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Military Supermarkets Testing E-Commerce Tech

Military commissaries already have near-wholesale prices for food. Soon, they'll let customers order online as well.

Active duty military personnel and their families can now order groceries at near-wholesale prices online. The Pentagon is testing a new e-commerce program for commissaries, Click2Go, which lets customers order groceries online and then do curbside pickup and payment at their base commissary. (The close-knit housing model of most military bases makes home delivery less of a demand.) Click2Go is being tested at Fort Lee in Virginia, and will begin trials in California and Nevada over the next two months; the Defense Department will tweak the program based on the three trial runs. Although it differs from theAmazonFresh/Fresh Direct model in a few important respects—customers pick up groceries on-site and pay on-site—the essentials are similar enough to indicate the Pentagon's interest in viable e-commerce. Customers are also able to use coupons upon purchasing on-site.

There is currently no additional charge for using the service. But this may change in the future, and e-commerce could also open a new revenue stream for the Defense Department. According to Karen Jowers of the Marine Corps Times, the Pentagon may add fees for using the online service down the road. Commissaries are feeling the brunt of military belt tightening caused by both furloughs and a shrunken military budget. Some legislators are trying to privatize commissaries by bringing in outside retail giants like Walmart to save the military the expense of operating them. Meanwhile, taxpayer subsidies to commissaries may be eliminated and the supermarkets had reduced hours due to the recent furlough. For the military, the higher initial costs of instituting an e-commerce program—which is more expensive than it is for civilian retailers thanks to those endless layers of bureaucracy—may well be worth the new revenue streams created by online purchase fees.