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Tips and tricks for grocery shopping online during the coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus pandemic

To adhere to social distancing and avoid contracting coronavirus, there has been a subsequent boom in online grocery shopping. With fewer delivery time slots available—leaving some people waiting up to two weeks for orders—and fewer items actually available in stores, shoppers are frustrated with the grocery bounties (or lack thereof) that they receive. Additionally, some Instacart users are even claiming that their groceries are being stolen and many are receiving orders that are canceled, incomplete, or arrive later than expected, which leaves many of us wondering whether or not it might be better to brave the stores.

Although going to the grocery store might not be possible for everyone (those watching the kids or those unable to leave the house, for instance), there are a few tips and tricks to successfully shop for groceries online. From ordering at the right time to picking the right service, these are the best ways to assure your grocery haul comes at a reasonable time and is as close to what you ordered as possible during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Check different services

There are several online grocery delivery services with the key players being Instacart, Amazon Fresh, Shipt, Walmart, and Peapod. Depending on where you are located, certain services may be more popular than others. For example, one of our editors found that she had much more success ordering Whole Foods via Amazon Fresh in the Boston area than shopping for the same grocery store on Instacart. Be sure to check the delivery windows of different services before you start filling up your cart so you won’t waste too much time on a service that will take days (or weeks) to deliver.

2. Call specialty grocery stores

If you’re still having trouble finding a good delivery window—or a store that actually has items in stock—try calling specialty shops or the local grocery stores in your area. In the Boston area, local food stores Russo’s and Dave’s Fresh Pasta are both offering curbside pickup and delivery within a certain distance and you can probably find similar services in your area. It might be more expensive compared to chain grocery stores and you’ll probably have to drive to the store to pick up your groceries, but you’ll may have better luck getting a good food haul.

3. Be patient—and refresh the page

Ordering groceries online has become akin to buying concert tickets for a popular artist: You’re going to have to refresh a bit. Due to the high demand, it’s becoming more difficult to find a delivery time slot at all. Some of our editors have found success by checking in on the service and refreshing their windows throughout the day. Although it can be frustrating and take a little tenacity, eventually you may be able to snag a slot if you refresh your page every hour or so.

4. Place orders after midnight

One tip that’s great for night owls? Start checking delivery times after midnight. One of our editor’s parents consistently orders their groceries at this late time and has had no trouble finding a delivery time. More time slots for delivery start opening up after midnight when these services reassess their resources and grocery stores have time to restock.

5. Work with your “shopper” for substitutions

If you do manage to successfully book a time slot, be sure to make yourself available the day of the delivery to respond to any calls or texts regarding substitutions. Although some grocery delivery services like Instacart allow you to choose substitutions when you place your order, even those might not be available at this time. Oftentimes shoppers cannot leave the store until you approve a substitution and making yourself available improves your chances of getting something similar to what you ordered.

6. Opt for curbside pickup

If you have the option to drive to the grocery store, you might want to opt for curbside pickup. Not only does it give you additional pickup windows to grab your goods, but it waives the delivery fee and helps limit your contact with others. Plus, you might see that there are more pickup time slots open than delivery slots, which increases your likelihood of getting your groceries sooner. Many of these services including Instacart and Walmart offer curbside pickup for free, though you do still pay the service fee.

7. Skip the store and order produce boxes directly

Still having trouble getting a grocery delivery? Try ordering boxes of fresh produce instead. Food stands in your area might be offering pre-packed produce boxes that you can buy for a flat free. You could also try a produce delivery service like Imperfect Foods or Misfits Market, which will deliver a variety of “ugly” fruits and vegetables—and even some non-perishables—to your door. Even though you can’t select the exact produce on your list, it’s a good option to experiment in the kitchen, lower food waste, and actually order some groceries.

8. Give generous tips

Even if you’re missing a few items or your delivery came late, please tip your shopper and courier generously. Most of these contract workers rely on tips to make a living and they’re putting themselves on the front lines to ensure you get the food you need. Some services, like Instacart, have a default 5 percent tip on orders, but consider adding more to that number if you can during these unprecedented times.


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