Local supermarkets use fast lane shoppers to provide social distancing

Published 1:24 pm Thursday, April 16, 2020

DOWAGIAC — As Michigan continues to see an increase in COVID-19 cases, some Michiganders are opting to avoid essential public places such as the grocery store. For those situations, people are turning to grocery delivery services and grocery pickup options, like Family Fare in Dowagiac’s Fast Lane, instead of coming into stores.

Kim Robison, of Dowagiac, was left without work after being temporarily furloughed from her job at Great Lakes Eye Care due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I can’t sit idle,” she said. “I decided I can do something better for my community. Why not go back and work for Family Fare?”

Robison has previously been employed with the SpartanNash, the parent company of Family Fare, working at the store as a teenager when it was Village Market. Now, she returns for her fourth time to become an essential employee during the COVID-19 pandemic and is working as a personal shopper for Family Fare’s Fast Lane, which is a pickup grocery service.

SpartanNash first launched fast lane in July 2017 and has since introduced enhancements. Its latest was adding GPS location technology in January, according to a SpartanNash press release. Customers go to the website shopfastlane.com and can begin the process of ordering groceries available for pickup at the store.

“You go in there and can chose any of the SpartanNash stores that do Fast Lane, including our location,” said Family Fare Assistant Manager Kristen McLemore. “You pick the products you are looking for and go through the process on the website. It will place the order, and then we shop it at store level. They really don’t have to come into the store at all.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, McLemore said the store has seen an increase in patrons using Fast Lane. Before the pandemic, she said the store completed about five or six Fast Lane orders a day. Now, they consistently do 20 daily.

McLemore said normally the store has three people a day dedicated to shopping for the Fast Lane orders, but overall more than 10 employees in the store that know the process.

Robison called the personal grocery shopping a “fun” job.

“We are running through the aisles to find the right item to put in the cart that they ordered or to find a substitute for them,” she said. “Sometimes, they don’t have the item, and we have to communicate with the customer through the program or we can call them on the phone.”

After personal shoppers work together to complete an order, a message is sent to the customer. Family Fare Fast Lane employees pack the order and take it out to the customer. It is then unloaded from a cart into the customer’s car.

“We meet a lot of people, and we have a lot of the same customers weekly now,” Robison said. “I have been there four weeks now, so it’s the same people quite a bit. We are packing lots of baked goods, and you can tell when a family is having chili tonight or having tacos another night.”

McLemore sees the Fast Lane continuing to be successful even after the COVID-19 pandemic. For Family Fare’s Fast Lane, a customer’s first three orders are free to pick up, but after the first three orders, customers must pay annually.

“I think it’s a service people will continue to use,” McLemore said.

Robison has seen the benefit of the Fast Lane service.

“It’s a variety. You have your older generations who don’t want to come to the store and be around others,” she said. “You’ve got your people who younger than 40 that are with their kids, and it’s convenient for them.”