As COVID-19 spreads, Americans are looking for ways to buy the essentials without going to the grocery or big-box store and risking infection. That's why many stores are ramping up so-called contactless shopping services, where consumers can buy items online and then pick up their purchases either in the store or at the curb.
The concept is not new: Almost half of shoppers, 46%, had used the service even before the coronavirus spread, according to a Offers.com survey from January. But, from March 14 to March 25, the number of people Googling "curbside pick up" tripled, according to Google Trends.
Here are the pros and cons of contactless shopping, and which of the big chains are offering it.
Before the pandemic, one of the biggest benefits of in-store and curbside pickup options was avoiding a delivery fee, says Kristin McGrath, shopping expert at Offers.com. That's still a perk but now shoppers see added benefits of reducing or eliminating their time in stores: "In the current climate, the chief benefit is that it provides an avenue for shopping that lowers contamination risk," she says.
Pickup might also be faster and more reliable than waiting for items to be delivered because the delivery system is more fragile given the rapidly growing demand, says Phil Lempert, consumer analyst best known as The Supermarket Guru.
Amazon has warned of shipping delays and shortages. Meanwhile, workers in one of its New York warehouses plan to strike. Instacart's contract workers also plan to strike and refuse to fill orders until the company agrees to provide benefits including hazard pay of $5 per order, free safety gear including hand sanitizer, and expanded paid sick leave.
"You don't have a stable workforce, and in some cases, you've got a very unhappy workforce because they believe they are being cheated on their tips or they're not being compensated fairly," Lempert says.
Opting for curbside or in-store pickup lets you circumvent delivery issues because staffers from the store itself prepare the item for pickup, which eliminates an extra step.
As more states issue stay-at-home or shelter-in-place orders, contactless shopping may also be your only way to make some discretionary purchases.
Whether a store can allow shoppers inside depends on whether the state considers it "essential." According to the Department of Homeland Security guidelines, which many states are going by, "food and agriculture" and "water" businesses are essential, which is why a store that sells a variety of goods including groceries can stay open, but one that only sells shoes can't.
So, while all DSW locations are closed to shoppers, you can order online and do curbside pickup.
In-store and curbside pickup doesn't always work as smoothly as you might like. Because grocery stores are overwhelmed with orders, your order might not be ready exactly when it is supposed to be.
Be sure to check with your local laws and restrictions and be sure you are complying with any guidelines about sheltering in place or staying at home. For example, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland issued a statewide "stay at home" order that says all nonessential stores can no longer offer curbside pickup. Their goods can be delivered, though.
With in-store and curbside pickup trending, it's smart to keep an eye out for these options when you're placing orders online. Here are some of the stores offering these services, and what you can expect:
Walmart offers no-contact curbside pickup where all you have to do is pop your trunk and an employee will load the groceries. Target also offers in-store and curbside pickups for many items, although it has temporary paused pickup for fresh groceries and alcoholic beverages, according to a press release.
Home Depot, where you may find essentials like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, is offering in-store pickup where you must take your ID and your order confirmation to a service desk in the store to retrieve your purchase. Lowe's has a similar service.
"Office supplies are where we're seeing an uptick [in sales]," says Sara Skirboll, a shopping trends expert at RetailMeNot, as Office Max and Office Depot both offer curbside pickup. Don't count office-focused stores out for household shopping, either: They typically carry cleaning supplies, beverages and snacks.
"This is the new normal and it's not going away anytime soon," Skirboll says.
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