Online Commissary Opens for Business
By Bonnie Powell
Special to American Forces Press Service
FORT LEE, Va., Oct. 21, 2005 Commissary shoppers looking for a different kind of gift for friends or family at home or abroad can now shop online at the "Virtual Commissary."
Located under the "Shopping" link at www.commissaries.com, Virtual Commissary opens up a whole new world of Internet shopping for authorized users of the commissary benefit, Defense Commissary Agency officials said.
"We're excited about DeCA's first adventure into the world of Internet shopping," said Patrick B. Nixon, DeCA's chief executive officer and acting director.
Kraft Foods, a DeCA business partner, is kicking off Internet shopping with a selection of gift baskets. "But the number of vendors and manufacturers participating will continue to increase, along with the variety of products," Nixon said.
All products in the gift baskets at Virtual Commissary can be found on the shelves of "brick and mortar" commissaries, but the unique packaging of products into gift and special occasion baskets adds a new twist. With titles like "Camouflage," "Drill Sergeant" and "Touch of Home," the baskets offer assortments of crackers, canned cheeses, cookies, candies and even beverages and coffee packs.
A secure portal requires customers to provide personal information that verifies they're enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, to verify commissary-shopping eligibility. Military exchanges use a similar method to check for authorization before permitting access to exchange Web sites or online shopping, DeCA officials noted.
But Defense Department civilians stationed overseas who are otherwise authorized to shop at commissaries may not be able to access Virtual Commissary until the Defense Manpower Data Center changes the DEERS database, said DeCA officials. DMDC is targeting completion of the changes for late November.
Virtual Commissary customers can make selections and fill in their payment and shipping information in one easy and secure step before being transferred to the manufacturer's site, where they can get total cost for the product (including shipping) and finalize their purchase. The customer pays for shipping and handling, just as at most other Internet shopping sites, and charges will vary depending on the method of shipping selected, location and speed of delivery requested.
Customers can check for availability of delivery to APO and FPO addresses as well as get more information on what's in the gift baskets by clicking on the image of the gift basket at Virtual Commissary. They can pay for orders with any credit card accepted in commissaries, and DeCA officials said the agency does not archive customer information.
"We're certainly energized by the possibilities offered to our customers through this partnership with industry," Nixon said. "The future of online commissary shopping is unlimited."
Down the road, Virtual Commissary expansion could include making a wide variety of commissary products available, a feature that would allow deployed servicemembers, retirees and other authorized shoppers to order items they want and need at commissary savings - no matter where they live.
(Bonnie Powell is assigned to the Defense Commissary Agency.)