Delivery: Trials and Tribulations

Retailers who’ve tried the service discuss how it has affected their businesses

LAS VEGAS – Seventy percent of consumers will shop online for groceries by 2022, which is two to three years earlier than many industry experts expected, said Kevin Coupe, the “content guy” for MorningNewsBeat, a Connecticut-based retail newsletter, during the education session "The Long and Winding Last Mile: Solving the C-Store Delivery Conundrum" at the 2018 NACS Show in Las Vegas.

Delivery was one of the most examined subjects at this year’s show. During this session, Coupe, along with some who’ve dabbled in delivery, discussed its trials and tribulations and how it has affected their businesses.

John Nelson, CEO of Chicago-based third-party delivery service Vroom Delivery, said he dove into delivery when his father, who owned multiple convenience stores in Texas, wanted to move into e-commerce. But Nelson found a major problem: Third-party services can’t legally deliver alcohol and tobacco, two c-store staples. After months of work, however, he found a solution.

“Tobacco and alcohol delivery vary state by state,” he said. “As long as it’s the employees of the store who are physically delivering it, you can deliver them.”

Nelson then built a service that allowed his father to deliver all of his merchandise. Today, Vroom Delivery has expanded beyond his father’s Texas-based stores to independent retailers in Ohio.

Thomas Buschert, CEO of Lansing, Mich.-based c-store chain Quality Dairy Co., said getting delivery drivers has been his biggest challenge—so tough that his in-store employees usually make deliveries, and even he gets behind the wheel, sometimes up to eight times a day.

And some retailers have lost business because of delivery. Lisa Sedlar, CEO of Green Zebra Grocery, a Portland, Ore.-based convenience grocer, said when her company partnered with third-party service Instacart, she received multiple complaints of botched orders. This resulted in the loss of these customers, she said.

But Sedlar is giving delivery another shot. In early October, Green Zebra hired another delivery driver to serve all three of its Oregon-based stores. Sedlar said her main criteria for hiring the driver was that they were friendly and had a “quick step.”

“C-stores are the last mile of delivery,” she said. “We have to own our own narrative.”

Despite delivery’s challenges, every panelist agreed that delivery is the future of retail. C-store operators must evaluate their infrastructure to make the service work—or they will fall behind.

“There’s never a time when I’m standing in line at a retailer and don’t think, ‘This is stupid,’ ” Coupe said. “Too many companies are defending for yesterday instead of innovating for tomorrow.”

Kevin Coupe (left), Michael Buhr, Lisa Sedlar, John Nelson, Thomas Buschert. Photograph by CSP Staff

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