Big Y Foods’ e-commerce initiative has come a long way from its launch one year ago, and it has a special warehouse to thank for that.
The New England retailer this fall is celebrating the first anniversary of its myPicks Online Ordering solution, where customers place their orders for curbside pickup. While employees select perishables from inside Big Y’s store Chicopee, Mass., its adjacent micro-fulfillment center picks the customer’s center store products to complete the click-and-collect order.
“The micro-fulfillment center, it’s kind of the best of both worlds,” said Christian D’Amour, director of e-commerce at Big Y Foods, headquartered in Springfield, Mass.
The company can use the center to leverage perishable items, like produce and meat, and they can also lean into it for most of the center store items, thereby limiting the amount of time employees need to walk up and down the aisles picking out items.
“It expedites that process while still being to leverage the most perishable items so you’re giving your customer the freshest product and you’re giving it to them quicker than if one person was just doing a full store shop,” D’Amour added.
Facts and figures:
- The micro-fulfillment center measures 10,000 square feet
- At full capacity, the center can process 4,000-5,000 orders a week
- It is attached to a 60,000-square-foot supermarket
- The independently owned chain operates 72 stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut
Of those 72 locations, myPicks serves customers at 11 in the greater Springfield, Mass., area: Wilbraham, Ludlow, Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Springfield, Chicopee, Westfield (East Silver Street), Westfield Shops (East Main Street), West Springfield, Big Y at Fresh Acres, and South Hadley.
The customer might be reluctant to let robots pick their fresh strawberries and pork chops, but can they count on supermarket employees to do any better?
“With e-commerce in general where there’s a micro-fulfillment center and in-store pick, that’s one of the biggest comments that we get: ‘Well, how do I know if the employee is going to pick out the best quality stuff?’” D’Amour said. “We put them through a pretty rigorous training program so in a lot of ways they’re probably more qualified to pick out the ripest produce or the best cut of meat than the customer is.”
And in the warehouse, built by Big Y’s partner Takeoff Technologies, 20,000 of the retailer’s top-selling products are waiting for customer orders.
“We feel very good about the assortment that we do offer,” D’Amour said. “Some of the foods we can’t offer, like hot foods, for instance, but we’re constantly looking at our assortment and listening to our customers and trying to make the items we carry the right items.”
Updates and plans:
- Big Y recently launched an upgraded myPicks website with improved functionality that will accept payments via EBT and SNAP benefits
- Pickup windows were expanded to include same-day order and pickup
- The retailer continues to expand fresh and local product offerings
- Big Y eventually wants to take its e-commerce solution chainwide
The updated myPicks website will also make possible home delivery powered by Big Y partner Instacart.
“Right now, our e-commerce is pickup curbside,” D’Amour said, “but we’re partnering with Instacart to fulfill a last-mile, at-home delivery piece. That’ll be right around the corner here. We’re still testing, but most likely it should be up and running by the time the holidays hit.”
After seeing an explosion of online ordering and an increased customer demand for another way to shop, Big Y decided to enter the e-commerce arena.
“We’re really happy with the progress we’ve made,” D’Amour said. “We just celebrated our one-year anniversary, and we continue to grow and evolve, and it’s been a pretty cool dream so far.”
But he emphasizes that online shopping is just one facet of Big Y’s business.
“We want e-commerce to be a complement to our in-store experience, not a replacement of our in-store experience,” D’Amour said. “We’re very proud of our stores and of the service we provide in our stores, but we also understand that customers are looking for flexibility when they shop, so there are times when they want to be in our stores but there also are times when it’s more convenient to order online. This is a significant investment in that customer service.”
Other supermarket retailers with Takeoff-powered micro-fulfillment centers include Albertsons Cos. (Safeway), Ahold Delhaize USA (Stop & Shop), Wakefern Food Corp. (ShopRite), and Florida grocer Sedano’s Supermarkets, and more facilities are in the works. This year, Loblaw Cos. (Real Canadian Superstore) will get its own Takeoff center.