Wal-Mart Berea will be expanding its e-commerce program, including facilities for grocery pick-up. City of Berea Codes Enforcement Administrator Amanda Haney learned of the plans after company representatives made initial inquiries about the proposed project for the Jill Drive retailer. The project is planned for the northwest corner of the building, and would enable the retailer to provide grocery shopping and pick-up service.

Additionally, Wal-Mart Berea will be installing a pickup tower, also located near the grocery section at the west end of the store. “The pickup tower is basically like a big vending machine where a customer will place an order online and get it delivered to the store for free,” said store manager Kenny Fields. “We’ll place it in the machine at the front of the store, then you can scan the barcode [with a smartphone, for example] that comes to you by email, then you can get your purchase. It’s all about making things easier.”

According to information from Wal-Mart, the tower is 16-feet tall and is capable of fulfilling a customer’s order in less than a minute.

One change that could keep more shoppers in Berea will be grocery pickup, which is currently offered in Richmond in at least two grocery retailers. Customers could place their order online, then come to the store the following day for pickup. “We would do all of your shopping for you,” Fields said, explaining the Wal-Mart shopping app would alert store associates that the customer has arrived in the parking lot. “That lets us know that you are here and we would bring your groceries out to the car for you and put them in your vehicle,” he added.

The expansion project, which could begin as early as the end of March and be completed by July, would entail building a customer waiting area on the west end of the store, as well as designating a special parking area for grocery pickup.

Though it may sound similar to other grocery pick-up services, Fields said Wal-Mart has added a new twist. “One of the big differences is that our service is free. It won’t cost you anything more than if you came in and did the shopping yourself,” Fields said.

With the increasing amount of automation occurring in business and industry, including retail, some might ask how the proposed project will impact jobs at Wal-Mart in Berea. According to Fields, the tower and grocery pickup will create a need for more employees.

“It’s actually going to create a new jobs. We already have an e-commerce team of about four associates, and typically with online pick-up, you have 15 to 20. So, we’ll need to bring in at least 10 more people to do the personal shopping and dispensing to customers,” Fields said.

In related news, the Berea City Council’s Economic Development Committee met Monday night, during which committee members discussed the prospect of luring another major grocery retailer to Berea. Committee Chair Jim Davis said that in addition to completing feasibility study, the city has been making overtures to one particular grocery retailer, recently receiving word that in the best case scenario, a store from that chain would revisit the possibility of locating in Berea in another two years. Currently that retailer has no plans to build a store in town.

Committee members suggested holding a conference call with representatives from said company to gauge how likely the retailer would come in two years, then explore other options if the chances of that actually happening seem unlikely.

The Economic Development Committee is scheduled to meet again on March 18.