I have some suspicions about online grocery shopping

My beloved and I have grocery shopped online quite a few times, and I have a couple suspicions about the process.

  1. Since they seem not to put all the varieties of a product online that are actually available in store, do they pick which products to show by popularity, by need to push particular products, or by deals made with specific food suppliers?
  2. There are often substitutions made, and it seems that almost every time the substitution picked is more expensive than the originally chosen product.

IDK, I have the same suspicions though.

Also produce and meats: Gonna give you the worst picks since the know in grocery customers won’t buy them.

Over here in Britain you pay the price for your original choice and yes you sometimes get a more expensive brand or larger quantity of the product. You also have the option to refuse the substitute.

Our grocery delivery is via a major chain – Giant Food – and they do the same. AFAIK, price concerns apply more to services like Instacart.

One substitution that Giant likes to make and we hate is milk. We have to say “no substitutions” for milk so they don’t bring us a half gallon when we want a gallon.

One or the stores I’ve done the only thing with, there’s box where you can tell them what you want them to do WRT subs. Store brand, more/less expensive etc.

I think the difference here is that instead of you spending two minutes looking at all the meat to pick the one you feel is the best, it’s just a kid with a shopping list that says “1# Ground Beef 80/20”. It gets tossed in the cart and they’re off to the next thing.

I’ve been ordering groceries online since 2012 so way before Covid. I’ve definitely never noticed getting poor quality produce or meats. Admittedly as a single guy living alone I don’t order a ton of produce but everything I have gotten is fine. I am definitely not super picky, however. I’ve seen people spend forever picking out produce.

Substitutes work out fine 95% of the time. During Covid I’ve had two wrong substitutes. One, they substituted minute rice which definitely doesn’t work in my chicken and rice recipe. Second was substituting red hot sauce for taco sauce. I like the Louisiana hot sauce but it definitely doesn’t work on Mexican food for me. The minute rice I’ll probably donate, it’s a massive family size box and I don’t really eat a lot of white rice anyway. I’ll use the Louisiana hot sauce on other food, it’s also a massive bottle.

So, all in all, online grocery shopping has been a win.

We order from Stop & Shop. There are products in the store not available online, but I only see odd items left out that probably aren’t available in most of their stores. If they are out of something they will substitute other items unless you mark each item as no substitutions, and you will pay the lower price for any substitutions. Produce and other fresh foods can be a problem because the pickers may not know what they are doing. However, our delivery is done by a local guy who has done a great job and points out anything in less than top condition, and they will take back items without problems.

Based on the the people I imagine doing online grocery ordering, I would think they would generally prefer the upgraded item as a substitution rather than a budget item. Since online ordering is typically more costly than in-store shopping, I would expect that the people using that service do not have price as a primary concern. I would guess there would be less complaints by substituting higher priced items. But certainly the store has financial reasons to substitute with a more expensive item. Not only do they get the higher revenue from that product, but maybe the customer will develop a taste for that higher priced item and buy it more often.

Substitutions are likely to be the more expensive, name brand product because that is more heavily stocked by stores (so available even when the other brand is an online special or sale item). So the people picking the items grab the one that’s still on the shelves.

Also, most customers have the perception that the name brand is higher quality, so customers are less likely to complain about that substitution.

Here in the USA, most of this pickup & delivery is not done by the grocery chain itself, but by independent services, either hired by the customer or subcontracted by the chain. So they have no financial incentive to pick the more expensive produce – if it’s more profitable that profit goes to the grocery store, not them.

This also explains why we mostly don’t have the feature of ‘substitutes at the same price’: it’s just some person going through the store picking out your shopping list of groceries (and often others at the same time), and then going to the store checkout to pay for the items. Since they are not employees of the grocery chain, they have to pay the price that the substitute rings up so that’s what you have to pay.

My beloved says that unless for some reason she uses Instacart, when she shops online at Safeway or Fred Meyers it is store employees that do the shopping for her, and information found on their websites seem to confirm this.

In the UK online shopping is almost all handled by individual stores. The exception is Ocado who have dedicated (and highly automated) warehouses. Inside A Warehouse Where Thousands Of Robots Pack Groceries - YouTube

I still do my shopping in person (well, it gets me out of the house) and I have observed the pickers with their carts in the store. They don’t just grab the nearest item, but I suspect they are trained to pick as if they are shopping for themselves. I see them looking at the back of the shelf for longer dates for example, and actively selecting the better fresh veg.

When I have shopped online I usually select a blanket “no substitutes” because we don’t want a different brand or size of most things.

Grocery store worker here, I see the other side of “shop online” daily.

If you use a service - Instacart, Shipt, etc. - the people shopping and delivering your groceries are NOT employed by the store. The service is independent and the shoppers gig workers/independent contractors. I know that Shipt has training on produce-picking for new shoppers because I’ve asked about that, it wouldn’t surprise me if other services do, too. Because such shoppers want good ratings and tips they have an incentive to please the customer and from what I’ve seen they do a very good job of picking meat, produce, and other items where freshness is paramount.

If you’re using the store’s service/shoppers things may or may not be equivalent. It’s usually NOT “some kid”, most of the shoppers at my store are well into their 30’s and have families of their own they shop for. They are paid the same rate as doing equivalent jobs at the store even if they are indifferent, but at least at my store there’s quality control and any store shopper getting bad reviews or otherwise showing indication of not doing the job properly is quickly removed from that position because even if the shopper doesn’t care store and its management do.

No, online customers are NOT used as a dumping ground for inferior produce. Produce that is damaged but salvageable is run through the deli for turning into pre-cut items and/or deli salads. Produce that is not salvageable winds up in the dumpster out back.

Sometimes the store is out of something. That is not entirely in store’s control, especially this past year. For example, when I went shopping yesterday the store had no plums. Our week’s delivery just hadn’t arrived. OK, there are, like, 25+ other fruits to choose from. Sure, it would be an issue if I had something that absolutely required plums but I didn’t, and even if I did, the store just didn’t have any. From what I’ve seen and been told, if an item is out shoppers do try to contact the customer for guidance on whether to substitute or skip, but customers don’t always respond.

No, not everything in my store is available online. There are various reasons for that, from a vendor not allowing it, alcoholic anything not being available to purchase that way in my state (and my state defines many “non-alcoholic beer” brands as alcoholic nonetheless), to having difference sales in-store vs. online, known supply issues, and probably reasons I’m not aware of. So, if anything, something is missing, not promoted, online due to vendor agreements.

Not sure exactly how that works. As I said, the shoppers I know and work with try to contact the customer for further instructions. Some people are OK with substituting house brands or less expensive items, some are not. Guessing is fraught with peril in such circumstances. If, when shopping online, you tend to pick lower-priced versions of an item then the available substitutions are more likely to be more expensive. If you tend to pick the more expensive brand items then the reverse is true. So this can be a combination of how you shop as much as what the store might or might not be trying to promote.

Nope. The “worst picks” that are still legal to sell we slap with a reduced/clearance price and they’re gone in a flash. Seriously, we have people waiting for the clearance meat, customers who know exactly when we set that stuff out. As a result, we don’t have that much leftover that isn’t legal to sell (usually mishaps or jerks doing stuff like changing their mind about a steak and dropping it on top of the toilet paper aisle or in the canned goods or the garden center or somewhere NOT the meat department and/or the check out and/or at least a store employee) and that goes to the dumpster. We are NOT rewrapping/relabeling it and putting it back on the shelf because we shop for our food here, too and that’s just not going to fly with the other 200 people working at the store.

In other words we don’t need to dump “worst picks” on the online customers. We have other ways to get rid of those that don’t result in angry customers.

To a large extent, "1# Ground Beef 80/20” is all the same provided the packaging is intact. If you want something more specific then you should tell the shopper “the package with the longest time to expiration” or “brightest red” or “dripping the least amount of juices” or whatever is your concern.

Yes, the shoppers move fast. That’s because they’re on the clock/have deadlines/have productivity quotas you don’t. They also shop a lot more than you do and typically know where everything is in the store as well as or better than the store staff do. They learn to make selections quickly, but that doesn’t mean the selections are poorly done.

Just remember that substitutions will on average suck more than not suck. The reason why is you have picked a brand for your own personal reasons (quality, taste, price), and if you have to select a sub you will be the one in charge of the sub. You can try out a new brand, get a sub that s equal quality, or compromise getting a cheaper one knowing that it’s not as good or other. You also know which ones you wouldn’t pick. All that goes always when someone else decides on your behalf. Also when it jsut shows up and you are expecting a certain brand and don’t get it. All that really tends to lead to disappointment.

Thanks. That was interesting. Obviously, that warehouse floor, with the open grid, is unsuitable for actual people. The video seemed to gloss over what was actually happening there, which was that the robots were picking up the bins containing the grocery items and taking them to a location where another robot or a person can remove as many items as requested.

It kind of reminded me of how Webvan tried to do grocery delivery from specialized warehouse locations, each of which cost a lot of money, but ultimately failed. The ones who succeed seem to be the ones fulfilling delivery orders from existing grocery and other big-box stores. And looking at Ocada’s website, they’re not an actual retailer but are developing the technology for others. The website says they’re working with Kroger in the US and have a location in Ohio already.

It’s probably inevitable in at least some cases for less attractive cuts of meat or slightly, um, less than attractive vegetables to be placed in carts for online orders (I’ve run into this phenomenon when buying plants through mail order as opposed to stopping by the greenhouse to pick out my own). I have to say though that the local Kroger has been giving us quality stuff overall and you can’t beat the price for having it brought out to your car and loaded for you (free).

That said, I’m still mystified why certain brands have been unavailable. Why for instance should Barilla regular spaghetti not be offered online while Barilla angel hair and other macaroni products are available (the regular spag is right there on the shelves when you go into the store)?

What substitutes we get are often Kroger house brands, but that winds up to be cheaper for us, if more profitable for Kroger.

I don’t use online grocery shopping but if I did, I’d probably confine the order to stuff that doesn’t involve subjective choice, so no produce and no meat. For some things, particularly produce, I’m very particular what I’m looking for.

That’s what I’m saying. If you don’t specify what you want, it’s not fair to consider it malicious when the picker just grabs the first one they see and moves on down the list.

I’m curious if it simply got missed when they added everything to their online store.

One thing I’ve often said is that if you’re particularly picky about a lot of things, it’s probably just easier to go in and get it yourself. When someone calls into my store and says "I need 4 bananas, they can’t be green, but they can’t be too yellow, I need them to be ready to eat on Thursday, also if there’s only 5 on the bunch I can take the whole thing, unless they’re really big, then just 4’. Meanwhile, all I wrote is ‘4 yellow bananas’, because I can’t write all that for every single thing. And then explain it to the person pulling all the items when they don’t understand something.
And, to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with being particularly picky about everything, but it can make every step of the process more difficult when you’re [the customer] outsourcing your shopping. IMO, from the store side of things, if you call in an order, especially when it involves perishable items, you’re accepting a certain amount of risk.

Quite a few people doing their own shopping just grab the first item without looking at it, too. A couple times a day at the checkout I catch something open/moldly/some other problem that the customer didn’t notice on their own. Is every cashier going to do that? No - there are some pretty terrible cashiers out there (we try to weed them out, but it’s not an instant process). On the flip side, if I notice a problem in the produce aisles I find someone and let them know so they can fix it.

A definite possibility. At my store most changes in stock occur between midnight Saturday and 8 am Sunday, so for the rest of the day on Sunday we are picking up errors (our stores carry 500,000 or more items, with sales and prices changing frequently, so even a small error rate can result in a dozen issues) and that’s the most likely day a shopper will encounter a problem. “Did not make it into the store database” and “someone mistyped the new price/code/whatever” are the two most common we see. I’m sure “failed to be entered into the online shopping choices” happens, too.

^ This.

At a certain point save everyone a lot of grief and go to the store yourself.

I’m not only a very picky shopper (I have to be, with my food allergies, but that’s not produce in my case it’s prepared/convenience/boxed food) but I’m also really, really picky about how it’s handled and packed. In fact, I prefer to bag my own items and my coworkers know this so at this point they don’t even ask anymore, they just know to ring it up and I’ll take care of it. Why should I impose my pickiness on other people (especially people I spend 40 hours a week with)?

Online shopping isn’t for everyone. If it isn’t for you then please continue to do your own shopping. We’re OK with that. Choices are good.

One of my big reasons for not really doing the online shopping thing anymore is that the picker can’t know what you’re trying to do with all your groceries. For example, if I order beef, cream of mushroom soup, egg noodles and sour cream. If you’re out of cream of mushroom soup, I really don’t need anything else because beef stroganoff isn’t happening. If I’m there myself, I can quickly come up with a new dinner plan and grab that stuff, but with online shopping, I may not know about the issue until it’s delivered. There’s one store that uses Shipt. The person shopping for me will text me the entire time (usually about 20ish texts, from placing the order to picking it up) with a lot of them letting me know that they’re out of one thing and asking if I want to sub in something else. I’ve never had the nerve to say ‘welp, if they’re out of X, I don’t need W, Y or Z either, sorry’. I’d feel bad doing that. I end up taking what they do have, running to another store to get the rest then leaving the store (not the shopper, the store) a less than stellar review because their site says it’s in stock even though it isn’t. In that case, the Shipt person said that’s been a consistent issue since they started doing it.

In any case. What I’ve learned is that I need to do my own shopping when my list contains items that, if not in stock, will require other modifications to the list on the fly. But if I’m just ‘stocking up’, then online is fine. In fact, of all the places I’ve tried, I’ve so far found Amazon Fresh to work the best. If for no other reason, I’ve never had something not show up that stated it was in stock. If something out of stock, I know right away, while I’m still putting my order together.

We have had an online order every week since late March 2020. They prepare the order, call when it is ready and we drive over to get it loaded into the car. About half the time, the shopper is an extremely helpful woman. She calls when the order is ready, always tells me about possible substitutions and always gives us the lower price if the substitution is higher price. The produce is always fine (and if it isn’t, she warns us).

My only complaint is their search engine which must have been designed by an idiot. This morning I was searching for buttermilk and the engine found buttermilk biscuits, pancakes, batter-fried chicken, whatnot. I noticed as typed it in a suggestion for 1% buttermilk, so tried that and the buttermilk came right up. If you search for BBQ chicken you get all sorts of crap, sauce and unrelated things. But if you search for barbecue chicken, it is the first item.