Richmond’s grocery delivery options recently grew once more with the addition of Whole Foods delivery.  This is on top of Kroger Clicklist Delivery, Instacart, Shipt, Target Restock, and Amazon Prime Now.

I’ve tried all of these services except Shipt, and I haven’t been blown away by any of them.  I’ve had numerous late or lost deliveries with Amazon Prime Now, underwhelming experiences with Instacart, “next day” shipments from Target Restock delivered two or three days later, and some serious customer service issues involving a problematic Kroger Clicklist Delivery order.  From my experience, Kroger’s the best out of all of these in terms of assortment, price, and on-time delivery, though god help you if you have a problem with an order.

Amazon purchased Whole Foods in August 2017 and has been slowly adding Whole Foods products to the Prime Now lineup.  This latest offering splits Amazon and Whole Foods into two separate “stores” in the Amazon Prime Now service.  I’m not sure how I feel about this.

Choices of 1-gallon 2% milk on Amazon Prime Now (ZIP 23224) July 7, 2018
Choices of 1-gallon 2% milk on Amazon Prime Now (ZIP 23224) July 7, 2018

I’ve never really understood why Amazon offers so many different, fragmented delivery options.  The same item may be available from a couple different Amazon services with several different delivery times.  I’ve seen many situations like a $40 memory card I bought last month.  Search for it on Amazon.com and it’s available for Same-Day delivery if ordered before a certain time.  I can put that in the cart and go to check out, but it’s going to default to standard Prime 2-day delivery unless I click a button.  That same item is also available separately through Prime Now, and would be delivered for free within a 2-hour window, $5 for a 1-hour window, or $8 to get it to me within an hour.  In my opinion all of those options should be presented together.

The separation of Whole Foods and Amazon items in this manner means you have two different shopping carts and two different order minimums for the various delivery options.  This is a detail that wasn’t immediately obvious when I first started shopping.  Free 2-hour delivery kicks in at $35 from each store, so you want to make sure everything’s in one cart.

The addition of Whole Foods adds a bunch of grocery choices to Amazon’s lineup and I like that because Amazon can get things to me faster than anyone else.  There’s usually an option to upgrade to delivery within 1-hour.  That’s not something I normally do, but it has come in handy a couple of times.  Prime Now is the only service around here that delivers alcohol, which includes items from Whole Foods.

This week we just didn’t need enough stuff to justify Kroger’s $12 delivery charge, so I turned to Prime Now.  I ended up grabbing about $50 worth of stuff from Whole Foods, with free delivery within a 2-hour window.  It just cost me the tip, around $5.

The experience was everything I had come to expect from Prime Now.  Someone almost immediately went to work shopping for the order, presumably inside a store somewhere in town, and a little chat window popped up on my order confirmation page so I could chat with the shopper if there were any issues finding what I ordered.  We exchanged no words and the shopper had the order finished and ready for delivery within just a few minutes.

From there, it was the normal Prime Now experience.  A text message and app notification let me know the order was out for delivery and let me track the driver on a map, another notification let me know they were here, there was a knock at the door, and my groceries were on my front porch.  They arrived packed in paper bags with Amazon’s silver bubble wrap-like insulating material around the cold items.

Amazon recently changed their policy of requiring someone answer the door for perishable Prime Now deliveries, unless alcohol is involved.  I’ve always thought Amazon over-packaged cold Prime Now items considering they wouldn’t be leaving them on a front porch under the old policy.  Now that they’ll leave the stuff, the packaging helps me feel okay about not having to rush to the door.  I trust it’ll still be cold if it has to sit for a few minutes.

So I’ve got no complaints.  My go-to service is still Kroger, but it’s great to have an expanded assortment of grocery items available on-demand, with a shorter delivery turnaround, lower delivery cost, and what feels like reasonable pricing.  (I need to compare Whole Foods delivery to the marked-up Publix prices on Instacart.)  Doing a whole week’s $130-ish grocery order at a time, I come out way ahead with Kroger.

The one thing none of these services have figured out:  out-of-stocks.  They’ve got decent substitution systems.  Kroger seems to do it best – they’ll substitute more expensive items, including larger package sizes and premium brands, at the lower item price.  But what about situations where something’s just not available?

Say you need sauerkraut, and Kroger’s out of it.  You can’t just order a can of sauerkraut from Amazon or any of the other services, at least not at a reasonable price.  And there’s no option to say put all of these items back, and we’re going to make recipe B instead, I need this and that and so on.  You have that option in the brick and mortar store, but not online.  So now you’ve got to scramble to find a substitute, or go to another store.

It’s at that moment I know I feel like the whole point to ordering online has been defeated.  Since I still have to leave the house, the delivery fee and tip, and possibly online price mark-ups, all were wasted.  I don’t think any of these services would go as far as making a stop at a different location of the same chain or at a competitor’s store to fill an order, but that’s one option.  Ultimately I think they need to figure out inventory control at the store level so these delivery services have a better idea of exactly what’s on the shelf at any moment.

I’m sure my expectations are high but this is the future we’re living in.  There are still bumps in the road but these services are getting better all the time.  I love that I can get so many restaurants delivered to me through Uber Eats and GrubHub.  Same goes for groceries and other household goods.  Time not spent fighting traffic, dealing with parking, maneuvering aisles, finding items, and standing in checkout lines, is time spent doing other more valuable things.  While there’s a cost to these services, the small delivery fees are worth it, I think, for the time saved.

What are your thoughts?  Have you tried grocery delivery yet?  Share your experiences in the comments.