Remote Grocery Shopping in the time of the Trump Pandemic

Using the internet to order household items and food is a new experience. While we are quite accustomed to buying computer parts, clothing, hardware items and such on the internet, this was a move into new territory. We also became aware of some interesting quirks.

There are many food and household items that we purchase periodically without much thought, from toilet paper to tuna fish. What we hadn’t noticed was that we had become quite specific about the items. We always got an item at a particular shop – butter at Costco, (boxed) tomato soup at Trader Joe’s, plain ‘cream’ crackers at 99 Ranch Market. Some times it was the specific brand (Trader Joe’s Marmalade) not available elsewhere, sometimes the packaging (a whole flat of V8 juice) only available as single cans elsewhere, some times is was just (assumed) lower price.

It turns out that we not only shop at a regular Costco but sometimes go to a Business Costco not far from here. If you have never been to one, they are different! There are some items that I used to get at ‘normal’ Costcos that are no longer there, but still available at the Business ones, such as bread flour. Business Costcos will deliver, but …. I found several items that I wanted, but then I had to specify whether my location was business or residential, having to do with zoning I think, not whether there was a business located there. For reasons that I cannot fathom, a 3pack of cans of pineapple juice was not eligible for delivery to residential but was OK for commercial. There were other similar seemingly arbitrary exclusions. I had to give up there. On to regular Costco Warehouses.

I started out scanning the Costco web pages for our Costco specific items, and immediately ran into a new great puzzlement. Little of what I wanted to get was urgent; I would need coffee in a few days, not today. The Costco website presented (not in the most clear fashion) three different categories of ‘delivery methods’ for grocery: standard, 2-day delivery and same-day (powered by InstaCart). Obviously the last one is going to cost more.

I started searching for items in standard, but almost everything I looked at was marked 2-day delivery (“May be available In-Warehouse at a lower non-delivered price”), many out of stock, and some that I wanted not listed at all. I went to same-day – Lo (and also Behold) there were some of the items I was looking for, and not even ‘out of stock’! Hmmm. Well it seemed worth a possibly one-time try anyway. I selected several items and went to ‘checkout‘. I was buying enough that the delivery fee was waived.

Then, I clicked on the select delivery time button. NO DELIVERY TIMES AVAILABLE. Hmmm. Well, it was for ‘same day’ service and it was very late on Sunday night. Applying decades of interface busting, I waited till 12:01 AM (now Monday) and tried again! Success (sort of). I could select first available slot NEXT SATURDAY, so I did. There were two more interesting features: an ability to designate an alternate product if the one I wanted was not available when the InstaCart shopper tried to assemble my order, and the ability to add to the list or delete from the list, up to the time the InstaCart shopper actually hit the store.

On Saturday the web page started to change, showing shopping activity, checkout, on the road and delivery. Before noon on Saturday we got our order (with one quite sensible substitution). It worked!

Your Mileage May Vary.