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It’s hard to find grocery delivery right now: Instacart, Walmart, Amazon, Shipt all facing demand surge

In face of the coronavirus and a major increase in delivery demand, Instacart and others say they plan to hire thousands of new contract employees in coming months.
The socially distant spaced line before the doors open at the Publix on 200 37th Ave. N on Friday morning in St. Petersburg. When the doors opened everyone was allowed inside and then a small line formed for the paper products aisle. The aisle was cleaned out in a few minutes. There was a one item per person max. Grocery stores and delivery apps are facing an increased demand during the coronavirus pandemic. [DIRK SHADD | Times]

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Two-hour grocery delivery is a thing of the Before Times in this post-coronavirus world.

If you snag a two or three-day wait time for your online grocery haul this week, you’re a witness to a small modern miracle. From Instacart to Shipt and Amazon Fresh to Walmart’s in-house service, grocery pick-up and delivery waits are longer than ever. It’s usually several days, if the option to order for delivery is showing up at all in your app of choice.

Apps and grocers say they’re working on getting back to quicker delivery times, all announcing plans to hire thousands of new workers. On Monday Instacart, an industry leader in grocery delivery, said it plans to hire 300,000 new shoppers over the next three months, more than doubling its current base. Walmart is hiring 150,000 employees across its stores, including more than 9,400 in its Florida locations. Amazon said last week it would hire 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers.

“The last few weeks have been the busiest in Instacart’s history,” the company said in a statement, “and we’ve been proud to serve as an essential service."

Instacart has said its orders have surged as much as 150 percent, as customers move to mobile ordering to avoid crowds during the coronavirus pandemic.

Typically, only 6.8 percent of shoppers order “most” of their groceries online, according to a 2019 study by Coresights Research. The data and retail insight firm surveyed nearly 1,900 adults and found only 5 percent used online grocery delivery “all or almost” of the time. Up until this point, grocery delivery systems were built to be largely supplemental to an in-person shopping base.

Now casual users and first-timers are logging on all at once hoping an Instacart courier will have better luck finding toilet paper (they won’t). Those who are self-isolating, in self-quarantine or sick are turning to the drop-off service to limit their contact with the population.

On a normal week, an Amazon Fresh user could log onto the app on a Sunday evening and schedule full grocery delivery for 6 a.m. the following day. But a user logging on within the city of St. Petersburg on Monday at 9 a.m. saw no available delivery windows. None at noon, none at 3 p.m. A note says “new widows are released throughout the day" but doesn’t specify when.

“We’ve seen an increase in people shopping online for groceries and are working around the clock to continue to deliver grocery orders to customers as quickly as possible,” Amazon said in a statement.

Related: Coronavirus has Florida using Instacart like it’s hurricane season

Shipt has said it’s in the process of adding “thousands of new Shipt Shoppers across the country.” Like Instacart, Shipt largely relies on a workforce of contract employees who shop for a customer’s groceries and deliver to their doorstep. It’s put a lot of pressure on a system that was not built to serve this much volume.

“Given the current environment, we’re experiencing an unprecedented rise in demand for home delivery of groceries, household essentials, and medications," Shipt, an Instacart competitor, said in a statement.

As of late Monday morning, the soonest time an Instacart user in St. Petersburg could get a grocery delivery from the Publix on 1700 34th St N was on Thursday. By 3 p.m. only slots on Saturday were available. At a nearby Walmart, the results were much the same. Walmart’s app only shows two days out, all of which were filled for both pickup and delivery slots.

Walmart said it’s adding slots as soon as the same day and up to one day in advance. Usually the store plans deliveries days in advance.

“This is a shorter window than we typically offer, but it will allow us to better serve our customers during this busy time,” Walmart said in a statement,

Instacart recommends checking the app often. It also has a “group cart” feature that allows you to add friends, family members or neighbors to the same order. The app also recommends taking stock of your fridge and pantry and placing orders a few days before those items run out.

• • •

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