Online Grocery 2.0

The Grand Rapids Press featured an article in its business section yesterday about the local grocery chain Meijer starting up a new online store — meijer.com — focusing on gourmet, upscale, and hard-to-find items that shoppers might not be able to find in their brick-and-mortar stores. The article noted that shipping takes 2 – 5 days and its cost is calculated by weight. An additional $2.50 handling fee is applied to any order under $25.

On my first trip through the site, I wasn’t terribly impressed. To get to the online store, you first have to click on a link, and then from the next page click on a button that opens the store in a new window. As a confessed control freak, I hate it when sites force my browser to open a new window. The actual store looks like it’s run by a third party ecommerce company, because the URL switches to c-els.com/[gobbledygook]. Once I started looking at the product offerings, I found the navigation and page layout a little confusing. For example, the landing page of each section — organic, for example — shows a list of “featured items,” but for a while I thought that those were the only items available in the section. Some sub-sections show no products at all, forcing you to look through the “store aisle” menu in the left-hand column below the “quick search,” “request it,” and “shopping cart.” The general look of the site is unpolished, as if they just dropped their products into a third-party application without giving a whole lot of thought to design.

Kelloggs Product 19

Meijer is going to have to do a lot better than their current offering to compete with amazon.com, who just launched their own online grocery section today, after having a beta version up since late May. Shipping times vary depending on the type and carrier you request, but orders over $25 are eligible for free “Super Saver” shipping (which usually takes 5 – 7 days). The store carries over 10,000 non-perishable products, and the prices, as far as I can tell, look pretty good. Still, a lot of the items require you to buy in bulk, so if you don’t have a lot of room to stock up, you might want to limit your purchases here. Kraft Mac & Cheese, for example, is sold in packs of 24 boxes ($20.90 – $22.00) and Kellogg’s Product 19 comes in a 4 pack ($14.25). From now until the end of August, amazon.com is offering $10 off purchases of $49 or more if you use the code GROCERY2

The grocery section’s layout and structure are similar to those of all of amazon’s other sections, which makes it — for me at least — fairly easy to navigate through their offerings.

Because these online groceries don’t sell any perishable goods (a few such efforts crashed and burned in the late 90s), they certainly won’t let you skip the weekly (daily?) trip to the store for milk, eggs, and bread. But for those who get overwhelmed by huge warehouses like Sam’s Club or Costco, amazon’s grocery section could be a welcome alternative.

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