Making online shopping even easier

~ By Emily Innes

Penguin pick-up brochure

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Canada’s SmartCentres — the largest operator of unenclosed shopping centres with more than 250 locations across the country — has launched a new venture that is simplifying online shopping for customers.

Penguin Pick-Up has four locations in the Greater Toronto Area that act as pick-up hubs for products purchased online. It is a free service for customers, allowing them to conveniently pick up all of their goods in one location without leaving their car.

“The biggest challenge for online shoppers . . . is there is a huge frustration to (actually receive) the products that they buy,” said Egil Møller Nielsen, senior vice president of SmartCentres and the head of Penguin Pick-Up.

Møller Nielsen explained that customers traditionally only have two options for shipping their products. They can have their online purchases sent to the store, in which case he said they might still have to spend time waiting in line, defeating the benefit of easy and rapid online shopping. The other option is to have it sent to their home or office.

The office is often the more convenient spot during working hours because someone is usually able to receive the package, but if it is not an option due to privacy concerns or office regulations, then the home is the only choice. The problem with the purchase being sent to a home address is that there might not be anyone available to sign for the package. The delivery person might leave a notification stating that the package must be collected at a possibly inconvenient location. They also might just leave the parcel unattended on the front porch or doorstep, said Møller Nielsen.

“If you buy things online you really do not want them lying around on the porch because there is a risk of theft or (bad) weather (harming the package). You never know what will happen to what you have just spent all your hard-earned money on. You do not want the risk of it being ruined or stolen,” he said.

“Penguin Pick-Up is solving that problem,” he continued. “We take care of (your package). We have people to receive whatever you buy online, we receive it on your behalf, and whenever it is convenient for you, you just come to (your preferred location), you verify you are the right person, and we bring everything for you to the car.”

The drive-through service is fast, easy and convenient. From the time a customer arrives at the pick-up location to the time they leave, it takes Penguin Pick-Up staff less than 90 seconds to deliver packages to the customer’s vehicle. To make the verification process simple, the customer creates a secret verification code, which can be changed as often as they like. If they want someone else to receive their packages on their behalf, the customer just needs to pass along their verification information.

When shopping online, there are two opportunities to select Penguin Pick-Up as the desired shipping location. They are currently partnered with numerous online retailers including Walmart, Toys “R” Us, Style Democracy,, Beyond the Rack, and more. For those registered retailers, it is not unlike using a PayPal account as a quick payment option, but instead offers Penguin Pick-Up as a quick delivery option. For those companies that are not yet associated with Penguin Pick-Up, buyers can simply insert the preferred Penguin Pick-Up location address in the shipping order form.

Though the majority of consumer shopping (about 95 percent) is done in brick-and-mortar stores, Møller Nielsen said that is starting to change. He noted that more than half (51 percent) of the high-end home retailer Williams-Sonoma’s full 2014 sales came from online shopping.

“I think that is showing that there are some categories (such as home, clothing, and electronics) where shoppers just prefer to go online. Maybe they go into the stores and look through the (products), but then they go home and order (online),” said Møller Nielsen.

Penguin Pick-Up accepts most categories of products, though they currently do not receive food items. However, Møller Nielsen said the company plans to become equipped to store fresh and frozen food, which was just launched in mid-June.

Other growth opportunities for the company include expanding to more locations across the country, and possibly globally. If the demand is there, one new Penguin Pick-Up will be opened per month on average. “Our expansion plan is quite aggressive,” he said.

The Penguin Pick-Up program fits in well with the shopper of the future because the company’s focus is convenience, which shoppers are constantly seeking.

“(The customer) sends all the online shopping to Penguin Pick-Up and then they combine it with in-store shopping. They do not need to go to three or four different places and get stuck in traffic,” said Møller Nielsen. “They just go to one place and it is all sorted out for you. We are so fast … we load in 90 seconds, which is the average pick-up time. That is very fast, (though) my mission is to bring (the average time) down to 30 seconds. It has to be very fast and convenient so that customers love it. And they do love it now.”

Since the Penguin Pick-Up locations are in unenclosed shopping centres, they also generate traffic for the brick-and-mortar stores. “We bring the online shoppers to the offline shopping centres. The retailers, they obviously prefer that the traffic comes to the centre and then there is the option to bring them into the store,” said Møller Nielsen. “Ten months ago, it was very important for me to find a solution for the main stakeholders: the landlord, the shoppers, the store retailer, and the online retailers.

“(Penguin Pick-Up) was a win, win, win.”

Penguin Pick-Up’s main demographic is comprised of users between the ages of 25 and 50, and there are more female than male clients. There are shoppers who rely on the service more frequently than others, also known as “hard-core users”, defined by Møller Nielsen as those who frequent the pick-up centres two times a week or more. He said they are doing almost all of their shopping online.

Møller Nielsen said they are the first service of the kind in the GTA’s marketplace. “Nobody else offers what we offer. Nobody offers that you can stay in your car and be served. Nobody is doing what we are doing and nobody is doing it as convenient, as easy, and as fast.”

He explained that he welcomes competitions as it only encourages improvement. “I do not have a problem with competition and we are so far ahead of the game that even if there is a competitor coming into the marketplace, they are already 12 months behind, probably longer. There can only be a certain amount of players in the game like this, so we have the benefit of being the first ones on the market.”

More information on Penguin Pick-Up can be found online at