Countdown opens New Zealand's first purpose-built, permanent e-Store in Auckland

Countdown's first purpose-built, permanent e-Store in Auckland is opening on Thursday to meet the ever-increasing demand for online shopping delivery.

Its opening is timely, as the country marks its third week in COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown. Supermarkets, petrol stations and pharmacies are among the limited businesses permitted to remain open as essential services. As New Zealanders are urged to stay at home as much as possible, the demand for online shopping and delivery has sky-rocketed.

The 8800-sqm e-Store in Penrose features all the regular supermarket elements, including a bakery, butchery and shelves stocked with packaged grocery items and fresh produce. However, it is a customer-free zone.

Instead a team of 200 personal shoppers, 106 being new staff, will run the dedicated e-Store and fulfil online orders for customers from 10 of Countdown's busiest Auckland supermarkets.

The Penrose e-Store will aid the company's response to the increased demand for goods during the COVID-19 crisis, with Countdown's website traffic increasing by 300 percent. The e-Store will also ease the pressure on staff across Auckland's busiest stores.

Six supermarkets have also been temporarily closed to help increase online shopping capacity and ensure delivery services can be prioritised to those most in need.

"Demand for Countdown's online shopping service was in significant growth even before the COVID-19 outbreak but the situation we are now in has made it even more critical to Penrose opening on time," Countdown's general manager digital Sally Copland said in a statement. 

"With New Zealanders staying home for the lockdown, we are seeing 10 times the amount of customer registrations than we normally would each week. We have delivered groceries to tens-of-thousands who registered for our priority assistance service. This means our new store dedicated to serving online shoppers is more important than ever."

Inside the new e-Store.
Inside the new e-Store. Photo credit: Supplied

The e-Store will operate 24-hours, seven days a week and will be capable of completing more than 7500 online orders weekly, aided by a layout based on sales data that increases picking efficiency.

The first delivery trucks will leave the store at 6am daily, with final deliveries departing at 7pm. When orders are not being fulfilled, the team will be busy replenishing more than 25,000 products. 

Available windows for Online Pick-Up orders processed at Countdown stores are also likely to triple by a third, as delivery orders have been moved to the e-Store. 

"Handling all online delivery orders from 10 of our regular supermarkets will free up space in-store, making it a better experience for both our customers and our team," Copland said.

Countdown has also partnered with a Boston-based grocery startup to introduce a partially-automated, on-site micro fulfilment solution in the near future. The technology will allow personal shoppers to easily access packaged goods without having to walk up and down store aisles, making the collection of products more efficient.

The technology will pick and move the most popular grocery items to the personal shoppers on a conveyor belt, Copland explained, although fresh produce such as fruits, vegetables, meats and deli items will be selected manually to ensure the highest quality. 

With the technology, the store is expected to become capable of fulfilling 15,000 online orders per week. 

Countdown's Penrose e-Store will service online delivery orders from the following Auckland supermarkets:

  • Mt Wellington
  • St Johns
  • Three Kings
  • Mt Eden
  • Botany
  • Manukau City Mall
  • Meadowlands
  • Manurewa
  • Grey Lynn Central and Ponsonby will also be included at a later date.

In response to the increase in demand, Countdown has temporarily closed the following stores to convert them to online orders only: 

  • Grey Lynn Central
  • Northwest
  • Tauranga
  • Moorhouse.

On Tuesday, Countdown announced its stores will open an hour earlier to cater to increased demand.

From Wednesday, members of the public can shop from 8am to 8pm daily. The priority hour for medical and emergency services workers starts at 7am, including for police, Fire and Emergency, ambulance paramedics and DHB and hospital workers.