Curbside Grocery Grows as Supermarkets Look to Replicate Gas Station-style Convenience

As grocers look to maximize convenience, curbside pickup is emerging as the fast and favorite method.

This, as new grocers are popping up across the country, offering curbside-only models and no consumer-facing stores. Jim McQuade, CEO and co-founder of the first such retailer on the East Coast, Addie’s, argued in an interview with PYMNTS that this system is more convenient than delivery.

“Delivery is incredibly complex. It’s expensive. It’s also not particularly convenient for many families. If you find yourself running around town, it’s often more convenient to swing by a place that is ready when you are than it is to commit to sitting at home for a two-hour or often four-hour delivery window,” McQuade said.

To explain this vision of convenience, McQuade cited the example of the gas station — specifically, a New Jersey gas station, where it is required that attendants pump the gas for the consumer. He explained that it takes only a few minutes for the customer, having already placed the order on the grocer’s site or app, to get their items loaded into their car and drive on.

Indeed, United States grocery shoppers are already keen on curbside grocery relative to other eCommerce channels. Research from the November/December edition of PYMNTS’ monthly ConnectedEconomy™ study, the “ConnectedEconomy™ Monthly Report: The Gender Divide Edition,” which drew from a survey of more than 2,600 U.S. consumers in October, found that 45% of men and 36% of women buy groceries online for curbside pickup. These shares exceed those of any other eGrocery method.

McQuade argued that to maximize the efficiency of the curbside channel, grocers must divorce the experience from the consumer-facing store.

 “[With] existing online grocery out of traditional supermarkets, [if] you layer an online order system on top of a broken process, you get a bad customer experience,” McQuade said. “Customer-facing supermarkets are designed for display. They’re designed to solve an entirely different problem.”

To illustrate this point, McQuade cited the example of placing an everyday staple such as milk in the store’s back corner, such that consumers have to spend longer in the aisles and are likely to purchase more items.

Most consumers continue to shop in physical stores at least some of the time. Research from PYMNTS’ new study “Changes in Grocery Shopping Habits and Perception,” which draws from a December survey of more than 2,400 U.S. consumers, finds that 45% shop for groceries online at least some of the time. Yet, only 7% do so all the time, while nearly eight times that share — 54% — shop in stores all the time.

Even some of the most eCommerce-dependent players maintain that the grocery experience must include a customer-facing physical store. For instance, Amazon shared on a call with analysts Thursday (Feb. 2) discussing the eCommerce giant’s fourth quarter 2022 financial results that, while it is growing its digital share of center-aisle purchases, it will depend on physical stores to gain share in perishables.

Yet, McQuade maintained that this brick-and-mortar preference is not fixed, but rather that if eGrocers can improve the digital experience, they can gain share across grocery categories.

“There’s a lot of exciting opportunities in the continued personalization of the grocery shopping experience,” McQuade said. “Right now, we haven’t had [eGrocery] adoption at scale, even for folks who are shopping at previously existing online grocery options. The experience struggles to meet the customer and to serve the customer well.”