Food News

Online Grocery Delivery Gets the Essentials to Your Door, but How Do the Services Stack Up?

Spoiler alert: Shipt FTW!
Spoiler alert: Shipt FTW! Photo via Shipt
Nowadays the simple act of going to the grocery store is fraught with peril: Will the staff and customers be wearing personal protective equipment (PPE)? Are they practicing safe distancing? Do they even have toilet paper and eggs?

At a press conference last week, White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx recommended staying home altogether: "This is the moment to not be going to the grocery store, not going to the pharmacy, but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe."

Internet-based delivery services allow customers to bypass the brick and mortar by letting someone else do the shopping. But like all industries, personal-shopper services have been affected by the pandemic, suffering setbacks ranging from site crashes to out-of-stock items to nonexistent delivery windows.

To gauge how the major services perform amid coronavirus craziness, New Times signed up for Instacart, Shipt, and Amazon Prime Now and ordered the same list of essentials from each.

Then we sat on our keister and waited for our provisions to arrive.

Our grocery list:

eggs (1 dozen, brown)
lettuce (1 head, romaine)
bananas (3)
chicken breast (1 pound fresh, boneless, skinless)
hand soap (1 bottle)
toilet paper (6-roll pack)
paper towels (6-roll pack)

Specificity reigns when ordering through these portals, but availability is another matter entirely. We gave our shoppers all possible leeway to substitute items. We also requested that they text rather than call when the groceries have been delivered to the front door.

We tipped each shopper $5. (You should tip too.)

Note: Required minimums for waiving delivery fees are calculated from the total price of the original order, not the price of items delivered.

Amazon Prime Now

Amazon Prime Now offers an annual ($119) or monthly ($12.99) membership that includes free delivery on all orders over $35. The service is covered under the Amazon Prime umbrella, which also includes videos, e-books, and Twitch gaming. But although Amazon offers delivery from local grocers in some areas, Miami is not one of them, so the only grocery option is the Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market.

No delivery windows were available Monday evening. Tuesday morning brought a window of 7 to 9 p.m. Three items — toilet paper, paper towels, and eggs — were out of stock at the time we placed our order. Fresh chicken breasts were unavailable; we settled for frozen chicken tenders. Ditto head lettuce, so we opted for bagged hearts of romaine. 

Texts began pouring in at 6:30 p.m. At 7:15, our shopper knocked on the door to signal the groceries had arrived. All items were packaged in sealed in foil envelopes.

Of the four items we were able to order, there was one substitution: one pound of strawberries (?!) instead of three bananas.

Grocery total: $18.60 (tax included). Delivery fee $4.99.


Instacart Express offers an annual ($99) or monthly ($9.99) membership that includes free delivery on all orders over $35; you can also pay delivery fees as you go (the option we chose). Grocery merchants include Publix, Costco, Milam's, and the Fresh Market but vary depending upon the customer's location.

We placed a Publix order Monday evening at 6. All items were in stock. "Express delivery" promised the order would arrive between 8 a.m. Tuesday and 9 p.m. Wednesday.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, our shopper began messaging through the app about unavailable items and updates on substitutions.

An hour later, the shopper knocked on the door and left the items on the porch.

Three items — paper towels, toilet paper, and chicken breasts — were unavailable.

There were three minor substitutions: "vegetarian" eggs for "cage-free," green leaf lettuce for romaine, and Dial hand soap for whatever we had more-or-less-randomly specified.

Grocery total: $9.62 (tax included). Delivery fee $3.99; service fee $2.


Shipt, which is owned by Target, offers an annual ($85) or monthly ($14) membership that includes free delivery on all orders over $35. The service boasts that it shoots for same-day delivery that can be as fast as one hour. Grocery merchants include Publix, Sedano's, Costco, Winn-Dixie, and Target but vary depending upon the customer's location.

We purchased a one-month membership Monday evening, but Shipt's site wouldn't function when we attempted to order. We placed our Publix order at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning, at which time all items were listed as in stock. Same-day delivery was promised in a window from 9 to 11 a.m. 

Almost immediately, our shopper began texting with minute-by-minute information, including the fact that the store's supplies were low.

At 11 a.m., the shopper texted that she was en route. At 11:18 a.m., she texted she had left the groceries on the porch (and to have a nice day).

Paper towels, chicken breasts, and hand soap were unavailable.

There were two minor substitutions, in brands and prices for toilet paper and eggs, and we received two bananas, not three.

Grocery total: $20.33 (tax included). Delivery fee waived with monthly membership; no service fee.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times, covering the restaurant and bar scene in South Florida. She has been featured on Cooking Channel’s Eat Street and Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. Doss won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature on what it’s like to wait tables. In a previous life, she appeared off-Broadway and shook many a cocktail as a bartender at venues in South Florida and New York City. When she’s not writing, you can find Doss running some marathon then celebrating at the nearest watering hole.
Contact: Laine Doss