Since Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced last year that commissaries would provide up to 25% total savings compared to area grocery stores, patronage has increased among young enlisted personnel and junior officers. John Hall, the new director of the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA), believes that this increased usage is crucial for improving stores and expanding services like curbside pickup and delivery.
Hall aims to increase sales not only to deliver more savings but also to finance infrastructure improvements that will create more demand. In fiscal 2022, commissaries generated $4.2 billion in sales across 64 million transactions, and Hall expects to surpass $4.7 billion this year. However, he acknowledges the need to address some shortcomings within the system.
Commissaries receive approximately $1.2 billion annually from the Department of Defense and charge a 5% surcharge to cover store construction, equipment, and maintenance. Boosting sales to increase surcharge revenue would help address infrastructure issues, such as outdated heating and cooling systems and refrigerators.
Improving the online ordering system, called Click2Go, is another priority for Hall. The current website is cumbersome and needs upgrading to enhance user-friendliness. Upgrading the online system is essential to expand delivery options and increase the percentage of online sales, which currently stands at only 1% compared to the industry average of 10%.
Additionally, Hall recognizes the need for better communication with patrons. Shopping eligibility expanded in 2020 to include 4.1 million disabled veterans, but many are unaware of their eligibility. DeCA is working with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure eligible veterans have the necessary identification cards to access commissaries.
While active-duty personnel and their families remain the highest users of commissaries, Hall sees the greatest potential in reaching out to non-patronized individuals to increase savings and boost sales. Disabled veterans currently account for a small percentage of sales, and Hall aims to increase their engagement.
Hall praises his predecessor, Bill Moore, who retired this year, for developing a strategic plan that improved supply chain efficiencies. By continuing these efforts and promoting enhanced quality, longer store hours, significant savings, and new features like prepared meal counters, Hall believes that customers will continue to frequent commissaries.
Ultimately, Hall emphasizes that customer satisfaction is paramount, and it is DeCA's responsibility to ensure they find the products they seek when they visit a commissary.