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I tried shopping for groceries online. Here's what happened

Susan Selasky, Detroit Free Press

As the coronavirus pandemic worsens, more and more people turn online to do their grocery shopping, using services such as Shipt and Instacart. 

Although people aren't banned from going to the grocery store under most states' stay-home orders, there's little doubt more shoppers will rely on such services.

This week, Instacart announced it is looking to hire 300,000 shoppers nationwide to keep up with demand for its services. Shipt, owned by Target, also seeks thousands of shoppers

As a work assignment, I hopped on board and did something I've never done before: Ordered groceries online.

I like to shop and consider myself an expert at it, but the coronavirus crisis changed that. 

Shipt shopper Jennifer texted updates from the grocery store.

When I go to stores now, I am extremely careful, practice social distancing and try not to touch anything unless I am sure I am buying it.

Curbside pickup

For my first online order, I used Kroger's Pick Up service. If you don't have an account, you create one online and start shopping. You need to put a credit card on file and choose a store to shop. There's no fee for the first three pickup orders and $4.95 each after.

Choosing items was the easy part. I was looking for flour because most stores were out. I chose a variety of other items, including two different brands of high-in-demand disinfectant wipes: Arm and Hammer and Lysol. I threw in a bottle of Jose Cuervo Lime Margarita. I ordered 10 items total.

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When you are ready to check out, you can view what's in your cart and make any changes. You can add special instructions, including allowing substitutes. For example, though I didn't buy any avocados, I could have specified unripe, bright green, rock hard avocados.

Once you check out, you choose a pickup time and date. I ordered around 6 p.m. on a Thursday, and the first available time slot was from 11 a.m. to noon Sunday.

I got an email confirming my order. The whole process was seamless.

Kroger offers an online ordering service to pick up groceries.

Sunday, I headed to the store and parked in the designated spot. Once parked, you call the phone number on the sign. A store representative asks your name, what parking place number you’re in and whether you want your groceries in the trunk or back seat.

I told the person the trunk was fine. The employee said to make sure it was open.

When the person came out, I learned only three of the 10 items I ordered were available: A 12-pack of watermelon/lime sparkling water and two bags of flour. No wipes and no margarita cocktails.

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I got out of the car to get ready to close the trunk. At a reaching distance as much as possible, the worker handed me a piece of paper with the items not fulfilled and my receipt.

Shipt

On my second go, I signed up at shipt.com and opted for the $14 monthly membership instead of a $99 recurring annual membership, which works out to $8.25 a month. That was before a colleague shared a link with a $49 recurring membership offer.

Meijer and Target stores in my area were available to shop at through Shipt. I chose Meijer on a Friday and started shopping on shipt.com.

Again, I chose a variety of items, including high-in-demand goods. You can give directions, say, for bananas that you want more yellow than green.

What was different and what I liked was that Shipt showed which high-in-demand items were out of stock. Bagels, canned tuna and the Meijer brand of hot dog and hamburgers were also out of stock.

I completed my order and, much to my surprise, a delivery time of 11 a.m.-noon was available for the next day.

Around 8 a.m. that Saturday morning, I got a text message from Jennifer, my Shipt shopper, telling me the store was out of skin-on chicken thighs, but it had some with no skin. I told her those were fine.

During the next few hours, I received several messages from Jennifer about products the store was out of and possible substitutions. I had the option of adding onto my order through the app – which I hadn't downloaded. I could text her, too, to add on. I did, asking her to pick up any disinfecting spray. The store was out.

Jennifer texted me that Meijer was out of flour. She offered to swing by another nearby Meijer to see if it had some. I told her only if it was on her way.

She texted that the other store did have the 5-pound bag of Meijer flour, completed my order and was on the way.

When she arrived, keeping with social distance practices, I stood just outside my door. She walked up with her own grocery totes and started unloading.

Did they have any wipes? I asked.

Nobody has those, she said. 

We chatted a few, keeping our distance. Jennifer said the stores were busy. She had four orders to shop for that day. I was her fourth order that day. That was the first Saturday of Meijer's new hours, opening at 8 a.m.

"People were lined up outside like it was Black Friday," she said.

I didn't know how tipping worked. Stretched as far as I could, I gave her a $10 tip on my $45 order.

I was extra cautious and put on gloves to bring my groceries in. I wiped nearly all the packaging down with sanitizing wipes. I washed the bananas and asparagus I ordered and placed them on paper towels to dry.  

When you log back in, a survey pops up to rate your experience with a picture of your shopper. It also gives you a tip option. The tip option is also on your completed order summary, which I found buried in my email. 

Would I do this again? Probably. Though I like shopping, hunting for bargains and using coupons, this was easy. 

And for someone with a chronic condition, it's a great service.

Contact Detroit Free Press food writer Susan Selasky at sselasky@freepress.com. 

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Kroger Pick Up, Shipt: I tried both grocery services amid coronavirus