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Consumer Watch: DeCA continues efforts to improve commissary shopping experience

May. 29, 2014 - 12:20PM   |  
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The Defense Commissary Agency is facing a lot of challenges as Defense Department budget-cutters seek to decrease the system’s taxpayer funding. But the stores are still there, providing a benefit to troops and families. And, according to intel gathered at a recent commissary conference, DeCA officials are plugging ahead, trying to provide even more value for their patrons’ shopping dollar, and testing out new concepts to make shopping easier. For example:

Case lot sales are back. These popular sales, often with bulk items under tents in commissary parking lots, were halted last year for budget reasons. But they’ll start up again in late summer, around mid-August through September. The timing of these weekend sales varies by store. In the past, stores have offered a variety of items, such as club packs, that helped boost savings beyond the regular average commissary savings of about 30 percent.

The stores will have to stay within their budgets to operate the sales, and some of DeCA’s industry partners have agreed to provide more support to reduce the costs. When dates are set, they will be posted on the DeCA website.

National Guard and Reserve on-site sales have restarted. Commissary officials expect to host at least 52 events at locations around the country, bringing commissary sales to Guard and Reserve personnel who live far from military installations and commissaries. Although these sales are targeted to those troops, they’re open to any authorized commissary shopper. The sales initially were halted last year because of the travel restrictions imposed by DoD, and then later because of budget pressures. Each event is scrutinized for cost and return on investment, according to DeCA spokesman Kevin Robinson. Check out sales scheduled through June at, then click “Shopping,” then “Guard/Reserve On-Site Sales” at the left.

“Club store” formats are being tested at two stores, with increased sales of bulk items. At the Imperial Beach, California, commissary, which opened a “hybrid” club pack format in October, sales of club packs have increased by 169 percent. At the commissary at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, the “club store within the store” concept has increased sales of club packs by 80 percent since it opened in March.

Online ordering test at three stores continues, with an evaluation of the future of the program after June 30. In DeCA’s “Click2Go” pilot program, 5,994 customers have ordered online from one of three stores for curbside pickup since the program was launched in 2013: Fort Lee, Virginia; Travis Air Force Base, California; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The goal is convenience, allowing shoppers to order online, then just pick up their groceries curbside at the store. After June, officials will analyze the results to determine if this eCommerce grocery program should be expanded to other stores.

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