Attention shoppers: Retail Relay is looking for converts

food-retailrelayDoing the Retail Relay: Shop online and young men in lime green shirts will put the goods in your car.

Tired of making up a grocery list every week and trudging off to the store, or stores? Local start-up Retail Relay, an online grocery store, wants to relieve your pain.

"Shopping habits can change if there are good reasons," says Ted Corcoran, Retail Relay's marketing director. "We're allowing customers to remove a couple of the pain points in that process. Gradually, people are learning that shopping online for ten to fifteen minutes with a nearby delivery beats spending an hour or two on the same task."

Basically, you make your shopping orders online and then pick them up at designated times and drop spots during the week. Currently, shoppers on RR can browse food offerings from 18 local stores and farms, including Charlottesville-owned vendors, Reid's Super-Save Market and feast!, plus the newly added Cheese Shop in Stuarts Draft. You can also get stuff from Trader Joe's. Soon prepared foods from Hotcakes and Revolutionary Soup will be available. RR has also added greens and such from Virginia’s Bounty, an online store with produce from local farms.

Lately, though, the RR folks have realized that shoppers like the idea of picking up their groceries right where they work. That's why they've partnered with Martha Jefferson Hospital, first creating a drop off spot at MJH's Locust Avenue location, and now another one in the Outpatient Care Center parking lot at Peter Jefferson Place on Route 250 East.

"Connecting this to work," says Corcoran, "that's what people seem to care about."

“When Retail Relay caught on with everyone at the hospital in town so quickly, folks who work out a Peter Jefferson Place used the service but wondered when they could enjoy the same benefits of a convenient – and free –pick-up,” says Martha Hunter, director of the Outpatient Care Center. “Now everyone at MJH can shop for groceries online and pick them up right where they work.”

“Once people see how easy it is to get their grocery shopping done and head home from work with the bags in the car, they literally can’t believe it," says company founder Zach Buckner. " Moving to PJP was the natural extension of our success at the hospital in town.”

So how does this business model work?

"We take a percentage of the sale from the retailer," says Corcoran, "so there's no mark up. Prices are what you see in the store, and retailers are getting more access to people without having to open up another store or expand."

Corcoran says the elderly have been particularly attracted to the service, along with the disabled and others who find traveling to the grocery store a bit of a hassle. Of course, for any busy person, the idea of someone else doing the shopping for them holds a certain attraction. And RR also offers a home delivery service for a fairly reasonable price.

"Generally, we find that our service is great for people who are captives of their lives, " says Corcoran.

Of course, for folks used to shopping when they need to or want to, this might seem more like retail delay.

Orders must be made before midnight the day before pick-up times, which are Tuesdays on the side of 250 West just past the Boar's Head Inn from 4:30pm to 7:30pm, Thursdays from 3pm to 7pm at Peter Jefferson Place, and Fridays from 3pm to 7pm at Martha Jefferson. Even the home delivery service requires you to place orders before 11am for same-day delivery. If you get a sudden hankering for a steak, realize you've just run out of milk or eggs, or decide to slap together a dinner party, you're probably better off driving to the store yourself.

"I won't minimize our task," says Corcoran. "Getting folks to take the plunge for the first time is our biggest challenge."

But, as Corcoran explains, there are some good reasons to shop online. For instance, shopping lists are saved, which makes it unnecessary to "shop" the online store for the things you regularly buy after you've done it once. Plus, you can shop online at 18 local stores and area farms and go to one place to pick it up.

"Typically, our customers start by purchasing a couple items or something direct from one of our local farms, just to see if it really works," says Corcoran. "The next week, we see a larger order and then by the third week, they have made Retail Relay a part of their lives."

But what about Peapod or Are the RR folks worried that the big time grocery delivery service might move to town? Or what about the Hollymead Town Center Harris Teeter, which offers an express pick-up service?

"Yeah, we're concerned, wary of that, but the local angle really separates us," says Corcoran.