The way things are going, you may well never need to step into a grocery store again. Between the ongoing rise of businesses like Instacart, individual grocery chains introducing delivery and pickup, and the onslaught of rapid grocery delivery services like Getir (we’re still gagging every time we hear this terrible name), technology keeps making it easier to grocery shop on your phone. But these systems are not without flaws. A new company, Fresh Street (now that’s a name we can get behind), has recently opened in Chicago to try something new in the hopes of offering a more affordable and more reliably stocked online grocery shopping option as a curbside-only grocery store.
The first Fresh Street location is currently in a strip mall on the northwest outskirts of the city, a much more car-friendly area of Chicago. I was able to walk through the facility when I stumbled upon it thinking it was a true brick-and-mortar market. What I saw inside was similar to a stockroom: rows and rows of products, everything from fresh produce, dried goods, and dairy to cat food, pregnancy tests, and deodorant.
Customers can download the Fresh Street app and place their order through that, then workers at the store will pull from the stock to fulfill the order, and customers can drive up to one of several designated parking spots to have their haul placed directly in their car. While the app promises your groceries can be ready in as little as 30 minutes, it also allows you to schedule the best time to pick up, so you don’t have to be tied to a specific timeline.
While the “ghost store” set up may seem awfully similar to the much maligned model of the rapid grocery delivery services we love to hate, this seems on the surface at least to be much more thoughtful. For one, the ghost store itself is in an area void of other grocery options, and because it’s pickup only, it’s not necessarily replacing your mom-and-pop corner store the way a delivery service would. Instead, this model can fulfill needs in food deserts where it might be more expensive to get groceries delivered.
Getting rid of the delivery component forces the customer to be more thoughtful as well. This is a place where you will come for a thought-out grocery run, not an impulse order of a few small items. In turn, that allows the warehouse itself to be more evenly and usefully stocked, which leads to lower pricing on items because they can be purchased more regularly in bulk from suppliers. It also means that all employees are focused on efficiently putting together a grocery order, not haphazardly biking through the streets to meet an unreasonable time demand. And without delivery fees and added overhead of delivery employees, it becomes an ultimately cheaper option for both parties.
We still reserve the right to be slightly skeptical—this particular location has only been open since March 18, and we have yet to see how this model will roll out nationally. But so far this seems like a step in the right direction of making online, contactless grocery shopping better for customers, workers, and other small businesses alike.