Last week, I joined the legions of folks nationwide amid the coronavirus outbreak who have gone online to order groceries for pickup or delivery.
I was brand new to the experience. I’m one of those people who likes grocery shopping, seeing what’s new in stock and getting recipe ideas as I peruse aisles. I even occasionally let my curiosity get the better of me, and I ask strangers what they’re making with this or that item in their carts.
Part of my plan was to gain some insight about ordering food online and grocery pickup that I could share with you, dear readers.
Um, my first tip now that I gained some experience, albeit quite limited: Don’t forget your wallet.
Yeah, you punch in your credit card number when you make the online order. But stores don’t process the card until employees — personal shoppers — have “shopped” your order.
So it wasn’t until I showed up at my appointed time slot at a grocery store not far from my home that I learned my credit card had been declined. The nice employee who had brought my groceries to my car suggested there had been some kind of glitch.
(I think I typed in the wrong credit card number when I made the order from home — or maybe it was those 5,000 rolls of toilet paper I bought the other day.)
I quickly reached into my purse to retrieve my wallet so I could have the employee swipe the credit card with a handheld device he was holding. Alas, no wallet.
I called my hubster, retired Beacon Journal reporter Jim Carney, to have him read me the credit card number over the phone. I relayed the number to the employee, but he was unable to enter it into the system. Another glitch, he indicated.
Thankfully, my hubster came to the rescue, and brought my wallet to me.
A shopper in a vehicle near mine also initially had his card rejected. But he had his credit card and simply had the employee swipe it.
If not for my self-inflicted inconvenience, the process would have gone smoothly.
I was fortunate enough to secure a next-day time slot when I went to order.
Given increasing demand, that can be hard to do as more of us are going online to avoid going inside stores.
Groceries are scrambling in response. They’re boosting the number of employees to increase slots.
I asked coworkers, groceries and via Facebook for thoughts on online grocery shopping and I’m adding their responses to my observations here.
• An oft-repeated bit of advice: Secure your pickup or delivery time before you order. (Some groceries — such as Acme — don’t allow you to order before getting your slot, it should be noted.)
But remember, when online shopping with many grocery companies, once you get your time slot, you’re on the clock, noted Beacon Journal Managing Editor Cheryl Powell.
Finish your order before the designated time runs out or or you might lose your slot, she said.
• Some items you have ordered may not be in stock when the employee shopper starts to shop for you. Many groceries’ online platforms allow you to signify whether the store can make substitutions. The Akron-based Acme Fresh Markets platform suggests specific backup items when a buyer taps “select substitutions,” noted Acme spokeswoman Katie Swartz.
In Powell’s case, a Giant Eagle employee shopper recently substituted larger sizes for items not in stock. She ended up with a 2 pound, 13 ounce tub of margarine that she said will get her family “through coronavirus and any other pandemic that comes our way.”
• The online platforms can’t read your mind. For example, with the Giant Eagle site, search for “mini Cokes,” and you won’t see the product in the first group of listed products. Refine the search to beverage products, and “Coca-Cola 6 Pack Mini Cans” show up in the first batch of displayed products. The search term “Coca-Cola” also quickly gets you to the mini — 7.5-ounce — cans of the beverage.
Using the Acme or the Giant Eagle site, search “hamburger,” and you won’t see hamburger meat. The items displayed are hamburger buns, Hamburger Helper and other items with “hamburger” in the name. Search “ground beef,” and, voila, there it is.
• Plan ahead. Same-day ordering with many places isn’t possible these days. Swartz said the family-owned chain is seeing slots for pickup fill a day or two in advance. Select a different store or time if you can’t secure your initial preference, she said.
• Some folks told me about having success shopping with delivery service Instacart, which hires independent partners to shop at partner stores, including Aldi, BJ’s Wholesale Club and other stores in the Akron-Canton market. Others told me about some frustrations with the service.
Last month, some Instacart workers went on strike, calling for the company to provide protective supplies and hazard pay. But Instacart doesn’t appear to have been affected. Instacart says it has new sick leave policies and has made other changes for its shoppers. Also, the company has hired more shoppers.
• Acme and Giant Eagle sites both let you “shop recipes,” allowing customers to add ingredients directly from the recipe to their carts.
• Online grocery shopping is expanding. Acme has hired employees, allowing it to greatly increase its slots for pickup. Giant Eagle also is adding workers, and has temporarily converted its store on Howe Avenue in Cuyahoga Falls into a pickup-and-delivery-only center. (The pharmacy inside the store remains open.)
Buehler’s, headquartered in Wooster, announced last week that its online shopping service will soon expand to include its Portage Lakes store at 4045 S. Main St. in Green.
Mustard Seed Market earlier this month launched a curbside pickup service at its two stores in Highland Square in Akron and in Bath in the Montrose shopping area.
“It was created with a great sense of urgency” amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the family-owned grocery says on its website, adding “needless to say it is very basic.”
• The state of Ohio has worked with the United States Department of Agriculture to allow food stamp recipients to use their EBT (electric benefit transfer) cards for online grocery shopping. However, not all groceries’ online platforms — including Giant Eagle’s — are set up to process the cards. Acme’s platform does allow for EBT cards.
• Tip if the grocery store allows it, and tip well.
• “My advice — patience as consumers,” someone said to me on Facebook. “The businesses are trying and will get better.”
A patient friend told me how an online shopping experience made him and his wife laugh. Their pickup order included one pound of oranges. They received just one single orange. Even funnier, my friend said, they ordered two pounds of Brussels sprouts. They received two lonely sprouts in a plastic bag. Must have been an inexperienced employee, my friend surmised.
“Still, we have been happy with the service,” the friend said.
Contact Katie Byard at email@example.com or 330-996-3781.