Buy the rumor, sell the news
Hy-Vee, Target, and Walmart Neighborhood Market, were all doing this at least a year before the pandemic.
Grocery stores make a huge amount of their profits from impulse buying. Shoppers not in the store, hence no impulse buying.
a) Grocery stores are maximize sales. Stuff to make you feel good about you choices first. Then you can rationalize buying that ice cream or beer cuz you were good and deserve it.
B)just cuz it's being done doesn't mean they're making money doing it. Talk to the Instacart execs. It takes a long time for a person to fill an order. They don't know to do it profitably, either.
Click-and-collect, which is what we here in Britain call the system you describe above, is in operation all over the UK. Why would it not work in the US? Every single supermarket chain does it. Whatever your objections are, they are almost certainly imaginary.
They do curbside in the South as routine. most stores have 5-10 parking slots reserved for curbside. Has been here for years. I'm sure Southern chains like Kroger and Publix aren't losing money on it!
One thing to consider, a good deal of the curbside order can be picked and processed in the back of the store, where everything is stored in a relatively compact (and in the case of chain grocers) a highly organized space. A store employee could fill and verify an order pretty quick with a tablet or phone, a cart and some bags, even if the employee had to venture out into the aisles for something not stored in the back.
Grocery stores are not laid out for the convenience of shoppers; if they were, Dairy, Meat and Produce would be next to each other, instead of separated widely. Grocery stores (and stores such as Target and Walmart) are set up with the most-likely-to-be-desired items as far apart as possible, so shoppers will have to go through the store to get to them, and on the way, they will hopefully see a lot of things that they had not yet realized they needed. Buying groceries on an app lets people buy groceries, but not shop for groceries, and the store is out all those impulse buys.
Hmmm. A couple of thoughts on factors that mitigate these problems for grocers.
1) Curbside customers cannot pick and choose from a grocer's selection of an item. One reason grocers' margins are thin is that they have trouble selling perfectly good but slightly blemished products--especially in meat and produce. But with curbside, the grocer gets to pick. In my own experience, curbside produce isn't always the most attractive. This allows the grocer to cut waste--it's akin to why Sam's Club makes money selling roasted chickens for $5 than cost $6 raw in its meat case. They're selling birds that would otherwise have gone to waste.
2) The curbside shopping apps I've seen are actually pretty robust. One thing the better ones do is direct customers to substitutes for sold-out products as well as to complimentary items that the customer may have forgotten. Both will tend to increase sales. A little bit of development will allow them to suggest recipes and count calories, carbs and nutrients. It won't be long before we can ask for a recipe for a "low-carb, low sodium dinner under 1000 calories and $6.00 per serving that is based on beef" and have the app generate several options, along with recipes and shopping list. Granted, that customer could still use the list to pick for himself, but once he's that far down the technology rabbit hole, I think he's likely to want it shopped for him, too.
3) Curbside should dramatically reduce inventory shrinkage from shoplifting and spoilage resulting from customers taking perishables out of refrigerated cases and leaving them lying around. Both of these pare down margins in a traditional store.
4) Curbside probably doesn't drive up labor costs much. It eliminates the need for cashiers and also for the guy who does "cleanup on aisle 8." It's also likely to improve inventory tracking, since it eliminates cashier error in picking the right skew.
5) Curbside depends on electronic payment, which reduces security concerns. In my youth I lived in a sketchy neighborhood where the local grocery got robbed about once a month. Curbside solves that.
6) Curbside largely eliminates lines, which will increase customer satisfaction. There's value in that to a retailer, even if it's hard to quantify.
7) Nothing says a grocer can't raise his prices or that he has to charge the same price at curbside as for self-pick. If there's a demand for the service, the people who want it are likely to be willing to pay a bit more for it--especially if it's well handled.
So the "shopper" is afraid to go into the store (mask or not) for fear of getting The Bug. Yet have no problems with persons unknown (and numbers unknown) touching and grabbing every single item of food they intend to bring home and stick in their mouth.
And these people vote.