10 Must-Have Tips for Online Grocery Shopping Right Now

Our best tips for ordering groceries—straight from shoppers on the front lines.

Two cell phones showing shopping app screens

In the wake of the the new coronavirus and public health guidelines to stay home, more and more of us are ordering our groceries online or via an app instead of going out to the store. Not only have online grocery apps have been hitting record download numbers but many are hiring for shoppers, too.

Many big grocery stores, like Walmart and Kroger, offer their own online grocery shopping services. So does Whole Foods, through Amazon Fresh orders. And then there's Instacart and Shipt (if you're new to Shipt, you can sign up here) which send shoppers into the store to bring groceries to your door.

Depending on where you live, online ordering right now may be easier said than done. If you're trying to place an order for groceries and there aren't any delivery windows available, chances are it means that there aren't enough shoppers on the schedule. While we can't solve that problem, there is a way that you can help when you do get to place an order: be kind to your shopper! In the words of one Shipt shopper we interviewed, "Be kind. Respond to our messages. Tip generously." Because, after all, they're out there so you can stay home, stay safe, and—hopefully—stay healthy. If you are grocery shopping, here are 10 tips to stay safe.

So, with that said, here are our 10 top tips to make the most of your grocery ordering experience—for you, the customer, and also, your shopper.

1. Order early

Orders are on a first come, first serve basis so the earlier you place your order, the more likely it'll be assigned to a shopper. Many apps and stores let you place an order up to 24 hours in advance. "That said, there are only so many shoppers and we can't do 5,672 orders at 9 or 10 in the morning," says Aly, a Shipt shopper. Some wait times are longer right now for Instacart and Amazon Fresh, but keep checking back in to see if you can find a delivery time.

2. Know how your store, or app, works.

For instance, using Target.com does not mean that you're guaranteed items or that they are set aside for you. "We still shop them like regular Shipt orders, but it is harder to add items (and sometimes impossible) to Target.com orders once we begin your shop. Having a Shipt account, however, will allow you to more easily add items you originally forgot about," says Aly. With Whole Foods (Amazon), "Whole Foods employees actually do the shopping," says Brett, who delivers for Amazon Flex. "Drivers come in, scan, and grab already packed groceries and deliver them," he explains.

3. Choose preferred replacements.

Each outlet runs substitutions a little differently, but also each outlet has more than one option for how to handle substitutions. "Help your shopper get what you need by pre-selecting replacement options for everything on your list," says Instacart. In Shipt's app you can leave notes for each item ("Go ahead and tell us what brand of bacon you'd really like to have," says Aly) or switch your substitution to "use best judgment." Whole Foods lets you opt out of substitutions altogether. But also, most outlets connect you live with your shopper while they're preparing your order. Which brings us to…

4. Keep your phone handy.

And be sure to pay attention to it before your delivery window begins. "We start shopping your order before the delivery window," says Aly. "The faster you respond to us, if we text you, the more brownie points you get from us. It also means that you get your food faster, and we're able to expose ourselves to fewer germs in the store or knock out more orders." So, if you get an intro text from your shopper, shoot them back a response, so they know you're there and ready for any questions.

5. Get to know your shopper.

Build a rapport with them, if you can. Drop emojis and gifs via text. Every shopper we interviewed said they strive to develop repeat customers. "This is a customer service-centered job. I love this job because I work one-on-one with clients. I try to build rapport with the client through friendly texts and remembering certain things about them so when I deliver it is more personal," says Christine, a Shipt shopper. How can you increase the chances of being a repeat customer with your favorite shopper? "Leave us a good rating and [at Shipt] we are offered your order first," says Katelynn, another Shipt shopper. She adds: "I also suggest ordering at the same time every week because we will be more likely to be on the schedule." Another bonus to being more than transactional: Shoppers have the inside scoop on who is stocking what, and when, and they like to share their know-how.

6. Be flexible.

What's actually in stock is changing constantly, especially right now. Currently, inventory numbers are rarely correct, so just because it's in the app catalogue doesn't mean that it's actually in stock in the store, explains Shipt shopper Aly. Also, many stores are limiting how many of the same item you can buy. This varies from store to store and location to location. And, like you, shoppers can't bypass these limits. (Lots of recipes are flexible, here are some tips for substituting ingredients when you're cooking dinner.)

7. Err on over-communicating delivery instructions.

"If you live in an apartment, try to provide turn-by-turn directions. Very few apartments have good signage. If you're getting an evening delivery, turn on the porch light and let us know if your house number isn't easy to see. If you're okay with early delivery, let us know! We're happy to wait around in the store so your order will be delivered during your delivery window, but we're also totally cool with delivering a few minutes early," says Aly.

8. Be strategic about your delivery window.

Depending on what's in your order, you might want to shift your delivery time. If you don't need high-demand items, it's helpful for shoppers if you set your delivery for the late afternoon or evening. If you have high-demand items or specific items you absolutely need, your best bet is to have the order shopped and delivered in the early hours of the morning. "That's because delivery trucks come overnight or in the morning," says Katelynn. They have a little bit of everything on them and once those high-demand items hit the shelves, they're scooped up.

9. Order in advance of running out.

Just given how much is changing every day, don't wait to order milk as you finish your last sip. Instead, place your order a few days in advance of running out. Please refer to numbers 1, 6, and 8 for "why." And also, in the words of Benjamin Franklin: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail."

10. Say thank you and tip your shopper.

Yes, we saved the best for last. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, this form of grocery shopping has exploded. "The shopper community is serving as household heroes for families across North America. When you order, please consider tipping above and beyond to reflect the extra effort of your shopper," says Instacart. Or, more bluntly (but 100 percent fair!), one Shipt shopper framed it this way: "How much would you pay to not get coronavirus? Tip that amount." Whatever you decide, now is the time to be as generous as you can be with tipping.

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