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Friday, June 19, 2009

Ordering Groceries Online - The Peapod Tour

A week or two ago, I wrote that I'd been invited to a tour of the Peapod wareroom in my area. As promised, I'm writing to share the behind-the-scenes details with you. By now I'm sure you know that I'm into the details of how things work. I was eager to see how the system works, and by the end of the tour, I was so impressed with the efficiency and attention to detail through the entire Peapod system.

Peapod offers online grocery shopping and home delivery in several states. They're affiliated with Stop & Shop and Giant stores. Unlike other online grocery-shopping services, Peapod employees pick products from a separate wareroom, not from the main supermarket. This wareroom sits behind the supermarket; I never would have known it was there! At the start of the tour, we entered the biggest elevator I've ever seen--I think it's bigger than some bedrooms--and went up to the wareroom.

We exited the elevator and stepped into what looked like a mini supermarket. One half of the room stores dry goods: shelf-stable, non-perishable items like bottled juice, canned goods, paper products, toothpaste. The other half houses the cold items: produce, dairy, meat, deli, and frozen foods. This wareroom doesn't include as many individual items as the supermarket itself: it's a subset chosen to represent a good selection and popular items. Meat and deli items are both packaged to order in the supermarket, then delivered to the Peapod wareroom. In addition, certain low-volume items are available through Peapod but not regularly stocked in the Peapod wareroom. The smaller shopping area allows orders to be assembled in less time than it takes to walk the entire supermarket.

The efficiency in the Peapod system is remarkable. Shoppers--the employees who collect items for online orders--are equipped with handheld scanners that contain information on customer orders. The items are displayed on the scanner screen by location only (not item name), and the shelves are marked in much smaller units than the supermarket aisles. (I'd estimate that each three- or four-foot section of each shelf has a location label. Within those sections are labels for individual products.) As a shopper locates an item, he or she scans it; if an incorrect item is picked, the scanner will notify the shopper. Each item is added to a grocery bag, which is placed in a bin, which in turn sits on a cart.

The aisles are arranged with heavy items first so that bottled water, for example, will be at the bottom of a bin. After all of the dry goods are collected, the shopper continues to the refrigerated section of the wareroom. For cold foods, the shopper uses a different type of bin: these are insulated. Cold gel-packs are used to keep cold foods cold; the number and placement of the gel-packs are determined by various factors such as outdoor temperature and are relayed to the shopper via the handheld scanner. Frozen items are packed with dry ice.

After the orders are assembled and the bins receive their labels, they are loaded onto trucks. A computerized system is used to optimize routes, so that customers in different towns will receive their orders at their chosen times. The system even plans the optimal way to load the bins into the trucks for maximum efficiency.

I'm sorry to say that I forgot to take my camera! I found an article that has a photo of a different Peapod wareroom. [Edited 6/24 to add: Thanks to my new friend Liz for posting a review and tour photos!]

I wrote quite a bit in my earlier post about the Nutrifilter system that helps shoppers choose grocery items that fit within a special diet (e.g., Low Sodium, Weight Watchers, Dairy-Free, Healthy Ideas). I also wrote about how Peapod highlights sale items and accepts coupons. I won't repeat all of that, but I encourage you to read that post if you're interested. I'd add that, if you're prone to impulse purchases, ordering online might actually save money over shopping in the store!

I haven't ordered from Peapod, but I plan to give it a try soon. (I'm thinking that a hot summer day might be the perfect time! Who likes to lug heavy bags of groceries from the store to the car, then from the car to the house?) Promo codes are available online (ask me if you can't find one). If you'd like to take a look, click here to go directly to Peapod or use this link:

Thanks to everyone at Peapod who made this tour possible!

1 comment :

  1. Wow, that sounds incredible! It's amazing what they do nowadays. :)


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