Review: SmartCentres' Penguin Pick-Up

By Vicky Applebaum, Retail Category Consultants

Penguin Pick-Up is a delivery pick-up service offered by SmartCentres, Canada’s largest developer of unenclosed malls, those massive big-box power centres typically anchored by a Walmart store. Penguin Pick-Up launched a couple of months ago, and is now operating at 3 SmartCentre locations in Ontario, with a plan to roll out nationwide at an average rate of one location a month, says Egil Moller Nielsen, Senior Vice-President of e-commerce for SmartCentres.

How Penguin Pick-Up Works

Consumers can shop online at any retailer that delivers to Canada, but instead of having their order shipped to their home – often when they’re not there to receive it – they can have it shipped to a Penguin Pick-Up point for secure holding. Retail Category Consultants gave the service a test run to determine if it removed enough customer pain points to make it a regular habit for online shoppers.

The Shopping Process

Customers need to first register for the Penguin Pick-Up service and then choose the pick-up location that is most convenient for them. When we first visited the Penguin Pick-Up website, it wasn’t entirely clear what the service offering was. Were we supposed to order only from retailers who are tenants at SmartCentres? They say “Shop online”, but do not make it clear that we can “shop online like you normally would at any of your favourite online retailers”. Once we registered and picked up on how it worked, the process was quite smooth and painless.


When we ordered from an online retailer, instead of inputting our home address as the point of delivery, we inputted the SmartCentre pick-up point address. You can request to have the address e-mailed to you so that you can always have it on hand for easy reference when shopping online.

We encountered a minor glitch when the retailer’s website notified us that the SmartCentre address wasn’t a recognized Canada Post address format, offered an alternative address format (which would not have worked because it removed a critical part of the address that identified the pick-up centre location), and gave us an option to continue anyway, which we chose to do. But as a customer, we were concerned that the order might not find its way there. Not all online retailers perform this address verification, so this situation wouldn’t occur regularly, but for a first-time customer, it raised some initial anxiety.

Delivery & Pick-Up

We received an e-mail notification from Penguin Pick-Up when our package arrived. The pick-up point is housed in a mobile trailer in a section of the parking lot, well signed and branded. We did not easily locate it at first; due to high snow banks and the mall being under some construction, the signage directing us to the pick-up point was not very visible and we had to phone to get a more specific location.

There are designated parking spots for Penguin Pick-Up customers, so there is no need to get out of your car. We were acknowledged in just over a minute by a friendly attendant. The order was brought out by the attendant as well as the supervisor on duty to recognize our first-time experience (for which we were given a free tote bag and a coupon for

Additional Notes

We were asked to rate the experience on-the-spot via a mobile terminal (from a customer viewpoint, this doesn’t give the best assurances for anonymity since the employee can see your responses). The pick-up location is open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., offering great flexibility for customers who are picking up on the way to or from work. Nielsen says there are 24/7 surveillance cameras around the buildings, so there is no issue with overnight security.

Future Growth

The service is in infancy mode, so it was no surprise that we were served very quickly. Penguin Pick-Up has plans to accommodate groceries in the future, which will mean the addition of temperature-controlled storage. When asked what their plan was for Christmas service levels, Nielsen replied:

“We have highly skilled associates, all have been through intensive training on and off site. Each pick-up is done in less than 3 minutes and most in less than 90 seconds. In rush hours we can handle up to 100 cars an hour and do find this sufficient for the coming holiday season.”

The location we went to had more orders in than we had expected to see, given that it had just opened a few weeks earlier. The supervisor noted that the location can take in big or small merchandise, saying that they have had pieces of furniture delivered (although we’re not sure why it would be more convenient for a customer to have to then pick up a piece of furniture and take it home).

Final Thoughts

Overall, the experience was friendly and seamless. For customers whose primary concern is not being home to receive an order, Penguin Pick-Up serves as a convenient alternative. The retailer from which we had ordered offered the option of picking up from a local Canada Post outlet, which would have been more convenient for us, but since few retailers provide this option, it is not seen as a barrier for Penguin Pick-Up.

SmartCentres has a broad enough network of malls that they have excellent consumer reach, whether they are near customers’ home or workplace. From a business standpoint, however, we’re not certain how this service pays off for SmartCentres. Without the ability to draw customers into any of their tenant locations, it is strictly a value-add convenience offering. Says Nielsen:

“This is good for our customers and what is good for our customers is good for our business.”


Vicky Applebaum is a consultant with Retail Category Consultants Inc. and helps clients develop and implement retail strategy, marketing and innovation projects.  Vicky has over 15 years of progressive retail experience in Canada in multiple disciplines.

Her experience includes advertising and merchandising at Loblaw Companies, and marketing, merchandising and category management with Shoppers Drug Mart.  Her love for all things marketing also led her to work on the agency side and in independent consulting in advertising, event marketing, direct marketing, new product launches and loyalty. Born in Montreal, Quebec, Vicky holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing) from Concordia University.  She and her husband live with their daughter in Richmond Hill, Ontario where they operate a rental moving box business,

To learn more about how Retail Category Consultants can help your retail business achieve success, visit their retail services page or contact them for further information.

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