Tops Markets will start offering online grocery delivery in the Buffalo area within the next two weeks, joining a wave of retailers adding the service.
"We definitely felt we needed to be in the game," said Kathleen Romanowski, a Tops spokeswoman. "As business changes, we need to change with it."
Tops will operate the service in partnership with grocery delivery app Instacart. Tops has not yet have a launch date, but expects it will be in time for Thanksgiving, which is Nov. 23.
Tops said it will roll out the service in the Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Erie, Pa. markets by Nov. 23, but has not specified a date. The chain expects to bring the service to most of its remaining stores by the end of March 2018. Across its network, Tops has 171 stores, plus five additional stores run by franchisees. The franchised stores will be part of the online service, too.
Wegmans, also in partnership with Instacart, started making deliveries in Western New York in August. Other stores, including PriceRite, also have jumped into the online grocery business, or are about to.
The pressure mounted this summer when Amazon bought the Whole Foods grocery chain. Amazon has proved a powerful disruptive force in the retail sector, and the grocery business is expected to feel similar effects.
"I think Tops probably felt forced into doing it," said Mark Mahoney, director of operations for Dash's Markets, which began offering online delivery and pickup about three years ago. Dash's is waiving its pickup and delivery fee for all orders placed during November. Mahoney said the service's popularity is "growing every year."
Tops had researched offering the online service for a few years, but until now had not confirmed when it would be available to customers.
Walmart since May has offered its customers free curbside pickup at two of its area stores, in North Tonawanda and Niagara Falls.
Instacart's website says delivery is not yet available for the Whole Foods store on Sheridan Drive in Amherst, which opened in September.
Tops said deliveries through the online service will be made in as little as one hour. Under Instacart's system, someone working for that company walks the aisles and fills the order submitted by a customer, then drives the groceries to the customer's home.
Deliveries will be available to homes as well as businesses, hotels, apartments, senior living complexes and dormitories, Tops said. Unlike some other chains, Tops will not offer customers the option of ordering groceries online and then picking them up at the store.
As part of the launch, Tops will offer free delivery for the first two months. When the service starts, customers can go to a page on Tops' website, entire their ZIP code, and find out if they are within Tops' current delivery area. Tops has not yet announced pricing details for the service.