Online grocery orders have delivery, pickup services on overload during coronavirus crisis | COVID-19

Grocery stores in the Charleston area that used to offer pickup and delivery services within hours are seeing backlog in days, if the options are even available, and experts warn that coronavirus could be the trigger forever changing how many consumers are their food and their household receive goods.

“A hurricane lasts a few days – people run to store and hoard their groceries and then it’s over,” said Phil Lempert, editor of “We’re talking here for months. I’m not sure our infrastructure, both in the food world and psychologically, is ready for it.”

Grocery delivery services like Instacart and Shipt have been overloaded with orders in the past few days.

“Last weekend, we saw the highest customer demand in Instacart history for groceries sold on our platform,” the San Francisco-based company said in an email.

The typical order size increased by 20 percent, and it is not surprising that the items most searched for were hand sanitizer, vitamins, powdered milk, diapers, face masks and canned food.

Instacart bag (copy)

Grocery delivery services like Instacart have been overwhelmed with orders as coronavirus fears lead consumers to decide to search for groceries online. Provided

Instacart also had a record number of buyers – the independent contractors it calls “household heroes” – collecting goods for customers across the company’s network of 5,500 cities, including the Charleston area. But it will take a lot more buyers to keep up with demand from people who don’t want to leave their homes because of the virus called COVID-19.

“As this situation evolves … it is important that we continue to have a growing customer community,” said Instacart.

Shipt offers up to $ 22 an hour two weeks of financial assistance to customers if they have to postpone their work due to a caronavirus diagnosis.

Coronavirus pandemic

Amazon, the country’s largest online retailer, announced it is hiring 100,000 people for its delivery network and paying $ 17 an hour or more depending on where they work. In a statement, the Seattle-based company said it hopes to recruit displaced retail and hospitality workers, like the hundreds of workers laid off this week from Charleston restaurants that have been temporarily closed following a new coronavirus crackdown.

But Lempert said that ultimately “there aren’t enough gig people for the demand”.

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Before the coronavirus, online purchases made up around 3 to 4 percent of total grocery purchases nationwide. Doubling or even tripling that number “shows us that this is a very fragile system that we haven’t figured out yet,” said Lempert.

“It’s going to get worse,” he said.

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The Wall Street Journal reported this week that grocery stores across the country are struggling to keep items in stock and meet intense demand for delivery services. Consumers suffer from cancellations and long waiting times for orders, and missing items are common, the newspaper reported. Adding grocery delivery sites crashes due to heavy traffic.

Amazon said it is now prioritizing the delivery and replenishment of staple food, medical supplies, and other high-demand products due to the large number of orders it receives. A blog post added that many items are out of stock and deliveries may take longer than normal.

A sample Friday in Charleston, a grocery store that offers roadside delivery and collection, shows that pickup times take several days to become available and some delivery services were unavailable.

Nobody knows how long the current situation will last, but Lempert said it will drive fundamental changes in the grocery delivery business. Investments in autonomous vehicles and drones for delivery options will increase. Consumers will be willing to pay a higher price for home delivery. And there could be a shortage of overseas goods – like Italian wine and cheese – as foreign factories work to regain capacity.

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At home, food supply chains could be tested by a growing shortage of truckers as the existing ones age and retire.

There will be opportunities too.

“If the percentage of food on the shelves is produced locally, this is an exception,” said Lempert. “This is a great opportunity for retailers to really promote the local foods and bring them to the fore.”

To reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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