06 September 2008

Big City Service Review: Peapods

You know you live in a city when....

the local grocer carries more than one type of olive oil. Or carries olive oil at all. Or, let's face it (and sadly), you have a local grocer instead of a super WalMart.

One of the big things I was dreading upon moving back to the US was the lack of delivery for groceries. Going to multiple stores for the food that we eat was one of the things I did not miss at all, nor did I miss driving an hour (F'Burg to Richmond) to buy an organic vegetable, when we lived in the mid-Atlantic last time. Moving to the UK and discovering grocery delivery rocked. It meant not driving at all, ever. It meant spending 10-15 minutes on-line putting stuff in the cart instead of an hour in the store squinting at labels and inspecting veggies. It meant no distractions, no parking, no struggle to remember what we had last time that was good, fewer choices. We like fewer choices. I blogged about this before.

When we moved to Baltimore I did not assume that the same service would be available. Folks in Seattle and SF and NYC might get delivery, but they are the privileged few, and this would not occur second-tier big cities. I am so so happy to be wrong. We had our first batch of Peapod-delivered Giant groceries this past Wednesday. Stoked!

Ease of on-line GUI: 3.5 out of 5. I will update this rating upon our second delivery, when the interface will have a history of what I've ordered before. Navigation through the virtual shelves was good. Searching was occasionally problematic, returning a shelf rather than an object, trying to guess the brand I want when I'm not interested in brands, I'm interested in the food type and whether it can be had in an organic variety. So the lean towards the brands was a bit, er, American for my taste. But you can select "natural and organic" on the top level, which then means all of your subsequent navigations hit the org stuff first. Not sure what "natural" means, but...

You can pick your delivery slot after shopping, which isn't the case for some of the UK versions. This I like. And the page doesn't reload when you add to your cart, which is good--you don't have to wait, just click and then scroll on down. Also nice: all objects from a shelf/search are displayed in one page, so no clicking through to multiple pages. Anyone buying groceries on-line will most likely have a better-than-dialup connection and thus long lists of items works just fine. Good information about the products as well.

Delivery options and cost: full disclosure here--my threshold for cost of grocery delivery is quite high. Peapod reduces your cost the more you buy. Over $100 it's $6.95 plus a fuel surcharge of $1 and change. (What is it with US nickel and diming? Just charge $8 already. Anyway...). This is comparable to the UK delivery charge (£2.50-£6). You can book a 2-hour window, which isn't as good as Sainsbury's (1 hour) but equals Tesco. Or if you know you're home all morning or all afternoon, you can select that option (7:30-1) and save $2. All of this is well within my threshold. How much would you pay someone to go to the store for you, select the food you want, pay for the gas, save you the hassle of unloading the cart, bagging, loading the stuff in your cart then into your car, then carrying it into your house? That's worth a lot more than $8. They'd have to charge me $15 before I'd start hesitating. And I'd still pay it. Oh, and I ordered Tuesday evening around 4 pm for a delivery slot of Wednesday morning. Had my groceries by 11:30.

Delivery itself: The driver had my number and so could call for directions/instructions. He was very courteous and helpful. the food came in heavy-duty cardboard boxes which we will give them back next time. I tipped him--one doesn't do this in the UK, so I was a bit concerned it was the wrong thing to do, but then I realized I was in the US, and thus...The only option not available (yet?) with Peapod is one involving less plastic. Tesco offers a 'green' option in which they show up with plastic bins with your groceries loose--they wait as you unload it, so it takes a bit longer. Peapod could do this easily with their nice boxes--I'd even pay a deposit for the boxes if necessary to reduce the packaging.

Food quality: excellent. This is the one where friends say: but I want to pick my own eggplant/peaches/lettuce! What if it's rotten? What if it's about to expire? It is in the interest of the store and the delivery service to give you the absolute best, most beautiful, fabulous, without blemish produce you have ever seen. It is also in their interest to provide food that expires at least a few days in the future, but ideally at least a week out. I find food that expires further out than that to be suspect on a number of levels, but that's me (I finally threw out the half and half we bought when we first arrived (August 15) this week, even though it was ostensibly still fine--it's not fine. it's not okay. milk should go bad within a week of opening. moving on.) I am impressed with the quality of the food we got from Peapod/Giant, especially since I wasn't so much trusting Giant on this. But they completely overwhelmed with the freshness of the produce and the beauty of the lettuce. The only problem with ordering produce on line is that sometimes it's not the size you're envisioning (esp. for organic veg which tends to be smaller). This you figure out with time. No surprises with Pea/Giant.

Overall: Great, positive experience. We'll see how it develops as the usage increases. Hopefully it will maintain its high quality and be able to add in some of the small things I'd like--mostly the low-plastic/packaging options.

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