Curbside pickup helps people with disabilities stock their pantries. Like me
Roadside pickup has become a sought-after service during the pandemic. It helps people with autism, ADHD, and other disabilities shop.
Grocery stores tire me. Before the pandemic, I would go through a shopping list on my iPhone’s Notes app and keep checking it as I remembered where to find items in a store I’d been shopping at for years. Why did I feel so tortured while shopping?
Last year I got an answer: a diagnosis of attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. My working memory, which has the information I need in my head, is flawed. As a result, I have to work extra hard to find the products I buy while impulsively checking to see if rhubarb is in season or wondering if this is the ripe melon I smell. Then there are the bright lights, the loud music, and the crowded hallways that all distract me.
So I would check the list. And then check the list. And then check the list.
No more. Now I’m sitting on my couch and filling mine. Then I drive to the store and a worker puts the food in my car. The process eliminates a common, stressful experience from my life and gives me time back. This is why I am so excited that grocery chains and other retailers have increasingly introduced roadside collection and say they will largely continue to offer it once the pandemic restrictions wear off.
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It’s not just a benefit for people with ADHD. Roadside pickup and home delivery to a close relative helps the elderly, those with mobility and vision problems, those with the autism spectrum, and parents with their shopping. It’s another case where an innovation popularized by the pandemic could end up helping a number of different types of communities – if it persists.
Roadside pickup requires a car and a stable internet connection, and it has its drawbacks. But for a large group of people, it removes an obstacle to getting the bare essentials.
Noor Pervez, a community engagement coordinator with the Autism Self Advocacy Network, said roadside pickup is especially helpful for a subgroup of autistic people who are overwhelmed by sensory inputs, something grocery stores are full of.
“Everything is designed to get your attention,” he said. “That can be a lot.”
Roadside pickup is becoming increasingly popular
The pandemic showed more people the joy of going out of business for shopping apps and websites. Use of the services exploded when grocery and retail stores introduced roadside pickup to reduce the crowd inside. According to analysts at Global Data, shoppers made their purchases on the curb 140% more often in the last three months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Roadside collection grew faster than in-store collection during this period, and more than 68% of consumers said they wanted to use the service even after the pandemic restrictions ended.
Just like shopping for clothing or housewares online, shoppers can purchase groceries through a store’s app or website. Customers can search for products by name or browse through different categories, a bit like walking through a grocery store. For people with impaired vision or mobility, adaptive technologies for surfing the Internet – such as screen reading technology, larger font sizes, and special keyboards – can also enable grocery shopping.
Many stores allow special instructions, like extra thick slices of deli cheese or paper bags instead of plastic. Customers can also simply store items they have bought spontaneously by deleting them from their shopping cart after shopping. When shoppers are ready to check out, they usually reserve a time to collect their food. For items like clothing, the retailer usually notifies the customer when the purchase is complete and holds them back for several days.
Shoppers who can’t or won’t go into the store’s parking lot use third-party apps like PostMates, Instacart, and Dumpling to pay someone to do the shopping. Some stores officially work with third party suppliers to offer same day delivery as Target does with Shipt.
The pick-up was on the roadside before the pandemic. Walmart has been providing the service for 10 years. Company spokeswoman Camille Dunn said both roadside pickup and home delivery usage increased 400% in the first three months of 2020. Usage by people over 50 grew the most, she said.
The company is investing in additional market fulfillment centers, warehouses that will be added within or in existing Walmart stores. The reason: process online orders for pick-up or delivery faster.
The number of people who could benefit from it is considerable. On Twitter, people with ADHD responded to YouTuber Jessica McCabe of #HowToADHD with their feelings of roadside pickup. While there have been complaints, dozens of people said they made it part of their routine because it saves them time, stress, and gives them back energy that they could use elsewhere in their lives.
Dear grocery collection !! Why? (1) Grocery shopping IRL is excruciatingly boring, (2) I can type what I need and find it faster in the app than IRL, (3) I don’t waste time getting distracted by random crap, or (4 ) buy extra things that I didn’t really need ✨ 🥳👍 In short, I LOVE IT
– Lydia Christina (she / she) (@prettypvalue) June 2, 2021
Groceries are so much easier. Not only do I not have to remember whether I am not in the mood or need something, but I also feel a lot less “stupid” slowly building a cart than I do walking back and forth a million times. No advertising distractions AND a fraction of the time. I hope it lasts forever.
– Rosie “AnxiousAlmiraj” Derivator (@RosieDerivator) June 2, 2021
Roadside pickup could be improved
Roadside pickup is not perfect. Many shoppers have experienced the frustration that an item sells out after ordering and finding a replacement is insufficient. Some people want to choose their own products or use their own bags instead of having a separate plastic bag for each apple in an order. After all, we all want to know whether we’re buying a piece of ginger or a pound of ginger, and that’s not always clear.
During the worst lockdown, I used Ralph’s curb for groceries. I am always overwhelmed with grocery stores so it was great not having to go in and reflect at home over time. Downside: no way to say “ok, no frozen blueberries, fresh is fine”, but that’s their app.
– alexandra M 🧭 (@MiscAlex) June 2, 2021
People with mobility or vision problems don’t benefit as much from roadside collection as they do with home delivery, which not all stores offer through their apps or websites. Joel Isaac, a blind accessibility advisor in Northern California, said he picked up prepackaged orders in stores but mostly relied on home delivery via apps like Uber Eats and DoorDash during the pandemic.
“The ability to get home delivery via the hassle and risk of arranging transportation to a store made this difficult time a little more bearable,” said Isaac.
Roadside pickup is limited to those with transportation facilities, that is, those who do not drive or have access to a car. Delivery options often require customers to wait for hours at home for windows, which can be stressful for a nervous, easily bored person with ADHD. In addition, delivery options are more limited in rural areas where people are more dispersed.
And to be clear, some people with autism or ADHD find shopping in a store to be an exciting experience to look forward to.
I find the delivery super boring and even when I think of doing it and maybe starting and ordering, I just digress. In theory, it’s a great idea, but I just look forward to cooking a lot more when there’s more spontaneity.
– the mother of all (@emilyjanehubb) June 2, 2021
Grocery and retail stores could be better too
As much as I enjoy not stressing myself over a long shopping list in a distracting food den, I miss finding random inspiration for a new dish. I can still do this if I want to, but I wonder how it would be if the stores could just tone it down a bit. Maybe you turn the music down a few notches and make things easier to find.
With that in mind, Coles grocery stores in Australia tried out shelters for people with autism in 2017, calling it “rest hour”. The chain turned down the overhead lights and reduced or eliminated the sounds of music, intercom announcements, and shopping carts.
Similar services were offered in stores across the U.S. during the pandemic to allow the elderly and disabled to shop in-store without large crowds, but Pervez of the Autism Self Advocacy Network said he was concerned store workers might interview a young-looking person with an invisible disability this service.
Right now I plan to get my groceries in the parking lot and then leave the shop in my dust.