Instacart’s Charleston expansion highlights a new frontier for online grocery services: smaller cities

“They’re probably getting a little ahead of themselves,” said David Livingston, a Wisconsin-based grocery analyst. “They’re not everywhere, and not everyone’s heard of them. It takes a while for consumers to get used to them.”

Shipt and Instacart are hardly the first companies to try to make online grocery shopping work, but they have been especially ambitious in testing the delivery concept in mid-sized markets like Charleston.

Supermarket chains like Harris Teeter and Wal-Mart have experimented with new services to capture interest in online shopping, like Internet ordering with free curbside pickup.

Livingston says that model might work in cities like Charleston, where low density makes delivery challenging. And he thinks shoppers are happy to bypass a trip through the aisles — a conclusion he reached in part because his daughter, who lives in the Lowcountry, uses Wal-Mart’s click-and-collect service. The service was introduced in the region last year.