Online shopping won't get you hard-to-find items during coronavirus. 'They're not going to have any more success getting toilet paper than you are.'

Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Think you're going to find online the frozen vegetables and toilet paper you can't find in stores? Think delivery is going to be quick?

Think again.

Grocery stores aren't just battling to stock shelves in stores. They also are swamped with online shoppers who are placing more orders and buying more. The average order at grocery delivery service Instacart is up 20% so far in March compared with the same period in February, the company said.

Grocery chains say they're doing their best to keep up with the surge, including hiring more workers, but still warn shoppers could face longer-than-expected lead times or issues with out-of-stock items.

Connor Ulrey, 25, of Chicago, said he got a voicemail from Jewel-Osco saying the order he placed earlier this month for canned goods and bottled water was canceled. The message also promised a $50 credit, which Ulrey said he has not received.

A replacement order couldn't be delivered for another five days, said Ulrey, who buys groceries online because he doesn't drive and is hesitant to use public transit during the pandemic. That order arrived when promised, but Ulrey said the missed delivery made him nervous.


"The drivers and people in the store are working so hard. I'm not trying to sound like a jerk here, but I also need to know if I'm going to get these or not." he said.

How long a shopper will wait for an online order varies by store and depends on when customers place orders, as well as whether they are picking up their purchase or having it delivered.

About 67% of U.S. consumers expect to do more shopping online if the pandemic continues, and nearly 70% of those shoppers said they thought they would buy more food online, according to a survey conducted by Coresight Research last week.

It's hard for grocery stores to react to growth like that overnight, said Neil Stern, senior partner at Chicago-based retail consultancy McMillanDoolittle. Delivering them isn't easy: A single order likely has a variety of oddly shaped products that need to be kept at different temperatures.


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