Even though some of the biggest names in the grocery business have tried online shopping with mixed results, Sylvie Grattagliano thinks she has the business model to make it work.
She's hoping the Fort Lauderdale business she started this month with her husband — DutyFreeFood.com — will gain traction with busy consumers. She's from France, and she's seen it work there.
She's confident it can work here.
"This is a convenient way for people to get what they need," said Grattagliano, whose business allows customers to order meats, dairy, dry goods and other products online and then pick them up at their 195 N. Federal Hwy. store.
Reynald and Sylvie Grattagliano fill their warehouse-type store with goods from a network of wholesalers. Some products can be picked up the same day; other orders are filled and ready for pick-up a day later.
The Duty Free Food staff then bag the groceries and walk them to shoppers' cars. There's no membership fee or minimum order, the store owner said. There's no cash or electronic payment transaction on-site, since shoppers have already paid for it online.
Sylvie Grattagliano, who for more than 25 years managed yacht operations, said she's investing about $500,000 in DutyFreeFood.com. The business employs 18 people, most of whom work developing and maintaining the website.
Industry experts say online grocery shopping is "attracting a lot of attention."
"It's been experimented with a lot in Europe and has been successful there," said Mark Hamstra, retail and financial editor at Supermarket News, a New York-based trade publication.
Now, U.S. retailers "are taking a close look in order to make e-commerce work for the grocery channel," he said.
Amazon.com and Walmart.com have began testing a variation of the concept in select markets, such as Seattle and Los Angeles. In those instances, the retailers deliver the groceries.
Some have already tried to make the concept work. Lakeland-based Publix offered online shopping and delivery service in the early 2000s. It didn't work.
"We found our customers enjoyed the experience at the store. They preferred to touch and feel the products and interacting with associates," said Nicole Krauss, a Publix spokeswoman. "So we moved away from that pilot program."
They tried a different approach in 2010: Publix Curbside. With Curbside, customers ordered online and picked up at the stores, similar to DutyFreeFood.com's model. Publix nixed Curbside after 18 months.
"That was not a service [customers] wanted," Krauss said. "It was something worth trying, but we found that the consistency wasn't there."
The Grattaglianos believe their concept can work, in part because they're not dealing with delivery costs and their model is more about convenience, without shoppers going into their store to look for products.
"We are creating a whole new customer base," Reynald Grattagliano said.
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If you go
DutyFreeFood.com is at 195 N. Federal Hwy. in Fort Lauderdale
Store pick up times: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Call 954-306-2982 or visit DutyFreeFood.com