Seven Tips for Online Food Shopping during COVID-19

The coronavirus has affected how we need to shop. I’ve got a few suggestions on how to get what you want delivered to your doorstep as quickly as possible.

I think it’s clear that if you’re able to stay at home during this COVID-19 pandemic, then you absolutely should. And for me, that includes an ongoing attempt NOT to go to the supermarket to buy food and supplies. I know you could debate whether my choice is too extreme, but it certainly isn’t hurting the larger problem. In fact, in my small way, I’m happy that I’m doing my part to help flatten the curve.

My wife and I successfully stocked up on our essential needs three weeks back before the coronavirus in the U.S. changed life as we knew it. And I felt great that we had enough food and toilet paper to keep us comfortable for over a month.

You may recall the original social distancing recommendation was for a two-week window. In hindsight, of course that was way too short.

Navigating the New Uncertainty of Online Shopping
Over the past days, I’ve come to the realization that since our new reality is going to last some number of months, the only way to access ongoing essential supplies without visiting brick-and-mortar stores is to buy your food online.

But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that finding an open home delivery slot is really difficult and a lot of perishable inventory is sold out. I’ve also found this to be true for important non-perishable items that can simply be shipped out.

The other variable when shopping online is whether the items you’ve successfully ordered are still going to be available when it’s time to deliver them.

There are many unknowns, and the situation is likely to remain extremely fluid.

Extend your Supply Chain
So, it’s clear me after considering all of this, that you’ve really got to plan ahead! And that means rethinking how you’ll go about buying your food.

I’ve quickly come to the realization that this challenge is similar to how a company might source and manage its own supply chain. In fact, I think that’s exactly what it all boils down to… how to extend and maintain your own personal supply chain.

So, if you’re using online ordering as your primary method to bring in your home supplies, here are seven tips to help improve your haul.

#1
Set Up Several Home Delivery Choices for your Perishable Foods
I’ve put in place:

  • Peapod
  • FreshDirect
  • Instacart (a couple of markets I use rely on this service)
  • Whole Foods Market (Amazon)

#2
Maintain Multiple Website Vendors to Ship Non-Perishable Items
I’ve got:

  • Amazon
  • Jet
  • Costco
  • Boxed

#3
Snag Your Delivery Timeslot!
Finding an open delivery slot is the most important piece of the equation. You can usually adjust your order up until the day before your delivery. But if you can’t claim a specific day, your food will just sit in your cart.

#4
Expect Inventory to Vanish at the Last Minute
So, to avoid disappointment, you should order the same items across your different supply chains. The worst that can happen is you’ll receive more than you need. If it’s perishable and you can freeze your extra inventory, great. If not, then you’ll just need to figure it out. It’s a better problem to handle than not having enough food, right?

#5
Plan Out 2-4 Weeks
I’ve found that delivery windows are usually booked solid and only show availability 1-2 weeks out. So, to keep your supplies stocked, you’ve got to think further into the future than that. For me, it’s an entirely new way to ‘hunt and gather.’
(Yes, what’s old is new again.)

#6
Check Available Delivery Slots Several Times a Day
You’ve got to catch new slots shortly after they become available and before they’re scooped up. Keep trying!

#7
Remain Flexible and Tenacious
Today, I happen to be a bit annoyed with Fresh Direct, because I’ve not been able to find a delivery slot for two days. And I’m also pleasantly surprised that I was able to catch a same-day delivery opportunity from Whole Foods Market via Amazon. That said, I couldn’t find most of the produce I wanted. Still, I received part of what we needed in three hours, not two weeks.

It’s all relative. We’ve simply got to apply a different mindset to shopping now. Forget about ‘one-stop-shopping’ convenience. That’s so 2019.

When I was a kid, my mom would proudly talk about visiting several supermarkets in our New York City neighborhood until she was able to find everything she was looking for… exactly the way she liked it. I’m not sure I’m going to be getting anything exactly the way I like it, but applying my mother’s mindset of ‘tenacious search’ should serve me and my family well in the months to come.

Specialty Food Companies
Another supply-chain option is identifying online businesses that specialize in sourcing and selling specific foods direct to you.
(Think seafood or fresh produce.)

I’m still exploring this. More thoughts soon…

Ethics
So, I know there’s a ‘slight’ ethical snag to this whole system. It’s all based on someone else going shopping for me or working onsite at a company that’s shipping me my supplies. And that means they’re not at home protecting themselves and their families like I’m trying to do. By taking less risk, I’m necessarily transferring some of that to someone else.

It opens up huge economic and social questions. I’m doing my part to flatten the curve, but I know my actions will still create ripples into a much larger pond with endless repercussions I will never know about.

What’s for Dinner?
These are scary times, and there are few easy answers. Considering everything we’re dealing with, if we can take advantage of technology to help us put food on the table while keeping us and our loved ones away from the coronavirus, I think that’s essentially a good practice.

You’ve just got to put together a dependable supply chain online with multiple sources and keep track of it all!

And then stay tenacious… like my mom.

Now, it’s time to get to work.