About a month ago, I wrote about preparations our family was making in anticipation of the spread of the Corona virus. On February 28th, the CDC announced that “”disruption to everyday life may be severe, but these are things people need to start thinking about now.”
On the day I heard this announcement, I felt moved to not only ramp up some of my shopping in case the virus escalated, but also to share some observations on what I’d seen around town — sold-out respirator masks, along with shelves cleared of cleaning products and over-the-counter vitamins and supplements. I received so many negative comments about taking this seriously. While some readers were supportive and mentioned that they were also stocking up on nonperishable and frozen foods, as well as household products, others responded with angry comments:
“Unfollowing you. Ridiculous. I hope you lose a ton of followers.”
“If you post this kind of stuff on social media you are just making the situation worse”
“Lol. It’s called hysteria. This is a coupon forum, right? May want to see if there are coupons for aluminum foil”
The email I received echoed similar sentiments:
“Fearmongering. You are just trying to scare people for clicks.”
“So the store is out of bleach doesn’t mean they will run out of food. You of all people should know this.”
“I’ve followed you for years but now I find out you’re a prepper. You go hide in your house with a mask on. The rest of us will keep enjoying life.”
What a difference a month makes.
On 2/20, the United States had 60 known cases of COVID-19. Today, the US has 35,199 cases, and Illinois is under a statewide stay-at-home order. I wish that there hadn’t been a reason to stock up, and that my fears were unwarranted, but the world has changed so much, and it’s clear that we all play a part in reducing the virus’ threat.
I would like to share some of our experiences in purchasing groceries online during the past week, but I would respectfully ask that anyone who feels that the Corona virus is still nothing to be concerned about to please keep their comments to themselves. Some do take the current situation we’re in seriously, and I have had multiple readers email asking for help with online grocery ordering.
I genuinely want to help my readers who may also be exploring purchasing groceries online for the first time. (It was nowhere nearly as easy as I thought it might be!)
While we are pretty well stocked at home, another extended family member of ours was running out of milk, bread, eggs, and buns. This family member is immunocompromised and is under strict orders not to leave home. Our immediate family has also been maintaining a strict quarantine at home — aside from enjoying our own yard, we aren’t going anywhere. We want to remain virus-free so that we can help our other family members if they need us.
Our extended family has all agreed that if anyone needs anything, grocery delivery or curbside pickup are the only ways we’ll shop, so that we don’t inadvertently pick something up that we could pass to another family member. Our extended family member had never ordered groceries online before and was having trouble getting an order scheduled. So, my sister and I said we’d be happy to take care of the order.
Milk, bread, buns, eggs, and some other “would be nice to have” groceries and snacks. These things shouldn’t be too hard to order online for delivery, right?
My sister and I spent most of Friday afternoon and evening trying to get these items any way we could without physically going into a store.
Jewel-Osco takes orders online for home delivery and curbside pickup (pickup is at select store locations only.) Both options allow you to choose a timeslot for delivery or pickup over the next week. Unfortunately, there are no timeslots in my area or my sister’s area at all for the next week. Because you cannot schedule more than a week ahead, you must save your cart, then wait for a slot to open. We stayed up refreshing our pages throughout Friday trying to get a timeslot to go through, but none were available.
I was talking to a friend who successfully got a curbside order submitted for the South Elgin Jewel location. She finally got a slot a week ahead of when she placed her order, and then she waited 35 minutes in the pickup line for her groceries to be delivered to her car. The stores are doing the best they can right now, but the demand for this service is understandably extremely high.
Next, we tried Walmart. They only allow you to schedule delivery or curbside two days out – either current day, or tomorrow. Neither of those were available for the next 48 hours. Again, you cannot schedule anything any further out than that — you have to get lucky and hit a window when you can actually schedule a timeslot.
Some of the retailers, including Walmart, will also limit you to two like items per shopping trip, so be aware of that.
Next, we tried Mariano’s, Target, and Meijer. My sister and I stayed on the phone with each other, each re-creating the same list of items on our computers and then getting to the end, where no slots could be scheduled. Our local Mariano’s website actually showed no available curbside pickup timeslots through the entire month of April! I found this so hard to believe that I called our local store’s Clicklist curbside pickup desk to verify. “Yes, we’re jammed. We are trying to schedule as many as we can but it really is that far out.”
Another issue we were having is that many common items — milk, bread, buns, and eggs — were completely sold out at so many of these stores.
My sister and I both found ourselves adding gluten-free buns to our carts as those were the only ones we could find in stock at all at local stores. Then, again, we’d get to the end and see that there were no delivery or curbside slots available.
My sister has used grocery delivery more often than I have, and she predicted that even if we got an order to go through, there was a strong chance that once the order was being filled, some of those items would disappear due to being out-of-stock. So, we both agreed to order the same lists, see what we ended up with, and then deliver it to our family member. Most of the delivery and curbside services do have a box that you can check to allow substitutions if they are in stock, so we did that too to try to maximize what we’d get.
She and I worked on this for hours on Friday. We shared many phonecalls with each other and wondered how elderly people might navigate these issues on their own, and at what point they might just give up in frustration.
Then, my sister had another idea: “Let’s try specialty stores.”
My sister lives in an area where Whole Foods delivers via Amazon – and delivery is free for Prime members! I decided to try The Fresh Market’s curbside grocery pickup, as there’s a location about ten miles from us.
She loaded the shopping list into her Whole Foods digital cart, and then she was met with a message that there were no delivery times available. She said she would keep refreshing the page throughout the night to see if a time opened up, because she thought a smaller (and admittedly, more expensive) store might have fewer people trying to shop there over a large supermarket.
I loaded my Fresh Market digital cart, and I had the same issue — there were no more remaining curbside pickup slots remaining. However, I refreshed the page about 20 minutes later, and it gave me a mid-morning time slot for pickup!
I processed my order, which as you can see, was not inexpensive… however, we were going to get the requested items one way or another. We really were in at-any-price mode — those pricey hamburger buns are the 4-count size! (Ouch.) I know gluten-free costs significantly more than regular, but the buns sure had some sticker-shock for me.
The tortillas were among some of the items removed from my order due to stock issues, and another kind of applesauce was substituted, but that was fine — especially under these circumstances.
About an hour later, my sister called and said she had also been successful. Whole Foods opened up a 9:00-to-11:00pm delivery slot on Friday night, and she nabbed it. A few hours later, her groceries arrived at her door.
Some of her items were removed from her order too, but between the two of us, we were able to complete our family member’s shopping list. (In the case of the eggs, I added a carton from our fridge, because none of the retailers we tried had any eggs at all to purchase. This is part of a larger problem with the current demand for eggs exceeding what farms currently produce.)
For what it’s worth, both Whole Foods and The Fresh Market stock Oreo cookies – another guilty pleasure on our loved one’s wish list! My sister and I both purchased these in our orders, so that’s double the cookies for snacking during Corona!
My sister’s list also included a carton of ice cream. She was amused that her shopper packaged the frozen ice cream in a bag with a frozen Whole Foods water bottle to keep it cold! Hey, it’s cheaper than an ice pack, and who’s going to turn down free water?
The next morning, we headed up to The Fresh Market to get our curbside pickup. They have designated parking spots outside the store for pickup orders, and unlike my friend’s Jewel pickup experience, there was no line to wait in. I checked in with a text link that the store sent to my phone, popped the trunk, and an employee came out and put my bags inside my car. I had left a five-dollar bill in the center of the trunk for my delivery person, and I called out the window that he should take it.
“No, ma’am, we cannot accept tips.”
I said “You could just ‘find’ it, you know!” He laughed, but no, he would not take it. He was very gracious and simply said that if we were satisfied with our order, consider leaving a good review online for the store. Of course I was more than happy to do so.
Next, we drove to my family member’s house and put the grocery bags on the porch. We “social distanced” our hellos and goodbyes from the screen door, and then we discussed how to tackle future online shopping trips. Later in the day, my sister’s family also dropped off the groceries she’d purchased. We’ve never put so much work into a relatively short shopping list before!
After this day-long adventure in trying to complete a shopping list, our family member said “Instead of thinking about what I want or need right now, I am going to start thinking about what I will want or need two weeks from now.” We explained how to build a list of cart items online, save the cart, and check back periodically to try to secure a delivery time.
After I returned home, I pulled my order from The Fresh Market up online again to look at it, and it was incredible how many of the items we ordered were now completely out of stock in my local store. This is another thing to consider too when shopping for groceries online — what’s in stock now may not be tomorrow, and what you order may not be what you receive.
(You can see that I had added several types of sushi to our order hoping for a special Spring Break lunch at home with the kids, but we did not receive everything we ordered. I ordered several different kinds in anticipation of this happening though, so we shared what we did get.)
If you’ve had any “grocery-shopping in the time of Corona” experiences, please feel free to share below. One tip that I think is worth mentioning too is to subscribe to your local city or area’s Facebook page if one exists. I belong to three different towns’ groups in our area, all of which have been posting a lot of real-time stock photos and answers for many of our local stores, like “Is Target out of eggs?” and “Does Woodman’s have milk today?”
If you do need to physically go to the store, there are lots of people out and about who may be able to comment on what’s in stock where, and it could possibly save you a trip if you’re looking for something specific that happens to be sold out.
(I was especially happy to receive milk with such a long expiration date! Hopefully we will be past the Corona scare by June!)