RICHMOND, Va. ― Commissary officials will expand their program offering online ordering with curbside pickup starting this summer, said Robert Bianchi, interim director of the Defense Commissary Agency.

The commissary system is moving to new business technology which will allow a more efficient process for the program, which is called “Click2Go.” The program will be tested at Fort Eustis, Virginia, starting in late July or early August. Officials are still working on a rollout schedule for other commissaries, he said.

It’s not known whether the commissary agency will offer delivery of online orders in the future, as a number of retailers are already doing.

“At least for now, we’re heading in the right direction. We’re putting together an online grocery shopping program that is sustainable, and that we can scale to the level of the customers’ demand,” Bianchi said.

Click2Go has been offered at three commissaries ― Fort Lee, Va., Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., and Travis Air Force Base, Calif. ― for nearly five years using contracted commercial technology.

“We know people like it and want it,” Bianchi said. “I want to respond to customers’ needs. It’s a service of value. Folks are so busy. It’s a convenience factor. You don’t have to take the kids out of their car seats and manage the little ones in the store.”

This is one of several initiatives Bianchi is undertaking to improve the commissary shopping experience for troops and families. The retired Navy rear admiral was named interim director in November, and continues as the CEO of Navy Exchange Service Command. The commissary system has been undergoing massive reform, with changes in how groceries are priced, and the offering of new private label items.

In the Click2Go program, customers choose what they want online, choose a time they want to pick up their groceries, then go to the designated commissary curbside location.

“Right now, we’re making it work with a lot of sweat equity” at the three locations, he said. “Part of that was to learn, and we didn’t really know what the customers’ reaction would be.”

When the current contract ends at those three stores, he said, officials will try to avoid a gap in the service and continue with the new system at those stores.

With the current system, employees pick the items after the order is placed, then ring up the items in the regular cash register system. “It’s a double level of effort,” Bianchi said; the new technology integrates the picking directly into the cash register system.

The commissary agency doesn’t charge a fee for the service as other grocers do; they are prohibited by law from doing so. Officials are considering asking for legislation to allow such fees to offset the cost of the service, Bianchi said, but that’s not delaying the testing or the rollout of the Click2Go at other stores.

According to statistics provided by the commissary agency in 2017, 65 percent of those using the Click2Go service at the three stores have two to four family members; 53 percent are in the ranks of E-4 to E-9 (or dependents); and 68 percent are between the ages of 25 and 44.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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