Shopping In The Year 2023
As far as I’m concerned, one of the better legacies of the pandemic is grocery pickup. A lot of it was already in place, but I’d been resistant because of a general inertia. The shutdown, though, moved the needle for me and I avoid going into the store if I can. The main advantage is saved time, of course, but in addition to that I am actually more likely to get everything I want and need. I’m not just bad about maintaining a shopping list, but am inexplicably bad about getting all of the items on my shopping list when I have one. With curbside pickup I can just keep adding stuff as I go throughout the week. I even have a better idea of what is in stock, even though the website is not always accurate and the shoppers miss things they have in inventory.
Until recently, if they did an item substitution you would be charged for the item you requested rather than what you were given (whichever is cheaper). This was cool because sometimes it meant you got name brand upgrades for free. I didn’t feel bad about that when it happened because as far as I was concerned, it was an inventory management failure on their part. If they didn’t want to give me an upgrade they needed to do a better job of knowing ahead of time what was on hand. The incentives were all in the right place.
One by one, stores have been changing this policy so that you are charged for the item you receive. While I get the whole “We don’t want to give you an item on a discount” thing, it means they lose a lot of the incentives of being on top of what they do and don’t have in stock. Now it’s no skin off their nose if they give you the wrong thing. Heck, sometimes they get a free upsell.
I have decided that no, I am not going to do this. Except in rare circumstances, in the event that the replacement item costs more than the original, I am not going to accept the substitution.
Their new policy is probably still a winner for them. The increased likelihood that I am not going to accept the substitution means I am going to spend a lot more time going through substitutions. Early on I was perplexed that they didn’t invite more customer input on substitutions because that’s free market research. Companies pay money to find out what items customers do and do not consider substitutable. Sometimes they con people into it in bad faith.
How do they do this? I told that story yesterday.
Today is about curbside pickup. And delivery!
I have a subscription to Walmart+ that I sort of accidentally got. Due to a combination of sickness and other issues, I had the idea I would sign up for Walmart+ and have them delivered for an introductory month and then cancel after the intro period. The delivery was nice but it did not take long for me to decide that the tip wasn’t really worth it. I very much remember cancelling it but I’m not sure what happened because when the trial period ended I was billed for a year. Well, I had Walmart+ for a year so I started using the shipping component. Free shipping of non-perishables often in one or two days. I found myself using it a lot so after the accidental year I re-upped.
Amazon Is Terrible Now
It has become especially useful as Amazon’s service has cratered in our area. The difference between Amazon Prime and non-Prime has become seven days instead of six. My wife works sometimes at a hospital in the middle of nowhere on a Navajo reservation and the amount of time it takes for a package to get there is only about two days longer than to our house 75 minutes out of two major metropolitan areas. If Prime credit card didn’t defray the costs I would be cancelling service. I still might if they don’t get their act together.
Subscribe & Save Is Good, Though
I started doing Subscribe & Save a year or so ago and I am pretty happy with it. It is not without its oddities, though. Most of them, as with Walmart above, involve inventory. Mine and theirs.
One of the ideas behind Subscribe & Save is that it automatically restocks your items. Unfortunately, I don’t always have a great idea of how often I am going to need things. I figured that over time I would see that I am ordering dogfood once every X-months and so I would know how often to include it. Unfortunately, because of inventory issues and wild price swings I’ve had to changed dogfood three times so far (and, alas, we lost our one of our friends). The month I am due to get coffee they’ll be out or the price will have doubled so I have to order a different amount or I have to get them off Subscribe & Save and therefore I don’t have a clear sense of the length of time between shipments.
I will also add that Amazon’s substitution system is pretty bad. You can select substitutes but from a very limited selection of comparable items. Often not including very comparable items you might want to get. Amazon, like grocery stores do, is passing up on free and enthusiastic market research that companies previously would perform con jobs involving take TV pilots to get. (But again, that story comes another day.)
So the whole idea that it would be easier than just buying stuff when I need it has turned out to be not the case at all. But the savings have been real as long as I stay on top of inventory and price issues.
So what about you? Do you do curbside shopping? Delivery? Walmart+? Are you having any problems with Amazon Prime?
My wife and I tend to do a mixture of curbside pickup from our regional grocer and delivery from Wal-Mart. She has issues with large crowds, so shopping is unpleasant for her. We also get a lot of stuff from our local Asian market, which we have to get in person. On the other hand, it is usually not as crowded as the other two stores.
I guess we are fortunate, because I have heard lots of horror stories about how bad Amazon delivery has gotten, but we have not had that issue here. Stuff typically gets here in 2 days, sometimes next day. There is not much we get through Subscribe & Save, just because it is hard to get the timing right.Report
This is rather appropriate, since I work as platform/backoffice programmer for a groceries delivery app. We have done restaurant deliveries for years (ie Uber Eats competitor) and rolled out our grocery extention last year October, partnering with one of our major groceries retailers.
So all these issues you mention – items marked out of stock that are actualy in stock, alternative item picking and how to handle the complexities on the price differences, etc – these are the bread & butter (ha ha) of my work day.
These are not simple issues to get right. Regarding out of stock items, for instance. Stores really don’t want to annoy their walk-in customers by having all the stock gobbled up by the delivery customers.
They also don’t want pickers, rushing to make their very tight deadlines (guaranteed delivery in 60 mins) to be running up and down the aisles pushing grandma out of the way to grab that last bag of tomatoes.
So they reserve rather wide margins by marking items as out of stock in the app even while there is stock available, so the physical shelves don’t run empty.
As for the altermantive item pricing. In our case we charge the customer upfront for the most expensive of the main/alternative item. Should the less expensive one ultimately be picked, we automatically refund the difference into a credit wallet. This credit is applied automatically at the next purchace. Should the customer wish, we can pay it out into a credit card account.
Major fight amongs the developers: is it ‘grocery’ or ‘groceries’?Report
The subscription software at Amazon offers to let me subscribe to some of the oddest things. Men’s underwear, for example.Report
Get a new pack every week, and you never have to wash them.Report
Kroger’s pickup is terrible. I finally had to turn off substitutions because they were ridiculous. Sure, if I need flour I don’t mind paying for a premium brand instead of the store brand. But I want Coke Zero. In the bottles. Not Diet Coke or Cherry Coke (shudder) and not in cans. And it irritates me to no end when they don’t have THE ONE ITEM I NEEDED that prompted me to place an order. I once showed up to be told they didn’t have my paper towels. I asked the girl at the pick up “You mean you don’t have a single pack of any brand of paper towels in that whole store?” And God bless her, she went in and got me some. During the pandemic, they wouldn’t let you order toilet paper, cat litter and several other absolutely essential items, which defeated the whole purpose of doing a pick up if I have to go in the store anyway.
Funny story about Amazon subscribe and save. I’ve been pretty happy with it. Some items have become unavailable, which sucks. I need to be more careful about watching those price fluctuations. But normally, it’s great. I edit it every month so I don’t get stuff I don’t need. Except for when I was in the hospital. I didn’t have access to a computer to say “Don’t send!” Amazon boxes kept showing up at my house while I was attached to a ventilator and my poor friend had to keep hauling them in the house. I had so much shampoo by the time I got home I didn’t have to reorder for over a year!Report
A few weeks ago I got a series of texts on my phone telling me that the local Kroger’s chain was making a variety of substitutions in my pick-up order and prompting me to respond if I didn’t want the substitute. I didn’t have a pick-up order. My initial thought was that someone had gotten a phone number wrong, and was going to be very unhappy when they got their order. Then I noticed that the response link actually went to a URL in Croatia and decided that it was just a more-clever-than-usual phishing attempt.Report
1. I have a thing about being able to select my own produce so we still go to the Farmer’s Market and Supermarkets. However, some former whole salers went to the public during the Pandemic and still do home delivery. We like Four Star Seafood for example.
2. Amazon Prime is still fine in major cities.Report
I’ll interpret that to mean “Amazon Prime” is still “fine” in NYC, San Francisco and LA (and of course the District).
And that it is “not fine” in, say, Atlanta, Pittsburgh or Austin.Report
I don’t know if this is still the case, but in the middle of the pandemic (maybe Spring of 2021), I was talking to a guy who’s middle management at HEB corporate in Austin, on a team that works on their app, which includes their curbside pickup. At the time, he said, HEB was losing a bit of money on each curbside pickup, which explains why they so limited slots that back then that you might not have been able to get one for a couple weeks.
We’ve been shopping in the store basically since the summer of 2020, once masks became easily obtainable, because curbside at our HEB was such a pain in the ass.
Also, absolutely no problem with Amazon delivery.Report
HEB’s probably losing money on each curbside pickup, because there’s less “impulse buys” — which have always been a grocery store’s way of making bank.
Loss-lead on the turkey, make it up on the fixings.
Sell Milk (which people buy weekly), and have lots of “fun” foods that you wouldn’t buy if you didn’t have them within viewing radius while hungry.Report
I *LOVED* having our Costco order delivered to the house. They usually included a couple cases of water, a couple cases of Hecho en Mexico Coca-Cola, and a couple of cases of iced tea. Each one of those boxes was a one-trip from the car. So when we went to Costco, it was usually a 7+ trip!
WHICH DRIVES ME NUTS.
Having those delivered to the house meant that, whammo, open the door and they’re right there.
Now I go to Costco by myself again. I like walking up and down the aisles and getting the samples and being surprised by how they may have the chicken wraps or some new and improved popsicle in the freezer aisle.
But I hate the days when I have to get water and Coke and tea. That’s going to be a 7+ trip.Report
“I want Food!”
Do I want a car with that?
If NO, I’m walking the Costco chow home, so I’m limited to about 50 lbs, of less melty things.
If YES, I need to schedule a car ($$$), walk to the car, drive to Costco, pick up at least 200 lbs…
I help the driver take my stuff up to my door. That’s one flight. It’s another flight to my first floor.
And I have to supervise the shopper in the store, which can be annoying during worktime.
Delivery is about 20 minutes of time. Walking groceries home (or using car), is easily 2 hours, total.Report
I live 2 blocks from a grocery store and very seldom shop at Amazon out of principle. If I want to buy food, it’s a 5 minute walk. 3/4 of a mile away is an Aldi, also easy walking or biking distance, or a short drive if I’m loading up. I’ll leave the delivery to you 1%ers. 😉Report
You realize you live closer to a grocery store than about 99% of Americans? Including at least 50% of where I live, which is a bonafide food desert?Report