could groceries store or Walmart get much more efficient by getting rid of the big hall?

in other words, suppose a store would operate like Amazon online store, only instead of shipping you come and pick the packages up? Naturally, this wouldn’t work for people trying things out, or for exploring new products and what not, but then many people just know exactly what they want and want to get it cheapest.

So I am guessing that getting rid of the big hall would cut down on customer theft, on air conditioning and heating, on lighting and probably even on rent. Plus from the standpoint of the customer it will all work as fast as a machine gun - swipe your card, grab your package, next in line please. OTOH maybe this would require more manual labor from employees to assemble the packages, but then manual labor is pretty cheap nowadays. Plus, maybe it would be possible to do clever computerized optimizations on employee actions needed to assemble the packages so that running around would be minimized.

Well, so are there such businesses out there? Have they been tried and failed? What’s the straight dope?

Yeah, that model’s been around- Best Products / Service merchandise worked like that to some degree- you could order stuff out of the catalogs and pick it up at the store; many times they’d have one for show, and you’d get one delivered from the stockroom upstairs.

Sears works that way to some extent even now- I bought a table saw online about six months ago during my lunch break, and took my receipt to the local Sears after work that same day and picked it up- no muss, no fuss, and only about 5-10 minutes of waiting.

Argos in the UK does exactly what you describe, if I’m not mistaken also.

Both defunct, though I don’t know if it is solely because of that business model.

I wouldn’t want to run a store like that. You know why? You can’t get customers to buy on impulse. How many times have you heard someone say, “I went to Costco for a case of water and a can of coffee and ended up spending $250!”

Circuit City (now defunct) had a store pickup option, which broadened their reach. They probably picked up a few people who might otherwise have ordered from online-only companies. You don’t have to spend time looking for it in the store and you can get it today and not pay shipping.

ETA: Amazon works because they changed the way the world thinks about buying books. It is a disruptive business. They have trained people to browse and make impulse purchases, and do an even better job than brick & mortar bookstores at it.

An upscale grocery store by us offers this service. We tried it once (put together an order for about 20 items) and were ready to pay and then go pick it up. Until we read that it wouldn’t be ready for pick-up until 5 hours later.
I suppose it’s understandable that they can’t throw your order together NOW but then again I can go over there and throw it together myself NOW.

The other problem is certain items you like to hand pick yourself. Meats, produce, etc. Do you trust someone to do that for you.
Sizes are also hard to determine from pictures on the internet unless you really know your measurements. 1 lb. box of pasta vs. 2 lb.??? 16 oz. can of tomato sauce vs. 32 oz.???

Yes, variations on that business model have been around forever. In the late 1990’s, many supermarket chains fell all over themselves trying to grab a piece of the home delivery market. You didn’t even have to pick it up, they brought it to you, and it was cheap or even free if you placed more than a small order. That market wasn’t as big as they anticipated and I haven’t followed that trend for a few years but there are still some supermarkets, usually in urban locations, that offer delivery and online ordering including automated reorders if you want that. It is a niche market but most people don’t plan all that well, forget to put things on the list etc. Letting the store shop for you can work but it results in some loss of control for the consumer plus there are additional things that can go wrong. Most people don’t want that.

This was about 1/2 of Sears-Roebuck for many many years.

The Sears Catalog had several hundred color pages of merchandise. You called in your order with a credit card or mailed in a check, or went to the catalog dept. and placed the order and then they’d call you a few days later when it came in and you’d go pick it up.

Here, you went to the mall and there was a catalog pickup at the big Sears store at the mall, but in remote places/small towns where there were no full Sears stores, there often was a small storefront that was just there for placing and picking up catalog orders.

J.C. Penney also did this for years and still does, but I think now they ship everything directly to the customer through UPS/FedEx/USPS.

In fact, grocery and general stores used to have all or almost all merchandise behind the counter, and you’d ask the clerk for this, that, and the other thing. It’s sort of like the butcher and deli counters in supermarkets today…you tell the clerk what you want, and the clerk picks it out and packages it for you. However, I will usually wander over to the self-serve meat case, pick out my packages of ground turkey, ham steaks, and the like. I can examine the stuff up close and not feel pressured to choose quickly because others are waiting.

I don’t know exactly how much stores depend on impulse buys, but I would guess that in some cases, impulse buys make the difference between profit and loss. Stores don’t offer magazines and candy and sodas in their own little cooler right next to the cash register because they think that it will be good for you, but because they think that the average shopper might well toss a Woman’s Day or chocolate bar or cola into their cart, intending to eat the bar or drink the soda on the ride home. Most stores will ask if you want to put the candy or soda in your purse, instead of automatically bagging it, IME. Since my candy purchases are almost always for my husband or daughter, the clerk looks shocked when I say to put it in the bag. The stores experience a lot of shrinkage at those sites, but they also experience a lot of profit, too.

I will also buy staples on impulse, if they’re on sale for a good price. A couple of days ago, I was looking for some ground chuck, and found beef neck bones for 49 cents a pound. Since they’re normally three or four times that price, I stocked up and made stock. Maybe this would have happened anyway if I’d shopped online…but probably not.

If I worked long hours outside the house, and had unlimited internet access at my job, I WOULD enjoy being able to go online at the start of my workday, pick out a few days’ worth of food, and then pick it up on the way home. But I think that a supermarket would have to offer this service in addition to self-serve shopping, not instead of it. The goods and the staff would still need climate control, and the store would still have to be physically located in an area that’s convenient to the customers, or they won’t stop there to pick up their goods. Don’t discount the cost of labor, either. Labor is extremely expensive, even if it’s an employer’s market right now. So, while this model might be a good extra for a store to offer, I don’t think that it would work as a stand-alone variation, except in a very few places.

One problem with the premise is that you’ll still need “the big hall.” Whether it’s a retail store or a warehouse, you’ll still need a place where cases of merchandise can be opened and broken out, then sorted into packages for the individual customer.

Take a look at your typical big box retailer floor plan. There’s virtually no “warehouse” section – only a receiving dock where merchandise is taken out of its packing and then taken directly to the sales floor. The actual assembling of the customer packages is done by the customer. You can’t cut labor costs any more than by having the customer do the work for you!

A five second Google search works.

And let’s not forget that no matter how much you may make shopping more “efficient,” humans are not machines. Many of us prefer to squeeze the melons on our own, thankyouverymuch.

You can’t meet hot chicks in the produce section and compliment them on their melons if you order online. Huge disadvantage.

This has sorta been said, but they would still need everything on it’s own shelf so someone could go pick out exactly what you need from the hundreds of products and brands and put it in your order. So might as well fire those people who are getting your order together and let you come in and do it yourself and be sure to pick up some impulse buys while you’re in there.

That said, I do think a regular supermarket could have a successful pickup option. I sure wish mine did.

FreshDirect does a great job. Always had perfect produce and meat from them. Their business is primarily delivery, but they also have a cheaper option where you can pick up your order directly from the warehouse. The company has been growing steadily and getting more competitive for years.

how about using this model in places where theft and vandalism are a big issue? E.g. I know that in many American neighborhoods regular groceries stores quickly go out of business because of poorly behaved shoppers. Why haven’t people tried this approach instead in such environments?

Which model? Those online stores that ship groceries make money because they are nationwide. A local store locking the door and opening a drive-thru is limiting itself.

Products on the shelves have hundreds of advertisements on them convincing people to buy a particular product. Manufacturers do not support a structure where that advertising would go to waste. People want to be subjected to it as well. They feel informed when they can read the key points of a particular product and can touch and feel it.

Service Merchandise went to having a majority of their products behind glass and having people pick up the items after purchase. Customers didn’t like it. Service Merchandise went out of business.

I almost never buy convenience foods, and I refuse to purchase fruits, vegetables or meat products without examining them. mrAru has learned what I look for in products. Stuff like the staples I am particular about brands, though I do buy spices twice a year online from penzeys.com.

I have food allergies to mushrooms [‘natural flavor’ is a common code word for mushroom powder, being a source of umami] and palm products [look and see how many products have tropical oils, palm oil and similar derivatives in it] and avoid prepared foods that have these ingredients in them, and also high fructose corn syrup, and excess sugars [HFCS throws my glucose metabolism out of whack and is a migraine trigger, and being diabetic I have to watch added sugars. Besides, american manufacturers put too much sugar in foods, and my homemade tomato sauce is way better than canned] I really do need to read labels on products I have not purchased previously for ingredients I can not metabolize properly.

Mr. Sali hates to shop. We loved Service Merchandise and bought a lot of stuff there when we bought our house. Nothing was behind glass except for jewelry and little stuff that could be shoplifted. When S.M. went out of business, Mr. Sali bought stuff from catalogs, or online (he hates hates hates to shop). what can’t be bought that way, well, then I have to do the shopping for him.:mad:

On the other hand, I really appreciated it a few years ago when I was ill and couldn’t drive or leave the house. Four about 4 months, I ordered from a local grocery store’s website and had my groceries delivered for about $9.99. I could deal with that as I wasn’t spending the money for gas. I usually ordered and then set a time for them to be delivered the next day, so I didn’t use it for impulse purchases. I had a pretty good idea of what I really needed and had a list ready when I ordered. That market has since discontinued online shopping, since it was after all, losing money. Safeway has been recently offering home delivery in my area, however.

This should be, in principle, easier online than in person with the right software & data. You would be able to filter out products automatically via a whole set of criteria so that you would never even see any mushroom-containing products in your personal online store.

At least here in the UK, the Argos chain offers something approximating the business model described in the OP. At an Argos ‘store’ the only things in front of the counter are desks with the store catalogue on it. You choose what you want, fill out the catalogue numbers on a ticket, hand this over to the worker droids and pay, then wait while they bring you your box(es).

The catalogue itself is widely distributed (for free) so you can make all your decisions at home, and as well as actually going to a store to collect goods you can do things the traditional ‘home shopping’ way and have stuff delivered.

I don’t know about this past year, which has been terrible for retail businesses, but certainly until the current financial crisis they were doing very well. A substantial number of people seem perfectly happy with the idea that there’s nothing in the store except the catalogue, and they do get ‘passing trade’ and ‘impulse buys’.

Others have pointed out that any retailer adopting this model still needs a ‘big box’, it’s just that the goods are stacked warehouse-style behind the counter (and out of sight) rather than on customer-friendly shelving display units. True, but it’s still massively cheaper because retail display is expensive and time-consuming and, in some cases, represents a considerable investment in skill that borders on ‘art’.

Exactly. Make the customer do the work, and you don’t have to pay an employee to do it for them. A customer might spend half an hour roaming the aisles at a supermarket picking out their items. Grocery stores operate on razor thin margins. This is where the experiments with self-checkout come from.