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If there is a positive aspect to all this house arrest nonsense, it’s that it has probably changed my way of shopping for groceries forever.
The shutdown has taught me there’s a more efficient way to do it.
I realize for some, shopping for groceries is a tiresome chore, but I actually enjoy it because I’m the cook. I also am a bit of a control freak, so when I go shopping for things that aren’t a commodity like canned goods, I want to personally look at a tomato, chicken, etc. before purchasing.
This means that in the past, I went grocery shopping about every 2 or 3 days. With so many grocery stores within a 5-mile radius of my home, there was no reason not to enjoy fresh meats and vegetables. I bought what I needed for the next 4 or 5 meals, then went back for more as necessary. The freezer for the most part was used for ice cream, bags of ice and an occasional frozen pizza. Otherwise, I made meals out of fresh ingredients.
The current virus situation changed that. In mid-February, I signed up for Amazon Prime to get free shipping on any quantity I wanted, then did the same with Sam’s Club, going from their $45 basic membership to their $100 “Plus” tier. This includes free shipping with no minimum and 2 percent back.
The strategy was to use those two merchants for non-perishables, which in theory should mean my trips to the grocery store should be less frequent. As the supply of goods got tighter and tighter, I then added Walmart.Com, Target.Com and HomeDepot.com to the mix. They had minimums for free shipping, but if you planned properly, that was no issue either.
Today I tried the final piece of the puzzle, using Harris Teeter’s grocery delivery service. For us old geezers, they’ve knocked the delivery fee from $16.95 to $5, which was a big incentive for me. My only concern was ordering things predicated on having other things, and I’d end up with a bag of cream cheese but no bagels, hot dogs but no buns, etc.
This has required a different way of thinking. The biggest adjustment is knowing what you want, which sounds simple, but isn’t. I usually go through the grocery ads on a Wednesday, pick out the things that are on special, then make a menu out of all the meals I could cook from those ingredients. While in the store, I will then see other things I need but had forgotten about, and that visual prompting helps me keep the pantry and refrigerator well stocked.
You don’t get that kind of prompt online unless you’re prepared to scroll through everything any of those merchants offer, which could take days. On top of that, you really miss the immediacy of the instant gratification grocery stores offer. When you’re at Giant and see something you want, once you put your hands on it, you know it’s coming home with you.
With the others, you don’t really know. Amazon used to be the most reliable of the group, and many times I’d order something on a Monday night and it was delivered Tuesday. But these days with inventories being in question, Amazon seems to have gone more to a model where they take the order, tell you it will be there in a few days, and they then figure out if and when they’re going to actually get the product.
Sam’s and Walmart do some version of that, saying there will be a 2 to 3-day delivery, then sending you an email later to say they have split the shipment. Target tends to ship complete, but they offer the same warning others do, saying because an item is popular, you might get it by a certain date. Or you might not.
This uncertainty of delivery and the split shipments has created a constant flow of boxes ending up on my front porch every day, and most days I have no clue what it is. I just know to look out the front door mid-morning (when FedEx usually delivers) and around 5 PM (when the UPS truck is usually in the cul de sac).
The postal service usually delivers the mail at 2 PM and you know to check the mailbox immediately, because our mailman would rather spend 5 minutes trying to cram a package into the mailbox (and sometimes you need pliers to get it out) then walk the 25 steps to the front door and leave it on the porch.
No matter who delivers it, packaging is the weak link in all this; these companies seem to realize this, since the few times I’ve had damages, they immediately refund the money. Sam’s Club once shipped a 10-pound bag of sugar in a box with no paper or bubble wrap, and I ended up with 7 pounds of sugar in the bag and 3 pounds in a box. UPS threw a box of furnace filters from Home Depot on the steps like a bounce pass and crushed the corners. Walmart sent 9 items in a box including 3 glass jars of sun dried tomatoes with only one 8 inch by 10 inch piece of bubble wrap. Yes, it was an oily mess.
But if you call to complain, there is no pushback. Every one of those companies immediately refunded the money and said just keep and dispose of the damaged product. Which is the easiest way to resolve things.
Some products you’re not ever going to be able to get delivered. If you want toilet paper, you’re still going to have to get up early and get to the grocery store around dawn. Availability for other kinds of products varies, as some weeks I couldn’t find beans, black olives, ready rice or mushrooms on any of the sites. And with Harris Teeter, getting a delivery window could be next to impossible.
Harris Teeter announced the $5 delivery deal for seniors a 6 weeks ago, and every day since I would go to the site whether I needed anything or not and clicked on the “select a time” button, only to see “none available.” Monday was the first time it showed anything available, so I naturally took the first opening just to see how this would work.
I ordered over $100 worth of stuff, focusing on the fresh items I could not get through the other channels. It was scheduled to come at 11 AM today, and at 10:56 AM, 8 bags of groceries were delivered to my front door. They rang the doorbell after the last one was delivered, then left. Inside one bag was a printed list of what I ordered, and the items they didn’t have were highlighted. But 80 percent of the order was completed, including milk, coffee creamer, ground beef, cheese and many items you normally have to go to the store to get.
The thing I feared – getting things like cream cheese but no bagels to go with them – happened. But it’s a minor annoyance in the scheme of things, and I didn’t have to schlep all those bags across a parking lot and into the car, then carry them into the house. I opened the front door, carried the bags a few steps down the hall to the kitchen, and I was done.
The unit prices of what I’m paying actually seem lower using this method (Harris Teeter being the exception), particularly from Sam’s Club. Amazon seems to match Sam’s Club the first time you buy an item, then when you reorder, it seems like they’ve raised the price. And as you would with any warehouse club, you may only want 2 or 3 cans of beans, but you’re getting 12 whether you want them or not.
As an old man with a temperamental back, I have come to really appreciate having it all in boxes and on the front steps. Picking up a 30-pound bag of dog food, putting it in a cart, carrying it to the car and then carrying it into the house is sometimes a challenge. I now just go the front door, and if it’s a heavy package like the dog food, take a small hand cart and wheel it to the pantry.
My schedule now is to circle all the things I can’t get online and take a day early one morning every couple of weeks to go get those items. The rest I order online, although as the Rolling Stones once sang, “you can’t always get what you want.”
But if you plan properly, the noted philosopher Mick Jagger also once said, you just might find (via delivery) you can get what you need.