As grocery stores try to fill online orders, it’s getting easier to just shop inside

April 7,2020

See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram by Gordon Dickson here.

Putting food on the table in the age of coronavirus has sparked a massive increase in online ordering, grocery companies say.

But many Fort Worth-area residents say they are frustrated by incomplete orders and difficulties scheduling delivery times at many grocery stores, which seem overwhelmed with online orders.

In some instances, they say, it is becoming easier to go back to the old-fashioned method and simply go into the store and grab what you want. But going inside a store presents challenges of its own, as shoppers don protective face masks and sometimes struggle to keep a safe distance apart from others to avoid exposure to the virus.

Mickie Jobe, a North Richland Hills resident and math teacher in Birdville schools, is a long-time user of Walmart’s online ordering and curbside pickup service. But recently, she arrived at the store to find out that some of the items she had ordered online had been sold to someone else before she could get to the store.

“The online shopper, who ordered and paid before the in-store shopper, and who may be sick or elderly, not only is not able to get what they need, but to add insult to injury, they don’t find this out until they actually get their groceries,” Jobe said in a Facebook Messenger interview.

She said she has had better luck at Kroger, where the online ordering system isn’t perfect but makes it easier to make substitutions for out-of-stock items.

Walmart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield said the company is working with suppliers to improve the availability of goods in high demand.

“In terms of overall re-stocking, the situation is dynamic,” she said in an email. “Specific impacts to products and/or categories will depend on the duration and intensity of the outbreak in each community in which our suppliers operate. We will be leveraging our global supply chain to make up any temporary shortfalls.”

Laura Lape, a Fort Worth food blogger, says that in the past she preferred to shop at Target and Costco. But she recently switched to online ordering and curbside pickup at Walmarts on the city’s southwest side, and has been satisfied with the results.

“Order online with some forward thinking,” she said in a recent Twitter post, responding to questions about her grocery shopping habits. “Pick up the next day, no direct interaction with very little issues regarding product stock. S. Hulen/McCart locations have been great.”

But others say online ordering is becoming too much of a hassle.

A quick mid-afternoon check around Fort Worth on Monday showed that many stores where in recent weeks customers have had to stand in line in the parking lot just to get in were now easily accessible. Inside those stores, shelves that were empty just a few days ago were now at least halfway stocked with popular items such as eggs, bread and toilet paper.

Stores where customers could be seen moving freely, with plenty of social distancing and no lines to get in, included Sprouts Farmers Market in Keller, Kroger on North Tarrant Parkway and Walmart Neighborhood Market on Park Vista Boulevard in far north Fort Worth.

“My local Albertson’s in Saginaw has been amazing,” Sharri Wilson wrote on Twitter. “Out of a few items but basically well stocked shelves.”

Meanwhile, Amazon Fresh, which for about three years has offered home grocery delivery to many Dallas-Fort Worth neighborhoods, has struggled to keep many of its staples in stock — including basic items such as yogurt, breakfast cereal and bread.

Also, arranging a delivery time even three days in advance has become difficult for Amazon Fresh customers. Amazon officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Jobe said some of her friends have complained of service problems with Instacart, a service in which workers are paid to do the customer’s shopping and deliver the items to the customer’s home.

Officials at San Francisco-based Instacart say their order volume has increased 150% during the past several weeks, and they are hiring 300,000 workers to meet the expected demand during the next three months.

“Based on the current surge in demand, customers can expect to see delivery availability vary across stores during the busiest request windows,” Instacart officials said in a statement sent by email. “Delivery windows are specific to individual store volume and shopper availability.”

Instacart customers are urged to check delivery times frequently, as available times fluctuate throughout the day, and to be prepared to offer suggestions to shoppers who find some items unavailable on store shelves.

John Kent still prefers to get his goods in person. He put in a plug for Neighbor’s House Grocery, a new locally-run market in downtown Fort Worth.

“Best-kept secret: Neighbor’s House on W. 6th,” Kent said in on Twitter. “No lines, rolls of TP near the cash register.”

Location Mentioned: Neighbor's House Grocery