Demand for grocery delivery service creates long waitlists -- how stores are trying to fix that
With millions of Americans stuck in their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic, demand for grocery delivery and even curbside pickup services has skyrocketed -- resulting in waitlists of a week or more at many Chicago-area stores.
Take the Jewel-Osco store at 440 E. Rand Road in Arlington Heights, where an employee said delivery orders have quadrupled since Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered people to avoid leaving their homes. The wait to get on the delivery list is now one or two weeks.
The wait is even longer at the Jewel store at 885 E. Belvidere Road in Grayslake. The service is booked for the next three weeks, an employee there said.
The chain's pharmacy delivery and pickup services have been in greater demand than before the pandemic, too, Jewel-Osco spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco said. When more slots are added for any of the services, she said, they're reserved quickly.
"We appreciate our customers' patience during this unprecedented time," Trucco said.
Of Jewel's 188 stores in Illinois, Indiana and Iowa, 12 fulfill online delivery orders for the chain and 27 offer on-site pickup services.
Even shoppers willing to venture out to pick up groceries -- but maybe not walk the aisles -- are experiencing longer wait times.
At the Mariano's on Roosevelt Road in Wheaton, the next available date for curbside pickup is a week out, an employee said.
To help shorten those pickup windows, Mariano's held job fairs Wednesday at stores in Buffalo Grove, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Crystal Lake, Westchester and Westmont. The chain planned to hire 600 people to help fulfill the surge in pickup orders at its 44 stores throughout the Chicago area.
"We want to be able to provide same-day service if possible, but this is a very unusual situation," said Mariano's spokeswoman Amanda Puck. "We're trying to keep up with demand and the changing needs of customers."
Jewel-Osco also plans to hire thousands of new employees, including delivery drivers and personal shoppers, Trucco said. Hiring has begun.
Doug Baker, vice president of industry relations for a trade group called FMI-The Food Industry Association, said online shoppers will continue to experience delivery delays -- and item shortages -- as demand increases. But it's not because of problems with food supplies, he insisted.
"It's shifting priorities and redistributing labor to help with in-store picking," said Baker, whose Virginia-based organization represents food retailers and wholesalers.
Major big-box retailers like Walmart also are experiencing a surge in orders. A check of the retailer's online ordering system showed pickup and delivery times booked for the next two days, without the option to schedule a time further in advance.
The same was true Wednesday of Meijer.
An employee at the Walmart store on Meacham Road in Elk Grove Village recommended revisiting the website in the morning when new time slots open up.
The number of U.S. households using online grocery delivery has more than doubled since last summer, according to recently released survey data from the Brick Meets Click consulting firm and an e-commerce software company called ShopperKit. More than 39 million American households used such a service during the past month, about 31% of total households.
That's up from more than 16 million, or 13%, in August 2019, according to a news release from the two groups. Twenty-six percent of the online grocery shoppers surveyed said they used a specific service for the first time. That figure was 39% for shoppers 60 and older.
"This is a reflection of current circumstances," said David Bishop, a partner at Brick Meets Click.
As the coronavirus spreads and the number of COVID-19 cases climbs, the members of Jewel-Osco's delivery and takeout services are sanitizing their equipment, washing their hands and using hand sanitizer before every order, Trucco said.
Additionally, the chain has created contact-free delivery procedures and changed the signature process so drivers can sign for customers after checking ID, Trucco said.
For in-store customers, the chain already has heeded Pritzker's guidelines and banned the use of reusable bags in its stores to protect workers and other shoppers.
Baker expects to see more grocery stores increase hiring to meet the demand. Stores may also partner with other food delivery companies, such as DoorDash, to get groceries to customers.
Additionally, some stores struggling to keep up with delivery requests are encouraging customers to use pickup options, he said.
"Grocers are no stranger to disaster," Baker said. "They are the cornerstone of their communities."