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Guess what? Ordering online groceries won’t take a week anymore

  • July 08, 2020

Remember those long, long waits to get online groceries delivered back in March and April? Those coronavirus pandemic shortages that created delays of at least a week for orders to be fulfilled have been replaced now by normal delivery times. 

“The waits were so extreme during the height of coronavirus fear,” notes Ryan Ford, a San Francisco web designer who has shopped often for online groceries. “Now, it’s a lot easier.”

With the pandemic back in full force again in many parts of the country, and consumers being urged again to spend more time at home, USA TODAY decided to do spot checks of the major services and see how they performed. We looked at Amazon Fresh, Whole Foods, Instacart, Postmates, Target, Walmart and shopping from local markets in the Los Angeles area, and the results were night and day from what we saw in March and April, back when it was so hard to fulfill orders. 

An empty grocery cart heading into a loaded supermarket aisle.

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But all was not perfect, with some foods being out of stock, delivery times wildly fluctuating depending upon what time of the day you ordered. And some services were downright confusing. (See the Target section below.)

Amazon Fresh

The promise is “same day delivery” when you visit the website, and when we did a mock order early Tuesday morning, we were given slots for a late afternoon or early evening delivery, but when we tried an order again at 1:30 p.m., we were told delivery times for Tuesday were all gone. That said, Amazon told us it was wide open Wednesday and Thursday for delivery, but many key foods were out of stock, including best-sellers like Diet Coke, AW Root Beer, Morningstar Farms garden burgers and some brands of cheese sticks. Delivery service is free for members of Amazon’s Prime entertainment and expedited shipping service, which costs $119 yearly, but customers need to have a minimum order, which is around $35-$40 depending upon where you live. 

Whole Foods

Amazon owned Whole Foods also promised free two-hour delivery, but that’s not what the checkout said. Our 1:55 p.m. order had a $4.99 delivery attached to have food arrive by 4 p.m., or free if delivered by 6 p.m. Whole Foods ordered to deliver the same items the following day, between 6 and 10 p.m. Again, there are minimum purchases to qualify for the free delivery. 

Target

Target tacked a $9.99 delivery fee onto a $40 order, unless I paid $99 for the Shipt service (which is owned by Target.) The Tuesday order said it could be delivered by midnight, early in the morning on Wednesday (4-5 a.m.) or as soon as 4-5 p.m. Wednesday. Target will bring your orders directly to your car and put them in your trunk, saving you from the pain and risk of entering the store. However, that’s only if you order on the Target app, not on the computer. (Which we did by instinct, only to have to call and cancel the order after we got the confirmation and were instructed to enter the store for pickup.)

Instacart

The food delivery service works with several markets to send shoppers to stores to pick up the food and then bring it to your doorstep. Our Tuesday morning orders were offered within a two-hour window from Ralph’s (part of the Kroger chain) in Los Angeles, while Von’s (part of Albertson’s) pushed us to the evening, for a $10 fee. When we tried the order in the afternoon, we were pushed to Wednesday for late afternoon, again for $10, or Thursday between 12 and 3 for $5.95. Tipping is extra and vital — Instacart shoppers depend upon your kindness. 

Postmates

The company, which Uber said it wanted to acquire this week for over $2.65 billion, offered a flat 45-60 minute delivery promise, from the same Von’s store, and said also tacked on a $10 fee. 

Walmart

We were offered free delivery from the giant retailer —along with a two-day wait for delivery.

Consumer Ford says while he appreciated the convenience of online food shopping, the expense was just not worth it. He says it added a good $30 or more to the average bill, once you factor in delivery fees, higher markups and the need to tip the shopper.

“We have tried to limit exposure to the outside world as much as possible, so sometimes we bite,” he adds. “But it’s an expensive bite.”

Serena Ehrlich, however, has switched altogether to online food shopping, and swears by Amazon, for Fresh and Whole Foods to get her week’s worth of shopping done. She said on Facebook that she uses both services “because one or the other always runs out. Organic meat is very hard to come by online, and the produce received is frequently about to expire so you have to move fast.”

In Buffalo, Rachel Ingalsbe says she hasn’t shopped for groceries in person for quite some time. In April, it took a week or longer to get a delivery date “and we had to stagger stores because sometimes they had no delivery times. Now, it must be that people are back shopping in store, because today we got same day delivery!”

Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter

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