The Future of Grocery Shopping

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In a moment of intense regional change, we thought it would be fun to ponder tomorrow from various angles. So for our April 2015 issue, we looked at the immediate future of Cincinnati.

It’s easy to argue that grocery stores are digitally behind the times. Sure, that little Plus Card on your key ring allows Kroger to track every item you’ve ever bought at any Kroger location in the entire universe, but you still had to be in the store for this to happen. Yet most of us can purchase just about everything else online: music, clothing, furniture, gifts—even pizza—all without having to change out of our sweatpants. Now, finally, grocery shopping is joining the 21st century.

Kroger Co., the locally based supermarket monolith, has spent the last few years acquiring and developing an online ordering system. Before it spent $2.4 billion to purchase Harris Teeter Supermarkets in 2013, Kroger was already the second biggest retailer in the United States, trailing only Walmart. A key selling point to acquiring 212 Harris Teeter locations across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic was the chain’s established “click and collect” online ordering system: customers purchase items online, then swing by to have their order loaded into their car. In October 2013, Kroger CEO-in-waiting Rodney McMullen told The Wall Street Journal that digital growth would be a “major focus of his in keeping Kroger relevant.” The company then took another (pricey) step forward in July of last year when it purchased Vitacost—an online retailer of vitamins and health supplements—for $280 million, providing another proven online-ordering platform.

Soon after the Vitacost purchase, Kroger began beta testing its online ordering program at the Liberty Township store, allowing store employees access to the service first, then a select group of loyal customers. Rachael Betzler, Kroger’s regional spokeswoman, confirmed the piloting process (as well as the fact that it is modeled after the Harris Teeter system). Although there is no set timetable for a wider launch, she noted the company should have one soon. In other words, the future of grocery shopping is upon us, and it’s wearing sweatpants.

Originally published in the April 2015 issue.

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