Fast and fresh. Those are the two key ingredients that Metro officials believe will differentiate their new online grocery shopping service from the competition.
"We think that what we are putting in place is unique in the marketplace," Gino Plevano, Metro's vice-president, digital strategy and loyalty, told Canadian Grocer following the launch of the new service.
Starting today, Metro customers in the Quebec metropolis can do their food shopping online. Orders can be picked up at three stores in Montreal and Laval, or delivered by one of three specially-designed vans in Montreal's east end.
According to Plevano, teams of employees at all three stores have been trained to select the best in-store produce for online orders. Those products are then stored until delivery or pick up in the appropriate Tri-Zones area of the store—a term the Montreal-based grocery giant has coined to delineate the storage of temperate, refrigerated and frozen items.
"From an operational standpoint it helps to ensure that products remain as fresh as possible until the customer receives them," said Plevano.
READ: Film, fashion and…food? Metro’s unorthodox marketing mix
He added that the same refrigerated-zone approach will apply in the small fleet of specially-designed vehicles that Metro purchased to deliver online-ordered items east of Highway 15/Décarie in Montreal.
A digital platform and marketing expert joined Metro four years ago specifically to help design and deliver the online shopping service launched, Plevano said the new bilingual service also offers a user-friendly and personalized format that Metro customers will love, especially those who are members of the metro&moi loyalty program.
“It's a very simple platform that is easy to use," said Plevano. "And if you enter your loyalty card member you can add products you buy frequently to your cart, which saves time."
Loyalty program members, he added, can also use personalized coupons and redeem rewards via the new online service.
"We think people are really going to like it," said Plevano. He added that the key aspects of the new service—from the creation of picking teams and Tri-Zones storage to its being linked with the loyalty rewards program—is a result of a detailed in-house analysis that he spearheaded.
"We looked at what was going on in some areas of the world, especially France and the U.K., where online services are more advanced and there are more sales, and we took the best elements of what we saw," said Plevano, who has helped several large Canadian media and telecommunications companies transform their operations to digital platforms, including Quebecor, Yellow Pages, Auto Trader, and Canwest.
READ: Metro: North America’s best grocer? Maybe
He called today's launch "Phase 1," and said the company will move slowly towards an ultimate objective of rolling the new service out across the entire Metro chain in both Quebec and Ontario.
"We will wait to see the reaction of customers and fine tune things going forward," said Plevano. "The speed of deployment will be based entirely on the success of this first phase."
Plevano downplayed Metro's relatively late arrival to the online grocery game.
Sobeys, for example, was a pioneer in the field 20 years ago, and Loblaw and other rivals have offered a variety of online shopping services for more than a decade.
"Our studies show that online grocery shopping is still small, but it's growing," said Plevano. "So I think our timing is actually quite good."
READ: Who wants to be a Metro millionaire?
JoAnne Labrecque agrees. An associate professor of marketing and a retail expert at HEC Montréal, the city's world-class school of management, education and research, she said online grocery sales in Canada have never risen about 1% in total sales at brick-and-mortar grocery stores.
But she said a growing body of evidence suggests that will soon change.
"Fifteen years ago people said they would never buy shoes and clothes on line," Labrecque said today. "But data from the Food Marketing Institute for 2015 shows that 34% of electronic and appliance sales were online, as were 21% of apparel sales. Grocery sales are still only 3-4%, but the forecast for 2020 is 10%."
According to Labrecque, that trend will almost certainly follow in Quebec and Canada, where growing numbers of young shoppers are accustomed to doing business on line.
"I think Metro is getting into this at just the right time," said Labrecques. "And tying their loyalty program in with it is a smart move, because it will immediately appeal to a lot of their existing customers."