based on category.
- Once the user has found their list of groceries, they submit their order, along with a few options: A) A pickup time, or times. B) Options if a specific product they want isn’t available. Options could include “don’t find an alternative”, or “use an alternative if it’s no more than XX dollars more than the original product”. C) The option to pick up their order, or have it delivered (if the grocery store has marked that as an option).
- The user completes their order by submitting their credit card information (which is tied to stripe for the actual credit card processing). The card is only charged once they pick up their order.
- When picking up their groceries, the customer is instructed to drive to the store (and perhaps park in a specified area of their lot). The website would direct them to click a button to notify the store that they have arrived, and to remain in their car with their windows rolled up (to limit personal contact).
- The grocery store employee carts the customer’s order to their car. The website sync’s the user’s order and personal information to the grocery store’s informtion to verify the user (A unique id is passed from the the customer’s phone/computer to the store’s orders listing). At that time, the customer’s credit card is charged, the employee walks away and the customer can load their car with the groceries. (1) If a customer fails to pick up their order, perhaps there is a fee of some sort to compensate the store for the time needed to collect the order.
The Experience for Grocery Store Employees
The main issue is rapidly inputting the store’s inventory. For the quick setup to help combat the current pandemic, a somewhat quick process would just to have employees walk through the store, take a picture of a product, and provide a little information (like product name, sku, price). These would immediately be added to the store’s website and could then be browsed by customers.
Employees would receive orders, collect the goods together, and then when the customer arrives, they receive notice and bring the customer’s order out.
There would need to be a variety of options available to store owners for configuring their experience, such as whether they allow pickups and deliveries, how long they need to complete orders, additional service fees, etc…
Even after we solve the Covid-19 outbreak, a tool like this could be a nice feature for smaller grocery stores, especially if the cost of such a system were minimal. While the development of such a tool would be primarily aimed at our current situation, it’s not difficult to see the benefits of designing and building such a tool with an eye towards the future.