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Online convenience driving return of grocery deliveries in Western Pennsylvania

Stephen Huba
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Assistant manager Derek Harenski loads his car with a home delivery grocery order Friday at Ferri’s IGA Supermarket in Murrysville.

The days of the home-delivered milk bottle may be gone, but the idea of having groceries delivered is anything but passé.

In fact, the service — once the domain of local mom-and-pop stores — is catching on with Giant Eagle, Walmart and other grocery giants. The service is fueled in part by the growth of e-commerce sites such as Instacart, Shipt and Point Pickup.

“It’s been a great marriage so far,” said Tom Charley, co-owner of the Charley Family Shop’n Save stores in Greensburg and Murrysville.

Shop’n Save signed on with Instacart in November.

“The average basket size online is over triple what the in-store amount is,” Charley said.

Charley said his father, Ray Charley, tried a grocery delivery service in the early 1990s, but “the technology just wasn’t there. … I just think the technology finally got to where it needs to be.”

Shop’n Save put its toe in the water with a service that allowed customers to order groceries online and then drive to the store to pick them up, Charley said.

With Instacart, Shop’n Save doesn’t have to worry about staffing, vehicles or vehicle insurance, he said. Shoppers start by setting up an account at Instacart.com, typing in their ZIP code and selecting Shop’n Save from among the store options presented – that is, if there is a Shop’n Save store nearby.

An Instacart shopper accepts the order on his or her smartphone, uses an Instacart app to do the shopping, and then delivers the order to the customer in the designated timeframe. For orders of $35 or more, the delivery fee is $5.99.

Since Instacart launched in Greater Pittsburgh in November , its stable of retailers has grown from seven to nine, including Aldi, Costco, CVS, The Fresh Market and Shop’n Save. Although only 5 percent of U.S. groceries are purchased online, Instacart believes that number will grow to one in five households in the next five years.

“Online grocery delivery and pickup used to be cost-prohibitive, slow and the selection wasn’t comprehensive,” said Sarah Mastrorocco, Instacart vice president of business development. “Instacart started seven years ago with … the idea that you can get the groceries you want from the local retailers you love in as fast as an hour.”

Walmart, the largest grocery retailer in the country, set a goal last year to have a fee-based home delivery service available at 800 stores in 100 U.S. markets — covering 40 percent of households in the country — by the end of 2018. Last week, the company announced it had partnered with four delivery services ( Point Pickup , Skipcart , AxleHire and Roadie ) as well as plans to add home delivery service at another 800 stores by 2020.

Online grocery sales tripled between 2013 and 2018 , according to Packaged Facts, a division of Market Research Group based in Rockville, Md. Online grocery sales will more than quadruple by 2023 as ordering options increase, the firm predicted.

Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle, founded in 1931, got started with online shopping in 2012 with its Curbside Express pickup service. A handful of sites in Pittsburgh grew to the current 73 sites where customers can pick up groceries that they’ve ordered online.

“We looked at what made sense geographically and identified key locations where it would work,” said Giant Eagle spokeswoman Jannah Jablanowski. “We saw people respond really well to the convenience of it all.”

Giant Eagle launched a Curbside Express home delivery program in March 2017 in a handful of ZIP codes in the South Hills and expanded it that October, she said. Home delivery now is available in 350 ZIP codes in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Maryland, she said.

“Curbside Express home delivery has grown even in the last six months, from 13 percent to 20 percent of our online orders,” Jablanowski said.

Specially trained Giant Eagle staffers do the shopping and some of the deliveries. Giant Eagle also contracts with Shipt.com to handle some deliveries.

Same-day home delivery is $9.95, and next-day service is $5.95. About 30 percent of home delivery orders are placed the same day, according to Giant Eagle.

In Westmoreland County, Curbside Express pickup service is available at five Giant Eagle locations — Hempfield Square, Murrysville, North Huntingdon, New Kensington and Ligonier — and home delivery is available in 18 ZIP codes.

Giant Eagle’s biggest concern is being able to replicate the in-person shopping experience as much as possible, Jablanowski said.

“We saw that as a barrier that a lot of people had – they like to see and touch and have control over what they’re picking,” she said.

Giant Eagle gives online shoppers the ability to indicate their preferences — Gala or Honeycrisp apples, the ripeness of bananas – in the notes section. Staffers are trained to pay close attention to the customer preferences.

“When customers choose something (online), we want to make sure they are never disappointed with the product that they’re receiving,” Jablanowski said. “We want it to be just like if they picked it out themselves.”

Although online shopping is an option at Ferri’s IGA Supermarket in Murrysville, most home delivery shoppers order by phone, said Gary Silvestri, store manager. Ferri’s started its home delivery service in the late 1980s.

“Since there’s so many elderly customers doing it, they’re not comfortable doing it online,” Silvestri said. “They actually like talking to somebody. We have a girl that’s been doing it for a number of years, and she can suggest things to them.”

Ferri’s offers home deliveries Monday, Wednesday and Friday, averaging 15 to 25 a week, he said. Delivery customers are charged a “convenience fee” for preparing the order and a delivery fee, based on distance from the store.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.