Nation & World

Are late-night groceries' days numbered?

More chains are cutting back on overnight hours

West Des Moines-based <a href=Hy-Vee reduced its overnight hours beginning last week. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)" />
West Des Moines-based Hy-Vee reduced its overnight hours beginning last week. (Liz Martin/The Gazette-KCRG)

For night owls used to popping into the grocery store after midnight, the options for avoiding crowds or picking up a quick meal after a night shift are slowly changing across the nation.

Many grocery stores are cutting back on 24-hour operations as overnight traffic dwindles.

Starting Sunday, the Pittsburgh-area Giant Eagle locations in Monroeville, McIntyre Square in Ross, Shaler and Washington are now closing during the graveyard shift with “hours that vary, by store and by day, between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m.,” according to Dick Roberts, a spokesman for the O’Hara-based chain.

“We review shopping trends on an ongoing basis to ensure that we make our team members, products and services available during the times of the day that matter most to our customers,” Roberts said.

Giant Eagle is hardly alone.

West Des Moines-based Hy-Vee reduced its overnight hours beginning last week.

Walmart, as well as Idaho-based Albertsons and North Carolina-based Harris Teeter also are among the grocers who have scaled back overnight hours at certain locations across the country.

And in a sector where there’s more and more competition — whether from rival supermarket chains, online retailers or discounters such as Aldi — stores need to look at places to reduce costs.

“When you’re looking at retail, the profit margins are really thin, so finding a place to reduce costs without a big impact to customers is important,” said Jennifer Bartashus, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence.

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Keeping grocery stores open around the clock is a trend that took hold in the 1980s to help feed the need for instant gratification, Bartashus noted.

“But the reality is, few people really need groceries at 2 a.m. There’s a stronger argument for people to be able to pick up prescription drugs and medicine.”

Giant Eagle’s first 24-hour store opened more than 50 years ago, according to Roberts.

“The extension of daily store hours were one of a number of innovations of the time, including opening on Sundays and operating the first ‘from scratch’ in-store bakeries,” he said.

Demand for stores to be open 24 hours varies depending on local need, said Mickey Chadha, an analyst for Moody’s Investors Services.

“It depends on if there are workers on a night shift who want to shop when they are going home or need to pick up a prepared meal and things like that,” he said.

But being open all day and all night comes with a cost.

“If you’re not selling enough product to overcome the additional cost of operating 24 hours, it’s a decision that they need to make if they need to open that other 10 hours,” he said, noting labor, overhead and electricity costs can take a bite of the revenue.

In addition, it’s a tight labor market, and you need a labor force that’s willing to work a night shift, he added.

In places losing their 24-hour stores, technology that wasn’t available 50 years ago can come in to assist those who have to adjust their shopping schedules.

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Bartashus pointed out that click-and-collect services, which are being offered at more retailers, can give customers more accessibility.

“They can shop online and set up a time to pick up the groceries at the store,” she said. “That kind of helps offset the potential loss for customers in terms of the convenience factor.”

“Customer traffic drops off overnight, so we made the decision to relocate the shifts to better accommodate our customers and the lives of our team members,” Hy-Vee spokeswoman Christina Gayman said in a statement at the time of the announcement.

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