Online Grocery Shopping for Seniors: Does It Work?

Seniors now can shop for groceries at Wegmans, Walmart and other stores but they have to have a credit card and access to a computer or smartphone. And, yes, they have to pay extra fees for the service

By Mary Khazak Grant

Seniors who are homebound, have limited mobility or just avoid going outdoors during the cold winter months must still find a way to replenish Medigroceries.

Many of them may be socially isolated as well as handicapped — without a good friend or close relative willing to go food shopping. Such was the case for this writer. Lucky for us all, there are several alternatives available in the Rochester metropolitan area which will afford a means to grocery shop without physically maneuvering the trip with great difficulty.

1. Instacart, Inc.

What it is — Wegman’s grocery shopping, powered by Instacart, enables anyone using a device such as a computer, smartphone or Android, to shop for groceries, pay for them and have them delivered to the home at a scheduled time. If new shoppers activate the “express” membership feature, the first delivery to their door will be free. There is an order minimum of $35, and your Wegman’s shopper’s card can be stored. Payment, however, may only be with a registered credit card, in advance. Annual membership, which grants unlimited orders, is $149, paid after a 15-day free trial. Delivery personnel may receive a tip you select. Email alerts and text messages inform the shopper of how the order process is progressing and when the truck is 10 minutes away. If all items are not in stock, you will be messaged to select alternative groceries. The location of the Wegman’s is dictated by your zip code.

My Experience — When I checked off my delivery with a written shopping list, everything was correct, but my bubble gum had been quadrupled! By phone or computer, you can provide detailed instructions for Instacart’s arrival. Those seniors with limited mobility or strength will be overjoyed when the delivery person eagerly brings all packages into your kitchen, depositing them on tables and counters as suggested.

Because this is a special service for Wegman’s shoppers, the store increases prices you pay by about 5 percent. It is a small “tax” to pay for the ease of this shopping experience. Instacart has many users in the Rochester metro area and can accommodate any size grocery order. Share your membership with a neighbor! This experience was headache-free.

2 — The Walmart Grocery Pick Up Service

What it is — Walmart has a grocery-only shopping website where you can place a food order and pick it up later. It’s picked by an experienced team. Your payment will be expected up front, geared strictly to credit cards. The menu features a series of choices for “pick up” with time slots available on the hour for dates up to a week later.

My Experience — Shoppers on walkers or crutches will find this service to be a delightful alternative to using one of the electric grocery carts at the store. The Walmart “pick up” service can immediately be reached at an 800 number or as an extension at your store of choice. They send an email when your order is ready. Then, you park your car in front of the store entrance. Retrieving your cart of groceries after finishing the credit card transaction at a register, you load your trunk and drive away. The team will courteously wheel the cart to load a waiting car. There are no tips expected, and the grocery order is guaranteed fresh or your money back. The first time is free delivery, but after that, an additional fee is about $10 per order.

3 Medical Motor Services shuttles to Wegmans

What it is — Several property management companies of affordable housing for 55-plus seniors offer a free service to tenants who need some extra help in going grocery shopping. For example, Rochester Management, Inc., landlord at Plymouth Gardens, offers a Medical Motor Services shuttle (known to many as Medi-van) to Wegmans every Monday morning at 9:30 a.m. Seniors on walkers or canes, or even in wheelchairs can all be transported. The shuttle driver arrives at the Wegmans, for example, at Calkins Road, drops off his passengers, gives them their “granny carts,” and returns in about 90 minutes. All such groups are pampered at Wegmans. As a courtesy, there is a coffee and cookie bar in the café to enjoy while waiting.

My Experience — Drivers are most careful to “count heads” both going and coming, and no one is ever left behind. Particularly wonderful for those wintry days when the roads are dangerous and difficult for older drivers, these shuttle trips get people smoothly through food shopping with a minimum of fuss or bother. Seniors are assisted in disembarking once home. Courteous Medi-van drivers are always willing to lend an extra hand.

General Criticism

There are quite a few alternatives for seniors who are home bound, in medical recovery or possessing limited mobility — whether temporary or chronic. A home computer is a most useful tool, as is a smart phone. Caretakers, family members or home health aides can assist you in making your first order. Annual membership fees are a good investment. If you have a car, a pick-up service may provide ample aid year-round. Finally, if you might rather enjoy a shuttle Medi-Van service, consider moving into affordable senior housing which accommodates varied medical conditions, affording a more permanent solution.

This senior, while going through a two-month convalescence from knee replacement surgery, tried all three alternatives mentioned. Not having to rely on expensive take out” food orders from local restaurants was more sensible and economical. Instacart, by far, proved to be the most user-friendly, enjoyable and secure service.

A zaftig college student provided an amusing relief to routine.

A Walmart grocery order, placed online for $92, failed to register with the store, did not process payment at all, nor was recoverable after considerable time spent at the computer.

Shuttle service, though available, was not an option for this senior limited to a chair at home, but it may work for you. This writer relies on a SNAP benefit to buy food. To date, none of the services reviewed here will accept electronic fund transfer. When Instacart was approached on this issue, a spokesperson stated that SNAP may become a future option for their shoppers.

How to Use the Services

• Instacart.com

Locations: Some stores participate, search by zip code.

Cost: First time, free delivery. Annual “Express” Instacart membership after a free 15-day trial is $149, payable in advance by credit card, allowing unlimited orders with flexible delivery times and dates. Orders must be more than $35. There is a 5 percent markup on all items. Just one delivery on occasion requires a $15 delivery fee, and at least a 5 percent tip is expected to the delivery person. Also order at the Wegmans website.

• Walmart Food Shopping Pick Up Service

You can use the free Walmart grocery shopping app that can be downloaded at www.grocery.walmart.com/locations/index.html

Pre-pay online with a credit card. Same day delivery for orders received before 1 p.m. Choose a convenient pick up time and location. Only certain stores participate. Experts pick your groceries and load your car. You get the same low store prices. The first order is free, but later on there’s a $50 charge for service on each order.

Mary Khazak Grant is local writer who recently had knee surgery. While recuperating at home, Grant explored several local grocery shopping services for the elderly and those with limited mobility, all out of sheer necessity.

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