Digital Living

Why Walmart Grocery Isn’t the Future of Grocery – Yet

For as long as I can remember, Aldi has been my first choice for groceries. They beat nearly every other grocery chain when it comes to price (cost).  Plus, I enjoy the control I have over the shopping experience. There’s just something satisfying about being able to bag your own groceries without worrying some random high schoolers will smash everything you just bought.

The only knock I had on Aldi – at least in relation to my three major values of cost, control, and convenience – was the convenience aspect.  While the store layout made shopping quick, the use of technology as a digital convenience was strangely absent, and at the end of the day, I had to spend 30 minutes of each week in a pattern of manual redundancy – picking out the same items each shopping trip.

That’s where Walmart Grocery Pickup came into my life (as noted in my previous article on Four Focus Areas for Digital Frugalism).  Over the last month, with the exception of one week of Aldi relapse, I consistently turned to Walmart Grocery to satisfy my weekly grocery shopping needs.  While I estimated I could save about a buck on my weekly grocery bill by going to Aldi, I found that Walmart better aligned with my value for convenience. By my calculations, that 30-minute time savings more than justified the difference.

So in the battle between cost, convenience, control, Walmart was winning the battle of convenience, Aldi retained the cost crown, with the deciding factor coming down to control. More specifically, this meant the grocery provider I would anoint as my go-to moving forward would hinge on how much control the two gave me over my own life.

As I examined how well Walmart’s service met the ‘control’ part of the equation I started to realize my momentary Aldi relapse may once again become the norm. It was all because Walmart didn’t give me the control I needed, at least not yet…

Lack of Control in Building Your Cart

I appreciated the digital tools Walmart provides in their Grocery app, but they don’t provide the full control I desire.  For example, most weeks I wind up buying the same cart of goods, with a few modifications or additions based on the needs of the week.  While the app tracks my favorite foods, enabling me to add them to my digital cart, It doesn’t give me full control over this process.  I’d love to save a “template” cart that I could use to one-click re-order each week, or at least modify and build from as my weekly needs arise.

Inability to Reschedule

I live a pretty simple life, so getting to Walmart during the time slot I select isn’t usually a problem; however, life happens (probably more to others) and being able to reschedule your pickup on the fly would be nice. For example, my family (Sister, Brother-in-Law, and nieces) wanted to go see a movie one Saturday morning. As much as I would have liked to attend, and had actually suggested the idea earlier in the day, I realized I already had a pre-scheduled pickup set for Walmart at the exact same time.  When I tried to bump the pickup back a couple of hours, I realized the attempt was tuile. Not only can you not reschedule after a certain point, but I had already been notified the order was ready – well before it’s scheduled time.

I’m sure the logistics of narrowing the reschedule window concern Walmart as a corporation (Where do they store the order? How long do they allow pickups to be delayed? How do they avoid pickup slots getting overcrowded?), but it’s a level of control that is important to its user base.

Inability to Plus 1 the Order

Every single week I forget something.  One week it might be salsa, the next its toilet paper, but I consistently find at least one item that needs to be added to my order between the time the order gets locked in and when I want to pick it up.  Sure I could run into Walmart once I’m there and pick it up before I get my grocery order, but that defeats the purpose of curbside pickup.  I usually just deal with not having it, or wind up getting it somewhere else (yes, Aldi) on the way home from work sometime later in the week.  Being able to add a last-second item to your cart, even if it’s already been picked, would give me a greater sense of control and Walmart a higher basket size per customer.

Uncertainty Around Your Actual Pickup Time

With Walmart Grocery Pickup, you choose a 1-hour window within which you pick up your groceries, but I’ve found the actual pickup time varies with each order.  Sometimes I’ll get notified the order is ready over 30 minutes before the time slot starts and other times it will be much closer to the window I selected. This means I could easily get there before my window or I’m left wondering if I should risk getting into my car and driving there, only to find it’s not ready.

Uncertainty Around How Long You’ll Wait

My average grocery shopping time is probably around 30 minutes.  My average wait time for Walmart pickup is approximately 10.  While that does amount to time savings, I’ve seen the pickup take from 2 minutes to about 15.  Not only is it maddening when you don’t know when they’ll come out, the closer you get to that 15-minute mark, the more you wish you’d gone in and shopped yourself.  Especially if you only purchase about $30-40 worth of groceries each week as I do.

Inability to Digitally Manage Your Rejections

Allowing for substitutes is one of the awesome perks of Walmart’s service. Even better – you can reject the substitutions you don’t like. But you must select which items you’re willing to allow substitutes on upfront and don’t always know what’s been substituted until you pick up your order.

More than once I’ve benefited from getting a higher quality product for the same price; however, this doesn’t always work out. Three weeks in a row I requested light yogurt and found they had substituted the regular, which I didn’t want and wound up rejecting.  In retrospect, I should have disallowed substitutes on that item; however, after the second or third rejection I would expect at least one of two things to happen: 

1) Their stock out system would get updated to prevent me from even selecting it in the first place.

2) The artificial intelligence (AI) built into their system would catch the fact I’d rejected the same thing three times and either recommend a different substitute or prevent a substitute entirely.

Either way, not being able to manage my rejections reduces my control, and more than once has left me without the week’s supply of yogurt I need to round out my breakfast.

In Conclusion

Walmart’s Grocery service is a step towards our digital future, but perhaps not a step far enough to keep me from Aldi – at least not yet.

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