A few weeks ago, I received a postcard in the mail telling me I could have groceries delivered from Walmart. It seemed almost too good to be true. I love grocery delivery — at least in concept — and whenever we can, we’ve been driving 30 miles to Gilroy just to go grocery shopping at the Super Walmart there, because their prices are so excellent.
My first experience with grocery delivery in the internet age was fantastic. During the dot.com boom, a company called Webvan appeared, and quickly plastered the area with promotions that offered not only free delivery of groceries, but credits (sometimes as much as $20) for doing so. Free delivery and free groceries?! It was a no-brainer to try them.
I still remember marveling at the clearly quality-obsessed picker they used for my area. When produce arrived, it was always the crispest and freshest I could have expected. They also seemed to do some sort of customer service/driver matching, based on my comments on each delivery. I had two women deliver my groceries when I said I was recommending the service to my girlfriends; perhaps I should have said my husband the dancer loved it, and seen who came by. But alas, like most dot.com schemes, it didn’t make sense to pay people to use your service (as nice as it was while it lasted.) Without even having the chance to try a more commercially viable tactic, like having people pay a modest price for delivery, Webvan folded.
Around that time, a Schwann’s van showed up in our neighborhood. I had no idea what it was, but Peter knew of them from the Midwest as someplace with good ice cream. We talked to the driver who was canvassing the neighborhood for interest and found out they sold a variety of frozen meals as well. I was a new mom to Neil at the time, and grateful for anything that could make my life easier, so we became regular customers on the route.
But suddenly, the driver disappeared. We called, and found out our area had a new driver. He finally appeared, surly and complaining that our record had disappeared from his device, but grouchily filled our order. He showed up one more time, and then disappeared again, despite my repeated calls to the regional area dispatcher, who kept swearing the driver had indeed shown up, or so he’d said. I finally ended up getting all the way through to the headquarters in Minnesota, whereupon the driver showed up once more, and then did a fade again. I’d see the Schwann’s van parked for hours at the local Weinerschnitzel; eventually the service disappeared. If Schwann’s wanted to know why they failed in San Jose, I could have told them, but they obviously cared less than me.
A few years later, Safeway started offering grocery delivery, and given my experience with Webvan, I decided to try them out. They didn’t have the give-it-all away model Webvan had, but delivery was only $5, and with a rare coupon or an order for more than $150, it was free as well. But they had the customer service from hell. I inquired if I could get deli cuts in the quantity of my choice, as would be the case if I were to go in in person, and was told that was far too much of a bother, as if the deli workers couldn’t receive the orders electronically and set them aside in advance. I received moldy vegetables and expired yogurt, and when I called was told I’d have to take the rotten products back to the store in person for exchange or refund. But the entire purpose of grocery delivery is to not have to go to the grocery store! Oh, and any delivery date had to be made two days in advance. It could have been great, but I was better off shopping in person. And, oh, Safeway, the groceries are cheaper now at the Super Smart and Final down the street, so I shop there now.
So I was worried about what I would get with Walmart. But I recently started trying out Once a Month Cooking, which means I usually have at least one big, well-planned grocery trip. And like I said, the Walmart prices are great, so why not give Walmart a chance to come to me? Plus, for my initial order they’d deliver for free (given a minimum order) and give me $10 off as well.
Ordering was about as easy as it had been with any of the other grocery delivery services. The search engine is stupid, so it can’t find, say french fries, unless you say fried potatoes. I couldn’t find mango chutney, though it’s possible Walmart does carry it. But Safeway’s system was every bit as bad. And I could find some Walmart exclusives like their delicious frozen Chicken Cordon Bleu. Scheduling a delivery was also a breeze. There were lots of times available: you could choose a more expensive slot for $10, or one less expensive for $8. I suspect the more deliveries in a time slot, the lower the delivery cost may be, which is a smart way to use value shopper’s incentives for economic efficiency.
The driver came right on time, not too early, not too late, within the slot, and even gave me a call to let me know he was on his way and would arrive in approximately 15 minutes. The groceries were fresh and uncrushed, much to my delight, and I signed. The amount didn’t reflect my discounts, but the customer service number I called said the discounts would be applied to my charge correctly (and they were.) Unfortunately, I didn’t piece count the order (and years of watching Hell’s Kitchen should have taught me to do so.) As I was preparing my next few week’s worth of family dinners, I discovered I didn’t have the Monterey Jack cheese I ordered. Not having done the piece count, I can’t say I will someday find that cheese, but I did have to make a run to Smart and Final to get some. It cost less than the $10 discount I received, so I let it go, but I’ll be more careful in the future.
Oh, did I say I’d be using Walmart to Go again? I probably will. It’s as good as it gets, given that I at least received satisfactory groceries, and they do say they guarantee their stuff, so if I do receive expired milk, the driver will just take it back and give me a refund, instead of me having to drive to Gilroy*. Peter pointed out that $8 or $10 is a good value, given the cost of driving and my time, as well as how much we save just buying from Walmart. I do miss Webvan, but a business that is actually making money will last longer and continue to be there when I need it.
*I asked the driver which Walmart the groceries came from, and he said there was a Walmart on Story Road. It took me two questions to parse that. I can’t understand Story Road, though I know it’s somewhere in East San Jose — I never go there, whereas we pass the Gilroy Walmart by 101 and 152 fairly frequently. In any case, I don’t care where the groceries come from, as long as they come to my door.
Update: Walmart To Go asked for my feedback, and I told them about the mystery of the missing cheese. The next day, they sent a driver out to delivery the missing cheese to me, even though I hadn’t done the piece count I should have! He also assured me their pickers are properly picky. Yup, my next big grocery order will be through Walmart to Go again!