Online Groceries and the Day We Had a Yogurt Eating Contest

March 05, 2015 BY Charles Fallon

20150227 - Sobeys online groceriesAt LIDD’s offices, we like to keep our fridge and pantry stocked with food to stave off mid-afternoon hunger or to make a convenient and healthy lunch. The easiest way for us to do this is through an online grocer. In fact, for established online grocers, like Fresh Direct, corporate offices are a significant part of their business.

Montreal is not blessed with many options when it comes to online grocery. Loblaw’s has a click and collect service with no delivery, so the value to a corporate office is completely lost. Metro has no online grocery strategy, so that leaves Sobeys (who do business as IGA in Quebec) as our only online ordering and delivery option.

Our experience has been 95% good, 5% disaster. What hasn’t worked are classic foibles of the online grocery business. Here are the two glaring incidents:

1. The day we had a yogurt eating contest

We always stock yogurt in the fridge but the first time we ordered yogurt from Sobeys, it arrived with a best before date of that very day. Our intention was to have yogurt available for over a week or two. Instead, we had to guzzle the stuff down or throw it out. Nothing evaporates the trust between an online grocer and its customers like getting near-expired food products.

Sobeys knows better. Certainly, any established online grocer knows that their business won’t last long if they ship spoiled produce or expired food. So how does this happen? Sobeys picks orders in their stores and contracts out the delivery. Blame it on poor training or poor quality assurance procedures. Either way its management’s fault – both store and corporate management.

2. The day they sent us toilet paper

We didn’t order toilet paper and certainly don’t need it – it’s our landlord’s responsibility to stock the bathrooms. But it showed up with our order. Mistakes like that happen – every DC contends with picking errors or delivery errors where product from one stop gets dropped off at another.

What made this situation bizarre was that Sobeys called us to ask, “Did we deliver toilet paper to your offices”. Yup. “Could we come back and pick it up?” Sure. A packet of toilet paper is not exactly a high value item and Sobeys had already spent money chasing down where the errant toilet paper went. Now, they want to re-direct their delivery service back to our office to pick up that toilet paper. How much does it cost to pick up toilet paper? If the detour takes 20 minutes or half an hour, the answer is many more times than the value of the toilet paper. Can Sobeys profitably chase down toilet paper it delivers to wrong places?

The answer is no. And they figured it out because they never came to pick up the toilet paper. It’s been sitting in our offices for more than two weeks. They haven’t told us what their final plans are for the precious item. But it’s starting to get annoying. I think I’ll have someone take it home with them to consume. Or, maybe I should send Sobeys a bill for storage fees.

In any event, that’s no way to handle delivery errors. Seasoned online grocers have that figured out.

And as for picking in stores, a traditional supermarket company who wants to leverage their store infrastructure to pick online orders better communicate and enforce standards across their stores. Or else their online initiatives will expire faster than a tub of yogurt.