Grocery stores have been a bright spot in this otherwise dark time of global pandemic. Store workers are braving an on-edge public and risking infection to stock shelves or come out to our homes to deliver groceries. I appreciate and thank them for all their hard work.
So it’s not on the front lines where grocery stores have an issue right now. Instead, it’s on the back end, in the way big grocery retailers manage and communicate about e-commerce orders, where the problems seem to be happening.
Like millions of others, my family has been self-isolating for a couple of weeks, which means more grocery shopping online. I’ve used Safeway for delivery and Walmart for curbside pickup. Both have problems with the way they relay information about out-of-stock items.
Before going off on too much of a rant, I should note that I’m extremely lucky. My wife and I are still employed, we are sufficiently stocked with food, and if need be, we can easily and safely go to an actual grocery store. But there are a lot of people in worse off situations, and those people need a consistent and reliable method for ordering groceries from home.
I also understand that we are in unprecedented times, and as such, people are stocking up/hoarding, so some items are just aren’t available. I have yet to find toilet paper anywhere online, and evidently everyone is baking loaves of sourdough, so there’s a run on flour.
The problems I’ve encountered with Safeway and Walmart is that those platforms accept and process my online order, leading me to believe all items are in stock and that I’ll get everything I need/want. Then, literally a couple hours before the scheduled pickup or delivery time, I get notifications telling me some items are out of stock and I won’t receive them.
In the case of the Safeway, it was a delivery order that had been placed a week and half prior. So during that time, I assumed my entire order would arrive and didn’t make any other plans to get groceries. Thankfully, the only things the store was out of were flour and yeast (to make bread, he admitted, sheepishly), and not more necessary staples like eggs or milk. But there was a gap of a week and a half in between the time I placed the order and the delivery date. At some point in there, Safeway should have communicated that items are out of stock so I could figure something else out.
The same thing happened with Walmart when I ordered food for curbside pickup. The system accepted my order the day before, leading me to believe everything was a-okay! Then the next day, shortly before I drove to the store for pickup I got an email from Walmart that basically said, “Just kidding! We’re out of a bunch of stuff you ordered.” Some of the items, like toilet paper, I kinda figured might disappear, but there were also things like fruits and vegetables in there that suddenly couldn’t be fulfilled. This was more baffling because Walmart is a logistics and supply chain monster. Why, then, was the online ordering so far off from reality in the 24-hour period between when I placed my order and when I picked it up?
Again, the reason for this whole rant is that as we are told to shelter in place and avoid crowds (especially if you’re older), e-commerce will become increasingly important, depending on how long this outbreak lasts. It’s critical that people can feel confident in the online orders they place. I’m fortunate in that I have the time and means to compensate if something goes awry. But there are lots of people who don’t, and lots of people who can’t go into the store because they have young kids, or are sick who will rely on online grocery shopping. If it’s too difficult to align store inventory with demand at a store, then retailers should improve and clarify messaging around orders so that people understand that what they receive may change, and if it does, give them ample time to either prepare for the outage or make substitutions.
For the most part, online grocery shopping is great! And I really do appreciate all the work Walmart and Safeway are putting in quickly to make it happen. We just need to make some changes to make sure we aren’t worse off in these worst of times.
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