Metairie, LA - When you pull into one of the drive-thru lanes at the new Walmart location at 615 Veterans Boulevard, there's no store there at all.
Instead, it's like a pit stop between 10,000 Walmart items on your computer- and your own kitchen.
Here's how it works: You set up an account on Walmart's grocery shopping site, you order what you want online, pay for it, and choose a time to pick up what you've just bought.
Then, you drive to the "Walmart Online Grocery Pickup Drive-Thru." Unlike other grocery pickup services, the drive-thru locations are not attached to Walmart stores. Instead, the drive-thru locations are "stand alone" sites, and there are only three in the country. Two are in Utah and the third is the new one in Metairie.
In Metairie, the drive-thru lanes are behind a building that used to be a bank. And that's where the items you've ordered are temporarily stored after they've been collected from the shelves of any nearby Walmart grocery store.
Driving up to get them, is almost like driving up to a Sonic. As soon as you pull in, a cheerful duo or trio of Walmart workers will come out of the "bank" to greet you and confirm your order, and then they'll bring your purchases to your car and put them in the back seat.
"You don't even have to unbuckle your seat belt," says Brent Rome. He's a Walmart "eCommerce" manager-- the point person between the online orders and the pickups. He says that after just a couple of weeks in business, the drive-thru pickup in Metairie has "wildly exceeded expectations."
For one thing, Rome says that drive-thru customers tend to spend more than twice as much as customers who shop in a regular Walmart grocery. That could be because customers tend to be freer with their money when they're ordering things online instead of putting each one into a shopping cart. But Rome thinks there's another reason the Metairie drive-thru is doing so well.
It's been discovered by "soccer moms."
Rome says he sees them all the time, pulling up in their SUVs full of hungry children who've just finished a game and don't want to wait in the car while Mom walks into a grocery. Instead, a few clicks on a cell phone can get Mom and kids home and fed a lot faster. Another plus- the pickup service is free, and drivers are not expected to tip.
"It's the future," says Rome, "absolutely." He says Metairie customers can order just about anything, including "dog food and household cleaners." (Not to mention the Super Bowl party items News With a Twist ordered this week: tortilla chips, ranch dip, Coke, paper plates and napkins.)
"You can shop from your phone at lunch-time," says Rome, "and pick up on the way home."
However, two types of items you can't pick up at the new drive-thru are tobacco products and alcohol.
Customers will just have to get their cigarettes and beer someplace else.