Going to the store to buy groceries in Birmingham has become so — last century. The reason? There is an app for that. And it’s made in the Magic City.
Thanks to Bill Smith, the creator of Shipt, Birmingham’s new grocery delivery service, shopping has been added to the list of things you can do with the touch of your smartphone.
“I love Birmingham,” Smith said. “Now is such a good time to live in Birmingham because everything is evolving and growing. I think it’s pretty cool that we’re able to start something like this in Birmingham.”
Using their downloadable phone app, Shipt has turned a trip to the grocery store into just a tap of a finger.
“Say I want to buy some apples. I go to the app and I type in ‘apples’ into the search engine. Immediately, I’m given all the possible choices of apples I could want. I just tap the button of my desired apple until I have as many as I need. Then I proceed to the checkout page, pay, and then I’m done. All that’s left is to wait for my order to be delivered to my home,” Smith explained.
Smith started Shipt in 2014 as a same-day delivery service for companies including Target, Best Buy, and Home Depot.
“I was very interested in crowd sourcing and the online delivery services,” he said. “I started to think about what niche I could fill in that space. And I personally am a big fan of anything I can get now. If I can order it online I will. So we made it that you could go order items on their [the stores’] sites and we would deliver it to you that same day.”
The response to Smith’s same-day services was overwhelmingly positive but Smith says customers felt there was something missing.
“We had a flood of people saying, ‘I love what you guys are doing but could you also deliver my groceries?’” Smith said. “And I had never wanted to do grocery delivery. That was something I had not set out to do but I believe in meeting customer demand and so I said if there’s a real desire for this then let’s go do it. It’s been huge and now we are 100 percent on grocery delivery.”
Smith said he understood why there was such a high demand for delivered groceries: “I hate going to the store. I have two young children so packing up the kids and going to the store is a huge event. So I started thinking, ‘How can we solve this problem?’ and I started thinking, ‘What if there was an app that you can see all of the grocery items available in the store and make purchases from your phone?’ And ‘What if you could pay for it on your phone and someone will deliver it to you?’ And I thought about how awesome and convenient that would be.”
Shop without dropping
Shipt launched its grocery delivery services in March and Smith said the overall reception has been positive.
“We went into beta in March so we had a small group of about 50 customers that we allowed to start using the services,” he said. “Then we did our full launch to our first 1,000 customers in early May. We’re moving to complete open access within the next couple of weeks where everyone interested can sign up. We want to make sure we have enough delivery drivers on board to cover everyone but we have so many people interested in getting our services.”
Smith said that online shopping for groceries is just another way technology is making people’s lives easier: “As a society we’re used to buying things online now and people are getting busier and busier all the time. Groceries are something that we have a constant need for and given today’s technology, spending an hour or two at the store just doesn’t make sense anymore. If you can get your clothes online why not get your groceries at the same time?”
Shipt drivers, aware that customers have busy lives, cater to the customer’s schedule.
“After you pay for your order a screen will pop up with options for what time you would like your groceries delivered,” Smith said. “It gives one-hour windows for you to choose from, like, between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. You choose what time frame is most convenient for you and we will be there at your door when requested.”
One thing Shipt does to help ease a customer’s mind is to maintain communication throughout the delivery process.
“Our shoppers will text when they’re on their way to your house with your delivery and it will include a picture of the driver so people feel at ease throughout the whole process,” Smith said. “So our customers will know who exactly is delivering their groceries and what time they will arrive. It provides them with a sense of relief that they know what is happening every step of the way.”
Potential customers worried that they might not live in Shipt’s covered areas needn’t worry. Shipt covers most of metro Birmingham and surrounding areas.
“We cover a huge area,” Smith said. “We cover Gardendale and Trussville all the way down to Alabaster and everything in between.”
Shipt’s in between areas include Homewood, Vestavia, Mountain Brook, and even neighborhoods off of Highway 280.
Shipt is a membership-based company, but provides its services to anyone interested.
“Signing up is very easy,” Smith said. “You go to our website and sign up. That’s it! It’s either $99.00 a year or $14.00 a month and there’s no contract.”
The company’s current customer base contains a wide variety of diverse groups. “We have a lot of families, busy moms and other working professionals, people who are homebound or have a disability,” Smith said. “All of these people find that it’s more efficient to have their groceries delivered to their door than spending their precious time in a grocery store.”
Shipt provides a service not only for their customers but for their employees as well. The company currently has 120 employed shoppers all of whom are independent contractors.
“We have a lot of full-time shoppers but most of our shoppers are part time,” Smith said. “So maybe they have a full-time job, and they just want to make some extra money on the weekends. And the weekends are our busiest days, anyway. So people do that and it gives them a lot of flexibility.”
The driving force
Smith said Shipt is always looking for enthusiastic workers to join the family. “We’re giving a great option for part-time work,” Smith said. “It’s hard to find something that’s as flexible as we are. I don’t think there’s any jobs that exist that are as flexible as we are. Our shoppers are entrepreneurs. They’re able to make their own decisions about what they’re going to do and how much money they want to make. It all depends on how hard they want to work.”
Shipt’s employees can use their app to make their own schedule.
“Let’s say I want to work between 4 and 5 and 5 and 6 today, so I just check that I want to work those hours and we will send you a list of orders set to be delivered at that time,” Smith said. “And if something comes up that you can’t make that timeframe anymore, just uncheck it and we will know not to expect you then.”
Smith said that when it comes to hiring employees, Shipt takes its customers’ safety into heavy consideration: “We screen all of our shoppers. We don’t just hire anyone. We do a full background check, we check their driving records, sex offender lists…We do a thorough check on all of our shoppers. I want all of our shoppers to be people I trust to go into my own house to be around my family.”
As far as expansion is concerned, Smith said that the sky is the limit: “We want to be a national service. We want to grow at a fast pace. We have Nashville as our next launch location and then Dallas coming after that in August. We have very aggressive expansion plans. We’re building the technology to connect our customers with our shoppers and I would like to see Shipt in 100 cities in the next two or three years.”
Smith said Shipt’s overall goal is to help people make their lives more manageable. “We’re going to be able to make people’s lives better with what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re giving people the ability to spend time with their family and friends and not have to worry about spending time at the store. We even bring the groceries into the house if customers want us to (which they often do). We’ll carry them all the way to your kitchen for you.”
Customer satisfaction is a top priority for Smith and all of Shipt’s employees and Smith says that he encourages customers to email him with their experiences. “People email me all the time with their thoughts and experiences, good and bad! I mean I want to hear all of it. We aren’t perfect, we make mistakes, but people love us. We’re taking care of them. We’re giving them something that they love. It’s really fun to be a part of something that is making people’s lives better.”
Potential customers and employees should visit Shipt’s website, shipt.com, for applications and more details.