LOS ANGELES -- Unified Western Grocers here is testing a service that allows member retailers to offer a personalized Web site from which consumers can order groceries for in-store pickup or, if the retailer chooses to offer it, home delivery.
According to Chuck Pilliter, Unified's executive vice president for sales and marketing, the Web sites will be created and maintained for Unified members by i-Active, a third-party provider based in Huntington Beach, Calif. Hows Markets, Pasadena, is testing the Web site with pickup or delivery options at its three stores.
Speaking at a meeting of the Food Industries Sales Managers Club here, Pilliter said the Web site includes a complete listing of what Unified carries, arranged by category, using the member's store as a fulfillment site.
"We think there's an advantage for an independent who signs on because he can feature specific individuals in his store -- the produce manager, for example -- who can guarantee the quality of what's being offered.
"We believe using the existing retail store as a fulfillment center is a different twist the independent can offer to compete in the e-commerce marketplace."
Asked whether Unified plans to get into the home-delivery business, Pilliter said it does not. "We won't open a warehouse as a fulfillment center, but we do have three home-delivery companies as customers -- Webvan, Peapod and HomeGrocer.
"However, we treat them differently from our members. They have different purchasing requirements, different terms, different requirements, and they're not allowed to be members.
"Perhaps when they get to the profit levels they anticipate, we may look at that differently."
Pilliter said Unified is "very close" to signing an agreement with one of the three "to become their exclusive supplier" in California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona and Hawaii.
He declined to indicate to SN which one of the three Unified is negotiating with.
Al Plamann, president and chief executive officer of Unified, urged vendors at the meeting to proceed cautiously in dealing with dot-com home-delivery companies, noting their sales base is still very small.
"HomeGrocer.com reported nine-month sales of $10 million -- the amount of sales our members do in a single day. So when you deal with these companies, be aware that it is a competing channel with only limited opportunities," Plamann said.