Samantha Splane is serious when she says it: The Opelousas mother of two young children may never walk into a grocery store again.

She had regularly utilized the nearby Walmart Neighborhood Market’s curbside pickup for about year until last week when she made her first order for grocery delivery from Super 1 Foods to her home through Instacart, one of two national companies that specializes in grocery delivery.

Splane placed the order at 2:45 p.m., got the call from her personal shopper that the delivery was on its way and was unpacking the items on her kitchen counter at 4:30 p.m.

“It was exactly how I picked it out,” said Splane, business development manager for Sterling Automotive Group. “To be able to stay home with two small children and not have to get out on a Sunday afternoon and do my weekly grocery shopping, it was the best thing. I wished they had invented it years ago.”

Splane is part of a growing share of customers who are changing the way they buy groceries, and it’s put the pressure on supermarkets to meet that demand. Grocery e-commerce has tripled between 2013 and 2018, according to market research firm Packaged Facts, and should quadruple by 2023.

It’s no wonder that one online publication dubbed this the “Golden Age of Grocery Shopping” as stores compete to make buying groceries easier.

Walmart began home delivery in the Baton Rouge area last month and will expand to another 800 stores next year, possibly in Acadiana. Other local stores offer either just curbside or both through Instacart or Shipt, another online delivery service.

Those changes may be just the beginning.

“It’s very interesting. The grocery business is changing so much,” said John Karolefski, a grocery shopping analyst and founder of grocerystories.com. “(E-commerce) is going to be snowballing over the next several years. I think a bigger part of it is the curbside pickup. You go in and pick up the fruits and vegetables and do pickup for the rest. I think curbside pickup will be bigger than home delivery.”

Keep up with the Joneses

At Nunu’s Fresh Markets, co-owner Blaine Broussard knows his company is small but has to “keep up with the Joneses,” he said. Three months ago, Nunu’s began offering curbside pickup at its Youngsville store where customers place their orders online and pick up their order within the hour.

“If the competition is doing it, you’re going to do something like it,” Broussard said. “It’s slowly growing. We didn’t advertise it like the big chains did. It’s doing fairly well, and people are starting to use it.”

Broussard is hoping to offer delivery service eventually to keep up with the others in Lafayette market who do. Rouses has partnered with Instacart and Shipt for delivery, joining Costco, Albertsons and Super 1 Foods. Champagne’s has also teamed with Waitr to deliver its prepared foods.

“We launched it earlier this year, and it’s been very popular with our customers,” said Tim Acosta, marketing director for Rouses, which has three stores in Lafayette. “You have your moms with young kids or those who can’t get out and disabled. You have professions who don’t have time to go shopping and have their groceries delivered in the evenings.”

Many in the delivery or curbside services are going after the same customer — the parents with young children, the customers who forgot an item and can’t bounce back to the store or the Saints fans who don't want to leave during a game.

The key to success, just like any other part of the business, is good customer service. With Instacart, the customer’s shopper will reach out to the customer if there are issues with the order or something they want is unavailable. 

Employees at Super 1 take the same approach.

“It’s a personal touch,” said Jay Holmes, regional director for Super 1 Foods, which began curbside service to 13 of its 14 south Louisiana stores in June. “Our personal shopper will text back and forth with the customer. They will even take pictures of a product and send it to them. It’s a full-service shopping experience.

“Online shopping is more and more prevalent. If we want to stay relevant in this highly competitive grocery industry, we have to provide that.”

More changes coming

Could your groceries come to your home one day by a driverless car?

Walmart thinks so. The retail giant is trying to stay out in front of e-commerce trends in the industry and recently announced a partnership with Ford to explore the idea.

“You have to keep in mind that younger people, as they become heads of households, they’re going to take advantage of (the technology),” said Tony Greco, professor of economics and finance at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “They’re more in tune with technology. I think that’s going to grow a lot. Changes are coming, and it’s hard to anticipate them all.”

Walmart and Amazon, according to the Packaged Facts report, account for 28 percent of online grocery sales. Amazon could be another player in the Louisiana market in the future by utilizing its Whole Foods stores for delivery.

The internet giant offers hour or two-hour delivery in some markets and has unveiled its cashierless Amazon Go stores in Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco.

Amazon may open 50-100 Amazon Go stores next year, Karolefski said.

“What Amazon is doing is very interesting,” Karolefski said. “It’s cutting edge. It’ll take a while to catch on before it goes big. Who’s to say that Amazon will not try to leverage this and try it in a Whole Foods? Would they do that? I wouldn’t bet against them.”

The trends in e-commerce have slightly reduced foot traffic inside stores, according to statistics website Statista.com, from 2.2 trips per week to 1.6. Grocery stores are changing now to bring in more customers by catering to current shopping trends — more prepared foods and fruits and vegetables — and installing restaurants (dubbed grocerants) or wine and beer bars.

“I know you’ll see more emphasis on fruits and vegetables around the perimeter and less emphasis on package items in the center of the stores,” Karolefski said. “They’d rather have shoppers come in their stores than buy things online. You’re seeing a lot of shopper engagement with these wine and beer bars and cafes. Stores in Cleveland are opening full-scale bars. It’s all very impressive.”

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Follow Adam Daigle on Twitter, @adamdaigleAdv.