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10/15/2021

Drive-thru grocer puts in-store spin on ultrafast fulfillment

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Opie
Opie provides in-store pickup of orders within minutes.

A drive-thru grocery chain that fulfills orders within minutes is applying the methodology behind ultrafast delivery to in-store pickup.

Known as Opie, the retailer’s stores are open 24 hours a day and feature thousands of items, offering almost every category found in a traditional grocery store, including fresh meats, produce, and bakery items. Opie also carries a substantial organic and natural product assortment.

[Read more: Opie Drive-Thru Grocery opens first store — with more in the works]

Customers have three options for shopping at Opie. They can pull into any space in the store parking lot, place their order on the Opie app, select “I’m at the store now” at checkout, and receive their purchases in minutes.

Shoppers can also order ahead on the Opie app or website and pick up their goods in as soon as five minutes, with no fees or order minimums. The drive-thru express option allows customers with small orders of roughly five items or less to pull up and order with a car-side clerk equipped with a tablet. Drive-thru express orders are fulfilled within minutes and do not require placing an order ahead of time.

Dark stores shine bright
Opie leverages the “dark store” concept, which utilizes small stores leveraging micro-fulfillment technology to fulfill orders from a locally targeted product assortment within minutes. Primarily found in the grocery and CPG verticals, micro-fulfillment uses a “goods-to-person” style of automation and robotics, where a human associate stays in one place and automation delivers the goods to be picked to them.

Large grocers that have been applying micro-fulfillment to their inventory management and online delivery operations include Albertsons, has been piloting “micro-fulfillment” centers supported by a hyperlocal fulfillment solution from Takeoff Technologies. Located inside an existing store, micro-fulfillment centers typically hold about 15,000 to 18,000 of the local market’s most popular products. 

The centers use robotic technology to fulfill e-commerce orders and provide real-time information about inventory. By placing a micro-fulfillment center in an existing store close to customers, Albertsons hopes to be able to carry a diverse and locally relevant selection of products.

Another high-profile example is the micro-fulfillment-enabled “customer fulfillment center” (CFC) model Kroger and U.K. grocer Ocado initially developed in 2018. A CFC facility leverages proprietary technology solutions focused on artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced robotics and automation to create more seamless and efficient fulfillment, picking and delivery capabilities for enhanced digital commerce capabilities.

Ultrafast pickup
However, Opie is putting an in-store-pickup-focused spin on a rapidly growing trend of startup companies using micro-fulfillment-based dark stores and online ordering to provide ultrafast delivery of grocery and CPG products. Startups including Gorillaz, Gopuff, Jokr, and Buyk are all providing ultrafast grocery delivery based on dark stores.

[Read more: Ultrafast delivery is gaining momentum]

In addition, in July 2021, Instacart unveiled the first phase of a next-generation automated fulfillment initiative. As part of the new initiative, Instacart will pair Fabric software and robotics with its proprietary technology and shoppers to enable a micro-fulfillment process within dedicated warehouses and existing retailer locations.

The Mt. Pleasant Opie store is the first of five planned locations in the Charleston, S.C. area, with the next unit slated to open in Summerville, S.C. According to the company, more than 100 investors currently want to also open their own Opie stores.

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