Online grocery shopping surged tenfold in March as consumers embraced services that keep their cupboards full without having to venture out during the coronavirus pandemic. But increased demand strained the developing online grocery services. Previously you could get groceries delivered the same day you ordered, but the wait has stretched to several days or longer. Online grocery service providers are adding employees, but hiring and training take time. 

To find online grocery options in your area, check websites of local supermarkets for terms such as “delivery” or “pickup” and visit websites of third-party services…(Amazon.com/AmazonFreshFreshDirect.comInstacart.comPeapod.comShipt.com). 

Delays are not the only challenge. What shoppers need to know…

It can increase your bill—typically 15% to 20% more than in-store purchases. There’s a delivery or subscription fee…most people tip the delivery person 5% to 10%…store discount cards might not apply…and it’s often harder to spot sales on websites. 

What to do: Buy nonperishables and paper goods from Amazon.com or Walmart.com—prices tend to be excellent, and shipping is low or free. For perishables and things needed quickly, the usual solution is to purchase online but choose at-store pickup, avoiding delivery charges and typically requiring a lower tip. As of late March, many stores had suspended this service, but in normal times it might still be the fastest option that doesn’t involve stepping into a store.

You can’t pick your own produce. Store employees are more likely than third-party company “shoppers” to know how to identify good produce and, because they’re paid by the hour, they may  take the time to choose well. But if you’re that picky, you still may not be satisfied. 

It’s not always a time saver. Paging through endless online listings can be laborious, and rushing leads to errors. Plus, deliveries don’t always arrive on time.

What to do: Take your time the first time you use a store’s online shopping site/app, then use that same store for ­future online purchases. Most have a “see what I’ve bought before”–type feature to speed things along. One way to avoid delays is to choose off-peak delivery times (peak is 6 pm to 8 pm). For safety’s sake, its best to have groceries left on your doorstep these days rather than carried into your kitchen, despite that inconvenience.