10-Minute Grocery Delivery Is Expanding — I Got a Private Tour of a Warehouse to Find Out How, Exactly, It’s Possible

published Jan 26, 2022
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Gorillas warehouse

Last November, I wrote about my trial with Gorillas, an ultra-fast online grocery delivery company that popped up in parts of New York City, including my neighborhood in Brooklyn. Beyond the shockingly comparable prices and the quality of products (more on that below), what really surprised me was just how fast my order went from “confirmed” to “delivered.” 

All in, it took eight minutes! Click. Buzz. Bye. What? I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Yes, it’s my job. But it was just so fast! I needed to see for myself how all that was possible — especially in a city where it has, at times, taken me one hour to travel one mile. So I reached out to the Gorillas team and asked if I could tour a warehouse (or dark grocery story, as some call them). Another surprise: They said yes! 

It turns out, the warehouse is not too far from where I live and I’ve actually passed by it regularly, without noticing. Once I saw it, I couldn’t believe I ever missed it. The windows are covered with a mix of large decals, some simply repeating the Gorillas logo. Outside the front entrance sits a bike rack with Gorillas-branded bikes. I was greeted by socially distanced and masked Adam Wacenske, who is the Head of Operations in the United States. (He’s also been with the company since it launched here in June 2021.) I, too, masked up and we headed inside. Here’s what I learned.

1. It’s smaller than I expected.

When I think of a grocery warehouse, my mind immediately goes to Costco. This particular Gorillas location, Wacenske tells me, is slightly below the average size, at roughly 3,000 square feet, with 3,000 SKUs (stock keeping units). Costco warehouses, which range from 80,000 to 230,000 square feet, carry about 4,000 SKUs, and most supermarkets carry 30,000.

Gorillas manages to pack a lot in the space: Up front, there’s a “rider area” where riders receive orders, grab a special reader (more on this later), and shop for items with a small, double-decker grocery cart that’s pre-loaded with empty grocery bags. Narrow rows of metal shelves stocked with non-perishables take up the bulk of the center, and are flanked by coolers containing fresh produce, proteins, dairy, frozen foods, and more. All the way to the left, the company keeps a purposely small unloading area for staff to restock the shelves — unlike other retailers, Gorillas doesn’t want or have the space for a backstock of items. Products get logged into the system and go onto shelves almost as soon as they arrive in their boxes. Also in the back is an office/lounge area, which I didn’t explore much.

2. The product selection is highly curated.

Gorillas carries a fraction of the groceries other stores do (plus there’s that stubborn supply chain situation), and still, they have a few different options across most categories in stock; for some items, particularly produce, there’s less of a range. (I did see grape tomatoes this time though!) 

I spot both national and local brands, and learn the company takes a tiered approach (premium, mid-level, and lower-level) when it comes to certain products. For example, I count three brands of large eggs (four different products); the price for a dozen of these eggs, according to the app, ranges from $3.49 to $7.99.

3. The shelves are organized in an unexpected way.

What really stands out to me, though, is how items are shelved — especially the shelf-stable stuff. Let’s take spices, for example. Usually, when you shop for spices, you find the majority of them in one section, lined up, usually, in alphabetical order. Not here! The paprika is slotted between active dry yeast and cooking spray, while the garlic powder is nestled between cake flour and cocoa powder.

The randomness makes total sense … once Wacenske explains it to me: The company purposely avoids placing similar items next to each other to minimize riders total shopping time. It’s much easier to find the right brand of chickpeas when they’re next to cans of condensed milk and boxed pasta! You know, rather than next to other chickpeas or even other canned goods. There is slightly more uniformity in the cooler sections (looking at you, frozen desserts), but enough variation that it must be working. Otherwise, they’d change it.

4. A special scanner makes it almost impossible for shoppers to get the wrong item.

Remember that special reader I mentioned? Riders have a scanning device that not only tells them what they need to grab, but it also dings happily when they’ve scanned the correct item. Riders scan items as they put them in the cart and, if it’s not the exact right product, the device will buzz to tell riders to try again. This is meant to minimize the chance of shoppers receiving something they didn’t order.

5. Each location services a small area.

The warehouse I toured does not send groceries to Manhattan; that would take too long. No, the one I visited services just a 1.5-mile radius. So, in theory, the idea would be to have more warehouses to reach more people.

After touring it all, I can see how eight minutes is totally possible, if not the standard. In fact, Wacenske tells me the average delivery time for this location is eight to nine minutes. It’s so fast and so reliable, some people even use the service twice in one day.

Have you tried ultra-fast grocery delivery? Tell us about it in the comments below!