We know you’re new at this. We’re here to help.

By Stacey Ballis
March 27, 2020
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I have been using grocery delivery services since the mid-1990s, which is when Peapod launched in my hometown of Chicago. As a busy person with a job that made regular grocery shopping complicated, I considered it a veritable godsend. When Instacart began serving Chicago in 2016 I was both an early adopter and passionate advocate. By that time, I was a full-time, work-from-home freelancer. Most of my work involved recipe development, and being able to get groceries and supplies delivered to my door without having to go out and shop helped to keep me very productive.

As coronavirus-inspired stay-at-home mandates shift Americans from shopping in person to using delivery services, I’m here to keep you from making mistakes along the way. Because the last thing we need in these stressful times is misunderstanding on either side of the equation.

Mistake #1: Ordering too little

As you begin to shop virtually, you’ll find that most services have a threshold of spending in order to get free delivery. You should always buy enough to hit that number, or the service will not be cost effective for you. If you are falling short on your order, think about basic household supplies that you always go through to get you to the free delivery threshold. Personally, dishwasher detergent pods are my go-to of choice if I’m light in my virtual cart.

Mistake #2: Not being specific

Most services allow you to either choose a specific replacement for an out-of-stock item or a place to write a little note to your shopper. ALWAYS USE THESE OPTIONS. Your shopper is not a mind reader; the more guidance you give them, the better. I once ordered tortilla chips and received Cheetos. Now, it might have led to the invention of Cheetoquiles (you’re welcome, America) but ultimately, it wasn’t a quality swap-in. If I had chosen another brand of tortilla chips or made a notation of “any brand lightly salted tortilla chips”, things would have gone smoother.

Don’t be afraid to be specific. Notations like look for sweet potatoes that are under 6 inches long and feel heavy for their size, or please, only full-fat small-curd cottage cheese—replace with two tubs smaller size if needed, are helpful. If you’re super brand loyal, then be sure to tap the Do Not Replace button.

Mistake #3: Being unavailable to your shopper

Many services allow for your shopper to be in touch with you to answer questions or get guidance. If at all possible, try to have your phone near you for fast texting responses so that you are able to get the best possible experience. They want you to be happy, so help them help you for a win/win! This also includes being sure you are ready to answer the door and receive your packages or have provided a safe place for them to leave your shopping. Many of the delivery people have to double park to make the drop off, so waiting for you to get off a call and meander to the door is difficult for them. Most services will send you a text to let you know they are on their way or have a button to click to allow them to drop off unattended. Be smart and considerate: Everyone wins.

Mistake #4: Not being patient/kind with your shopper

Never has common courtesy been more important than right now. These hardworking people are literally out in the world putting themselves at risk to bring you your pandemic supplies, so as stressed as you might be, remember to be patient with them as delays may occur, and know that they are doing their best in a time of shortages and many items being out of stock. As frustrating as it can be to keep getting messages that your preferred items are unavailable, your shopper did not order the store's supplies, and did not hoard the toilet paper, so take a deep breath and be happy for whatever they are able to do for you.

Mistake #5: Not tipping appropriately

Yes, most tips are set up as a percentage of the total cost of your spend, but do pay attention to the kind of work you are asking your shopper to do. For example, if you ordered three wedges of French cheese and a bottle of bubby, your total might be well over three figures, but you are ultimately talking about a simple shop and lightweight carry. But if you ordered 25 pounds of potatoes, three cases of bottled water, and 10 bags’ worth of other groceries, your bill total might be the same as the first order, but the work involved and the physical demand to deliver will be much greater. If your shopper is going to have to do multiple trips from their car to your porch? Up that tip, people. And for the moment? Err on the side of generosity: They are doing the good work of the world.

Mistake #6: Not taking advantage of customer service

You will, at some point, have a frustrating experience with a delivery service. I have had orders accidentally cancelled, missing or damaged items, and had whole bags delivered to someone else by mistake. Customer service has always been super responsive, and items quickly refunded, or credits given. In some cases, replacement items have been delivered really quickly. So instead of being angry, first reach out through customer service channels to see if you cannot rectify your experience. Much of my passion for these services has as much to do with how they handle the problems as how effective they are at the service itself.