For Angela Libby, grocery shopping is normally one of the most hectic events of the day.
Libby, who owns Charlie’s Diner in Westbrook, closes her business around 3 p.m., races to the store, and then goes to pick up her two youngest children from day care by 5 p.m. If she’s running late, she picks up all four of her kids before heading to the store, which leads to a long trek through the aisles.
Tuesday was different. Libby tried out the new Hannaford to Go service at the North Windham store, filling out her order online Monday night and then picking up $77 worth of food Tuesday afternoon, all without getting out of her car.
She was home and had the groceries put away before 4 p.m.
“I’m actually going to take a shower today before I go” to pick up her children, Libby said. “I’m all done. I’m so excited.”
Hannaford, the Scarborough-based chain, hopes the new service excites more shoppers like Libby.
The service has been offered at a Hannaford store in Dover, N.H., since March and it has proved popular, company spokesman Eric Blom said, although he declined to provide figures on the number of shoppers who use the service weekly in Dover.
Grocers elsewhere are experimenting with comparable services, including Tesco, a global chain based in the United Kingdom with 5,380 stores in Asia, Europe and the United States, and Safeway, a North American chain with 1,702 stores across the United States and Canada.
But the move does come with risks. Evan Schuman, editor of Storefront Talkback, a popular website on e-commerce and retail technology, said the effort could cost Hannaford some impulse purchases.
“The question is whether this program will lure in more customers and/or build more loyalty from existing shoppers,” Schuman wrote in a story about Hannaford’s experiment.
Shaw’s, Hannaford’s major competitor in Maine, does not offer any drive-through grocery stores, company spokesman Steve Sylven said, although an arm of the chain’s parent company, Supervalu, does provide it at a group of stores in the Philadelphia area.
The expansion of Hannaford to Go to the North Windham store started a couple of weeks ago, Blom said.
About 20 people a day use the service, store manager John Mullins said, noting that it has been promoted only at the store and Hannaford hasn’t officially announced it yet, so he expects interest to increase.
The service is free for the first order and for any subsequent orders over $125. Otherwise, there’s a $5 service charge.
The items cost the same as the in-store price, including any weekly specials, Blom said.
Blom said the service is not considered a pilot program prior to rolling it out to all Hannaford stores, but consumer response is being evaluated to “see if it makes sense for other locations.”
Some stores have offered online ordering and home delivery, but those are usually found in urban areas, where the higher population density makes it more cost-effective.
Hannaford to Go is apparently the first drive-through grocery service in the state, although it harkens back to the days when consumers would give shopping lists to the grocer, who would then gather all the items and deliver them.
Mullins said he has a staff of trained Hannaford to Go workers, although they are cross-trained in other tasks for times when the service isn’t busy.
He said the shoppers process overnight orders in the morning. They are given print-outs of the lists submitted by customers, Mullins said.
“We know we’re shopping for our customers and want to give them the very best,” he said.
The in-house shoppers put the groceries in bags marked with the customers’ names. The bags are kept in a separate area of the store, he said, and perishables are stored in a refrigerator and the frozen goods in a freezer.
Orders can be picked up between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m., and need to be made at least four hours ahead and by 2 p.m. for pick-up the same day. Mullins said 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. has proved to be the most popular pick-up period.
Customers coming to pick up an order pull into a curb cut in front of the store, hit a buzzer and say who they are. A worker will come out, get a credit card, debit card or check and any coupons, then go in and ring up the order. Then the worker comes back out with a receipt and the groceries, puts the bags in the customer’s car and the transaction is complete.
Mullins said the goal is to get the customer in and out in three minutes or less.
“It’s great with commuters – certainly adding a lot of time back to their day,” Mullins said.
Libby said that has proved true for her.
“This will be my new way to shop,” she said. “All day today I was so excited to go get my groceries.”
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]