A colleague and I also conceived this business back in 1987. Of course, 23 years ago, one was restricted to fax and phone. The problems still remain, but the nature of the business is otherwise better.
It's always struck me as the optimum mix of Peapod's delivery service and shopping in a store. I think many people have time to pick up a pre-selected and packaged order, but don't want to waste time with the mostly low-value-added task of the actual, physical stock-picking.
Now, with cheaper and more practical, effective communications, via cell and internet, ording grocercies is much easier than it was over 20 years ago. The business also features easier billing and fulfillment. For example, consider this passage,
"The warehouse model means Chronodrive doesn't need more than a dozen employees per location, so costs are low. But customers shop according to a list- there are no impulse buys at the checkout."The drive-through model allows for less expensive site selections. The Journal article describes how French Chronodrive stores are located near highways and neighborhoods with lots of middle class families. They expect a terminal penetration of some 4-5% of the French market.
I've always believed that one could get people to buy the toughest non-sight items, produce and meat, by simply having a 'no questions asked' return policy for the first month. Once people felt comfortable with the product quality, and their ability to return bad 'fresh' food, I think they'd learn the habit of ordering those, as well.
Ironically, for me, at least, this harks back to my high school days. I worked at Matarelli's, a literal corner grocery store in my modest-sized downstate Illinois town. We were one of only two grocery stores that delivered. Our prices were SRP (suggested retail price) to cover the cost of our "free" delivery, and the store was known for its excellent meat quality.
However, many customers would telephone their orders to the two Italian sisters who ran the store, driving by a few hours later to pick up their boxed orders.
I hope this French business works out well, and makes an appearance on our shores soon.