Friday, March 2, 2007

Grocery Shopping on the Web

This Thursday — yesterday — we received a flyer in the mail from Von’s (a western chain of grocery stores that’s part of the Safeway grocery conglomerate). The flyer spoke glowingly of Von’s new web store, and how one could order anything you’d like from the grocery store and have it delivered to your home even that same day.

Do you remember PeaPod and WebVan from the dot-com days? This was their premise as well, and after squandering vast quantities of venture capital, these fine companies went out of business. They never did deliver to rural areas, either — you had to live quite close to their distribution warehouses to be eligible to use their services. We live in a veryrural// area, about 20 miles from the nearest Von’s — and probably a lot further from their warehouse, where I suspect these delivery vans are being dispatched from.

But the Von’s flyer said they covered San Diego County (amongst many other areas). Not “the popular parts” of the county, not “selected areas” — the inference was that they covered all of San Diego County. So I decided to put it to the test. On Thursday afternoon I went to their web site, created an account, and was pleasantly surprised when no apologetic “Sorry, but we don’t serve your area” page popped up when I entered my address. The web site just accepted it as though I lived in some normal area, and invited me to enter my grocery list. Which I did — some $220 worth of groceries of all kinds, which is most of a month’s groceries for my wife and myself.

During the checkout phase, I discovered that I had a choice of delivery times — and for $9.95 I could have a two hour delivery window, as opposed to $7.95 for a four hour delivery window. Actually, both of those sounded good to me — living out here in the boonies, we’re used to delivery windows expressed in days, not hours! For any order over $150, they knock off $5 from the delivery charge — and for the first order, as a promotion, the delivery was free. So I signed up for a Friday delivery (the next day) with a two hour window from 10 AM to 12 PM.

This morning, I fully expected to get either an email or a telephone call telling me that I was outside the service area and I could just forget about it. So sorry, but if you’re so dumb as to live 20 miles from a grocery store then surely you can’t expect us to deliver to you!

And sure enough, at 11:30 AM I got a call from Von’s. But it wasn’t the call I was expecting. Instead, it was the driver of the delivery van, telling me that (a) he was running about 20 or 30 minutes late, and (b) he had no frickin' idea where I lived, and could I please give him so directions. This had me thoroughly flustered, as I really didn’t believe there was much chance they’d really deliver my groceries. But here I had a real, live (and very polite) driver telling me that yes indeedy he’d be out here in less than an hour.

And at 12:20 the delivery van pulled into my driveway. The driver was every bit as polite in person as he was on the phone, and he proceeded to show me how it the delivery part all worked. My order was in five blue plastic bins: three in the unrefrigerated section, one in the refrigerator, and one in the freezer. He stacked them all up on a cart, wheeled them to my front door, and then helped me bring them all into the house. All my groceries were in the same shopping bags they’d have been in had I done the shopping myself. In just a couple of minutes, all my groceries were in the house and I said goodbye to my delivery guy.

Then I checked out my order, which was actually fairly complicated. I had a dozen or so items (produce, meat, etc.) where I had entered specific directions to my “personal shopper” on the web site. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that with one exception, everything was exactly as I had ordered. The exception: they had substituted ordinary Kosher bologna for the Lebanon bologna that I ordered. If you know anything about Lebanon bologna, you know it is nothing whatsoever like ordinary bologna — but this was such a small and really insignificant mistake that I am not disappointed at all.

Think about it. I live about 30 minutes from the nearest grocery store. To buy these groceries, I’d normally have driven for an hour — using about $10 in gas — and spent another hour or so in the grocery store. Two hours of my life, and $10 in gas. With this service, I spent less than 30 minutes online, and zero time or dollars driving. This privilege cost me zero this time, and in the future will cost me $2.95 (the $7.95 charge for a four hour window, less the $5 they knock off for orders over $150), as we’ll most likely order only once every three or four weeks, and that order will easily exceed $150. This is a complete no-brainer for us, unless the service deteriorates very badly.

I hope to never visit the grocery store again!

1 comment:

  1. In the old blog, Anonymous said:
    How cool is that! As a senior citizen I am really hoping that service comes to this area which is hardly 6 miles to the store. We can now get groceries delivered for a $20.00 fee and they encourage tips. Sigh, so we do not get them but I can certainly see where this would be very welcome to seniors and busy folk like you.