I Haven’t Stepped Foot in a Grocery Store in 21 Months — Here’s What’s Changed and What I’ve Learned Since I Started Getting My Groceries Delivered

published Jan 22, 2022
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Yellow Shopping Cart On Footpath Against Wall
Credit: Getty Images/ Heike Kelm / EyeEm

Back in March 2020, I donned multiple masks, a Survivor buff, and a set of silicone gloves to visit the grocery store a half hour away from my house. At the time, the infection rate was much lower in that town, so my parents and I assumed it’d be best to drive the additional mileage to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. This was back when people were starting to sanitize their groceries, stockpile flour, and set their alarms to secure a grocery delivery time slot in the middle of the night. 

Credit: Instacart

Once Instacart had the ability to deal with the near-insurmountable demand, I started ordering from nearby grocery stores via their site. That was late April 2020, and I haven’t looked back since. Things are a little different now, yes, but people still shop with masks (at least, they should!) and COVID is still a risk. And I still hold onto the vestiges of the original coronavirus fear, so I continue to get my groceries delivered.

I am immensely aware of this privilege — knowing that someone else can shop for my groceries, and then bring them to me — and I always give a very high tip. (This is a relic from my time working in the restaurant industry. And, you know, being mindful and empathetic about the pandemic that we’re still going through.) I’ve also become cognizant of the ways this change has affected where I shop, what I buy, and how much I spend.

Here’s what’s changed for me and what I’ve learned since I started getting my groceries delivered.

1. It’s nice to switch up where you shop.

I was a Fairway shopper through and through for about a decade. The one in walking distance to my house closed a few months into the pandemic, so I’ve come to rely on Kings, Stop & Shop, and, my new cherished go-to, Wegmans. For years, I’d heard rave reviews about Wegmans. One day I saw it pop up on my “available stores” on Instacart and thought I’d give it a try. I had no idea there was one nearby!

Well, the raves are warranted: Wegs, as I now refer to it, is stellar. The items are super high-quality, fresh, and wildly versatile. (They also have cheese caves in some of their stores!) Yeah, they’re a fantastic intro to the world of online grocery shopping. I’m even excited to check one out in person … eventually.

My point: I was a creature of habit, always shopping at the same store. Now that I shop at three different ones, I get exposed to all sorts of new and different offerings that my old store didn’t stock.

2. I’m now more likely to seek out (and buy) the less expensive option.

I tend to skimp on items that I may have unknowingly been splurging on while I’d walk up and down the different aisles. Why spend $6 for sour cream when I can get a perfectly good container of the same size for $2? Shopping online makes it really easy to see all of a store’s options (and the prices!) in a glance. This way, I can see all of my options and pick the one that makes the most sense for my budget. (Whereas, before, I’d just grab the most familiar brand, which often cost more.) I continue to have expensive tastes when it comes to all things cheese. It is truly my grocery kryptonite and the one excess I will (almost always) splurge on.

3. It’s incredibly important to give each cart a final look … but not for the reason you think.

Shopping solely online, I’ve become mindful of what I call “the convenience of clicking,” which is when I see an advertised item or a “related product” and absentmindedly add it to my cart. This can add up very quickly, so now I always do a final run-through of my cart prior to checking out. I check to make sure I have everything I need, yes, but I also make sure I haven’t added too many extras.

While I’m doing this check, I also remove anything that I feel is overly expensive, which can include ice creams, specialty condiments, unique items, and organic proteins. It’s simpler — and calmer — to go through my virtual cart than it would be to interrupt the cashier at the store and say, “Sorry! I don’t need this … or that.”

4. I’ve abandoned a shopping routine. 

I no longer have any specific day, time, or even need for when I shop for my groceries. It varies week to week. If I’m low or out of a few general items, I’ll place an order. If I need specific ingredients for a dish I want to make, I’ll place an order. And lastly, I’ll place a large order to last me for some time. There’s not much planning, beyond opening the fridge and pantry, followed by my laptop. Instacart has an Express Membership, which gets you free delivery for orders that are $35 or more — but know that you still need to tip well!

5. It’s still a pretty hands-on process.

Stores don’t always have all of the items or the specific brand I’m looking for, so I try to be vigilant in replying to whoever is doing the actual shopping as they make swaps, substitutions, and refunds. (Instacart has a chat option, and those messages can also be sent as text messages, which makes communicating easy.) In the past, I’ve learned that shoppers will pick an alternate willy-nilly if I don’t respond, which has led to more expensive and high quantities of items in my cart. One time, I ordered cream cheese that cost $3 and somehow ended up spending $9 and got far more cream cheese than I needed. Plus, I don’t want to leave anyone hanging out in the chip aisle just because I haven’t written them back. I always makes sure to schedule a shop for a time when I know I’ll be around to answer questions.

Have you switched to online shopping? What service do you use? Tell us about it in the comments below!