WALLINGFORD — Starting Friday, families were encouraged to do their grocery shopping one person at a time. The recommendation comes after Gov. Ned Lamont ordered grocers to limit the number of people in the store at any one time to 50 percent of capacity.
The new directive, another attempt to limit the spread of coronavirus, could prompt even more consumers to use delivery and pickup services, which are mostly at capacity.
On Monday night, Gwendolyn Arral decided to ask the Wallingford CT Community Facebook forum for help getting groceries to her at-risk parents.
The couple, in their 70s, live in Yalesville. Her father has prostate cancer. Because they knew they were high-risk for contracting the coronavirus, they turned to online grocery delivery services. But due to increasing demand, came up short.
“My mom was really upset and she couldn’t find anything available with the shopping services online,” said Arral, a Torrington resident.
The post soon amassed over 100 comments, most from people offering to help for free, even though she offered to pay.
“I was completely surprised and deeply moved, as was my mom,” she said.
Arral said her parents were able to place a pickup order with ShopRite for the weekend. She will probably ask someone who responded to her post to help.
“So many people volunteered,” Arral said. “There’s still so much kindness, there’s still so much good in the world still.”
Her experience is not unlike many in the region looking to get groceries remotely.
When her mom scheduled a pickup with ShopRite, she had to call the customer service department to confirm the time, because the website kept giving her error messages.
ShopRite says the demand for online shopping services is at an all-time high.
“We are working to increase capacity and expand available time slots for pickup and delivery,” the company’s website says.
They ask customers to keep in mind in-store inventory affects orders, as well as purchase limits for certain products.
The increasing demand for delivery services means more work for Instacart shoppers too.
Meriden resident Jennifer Matias said before the coronavirus reached the state, she was doing Instacart part-time, but decided to do it full-time when the amount of orders grew exponentially. Now she usually puts in 12-hour days.
“The high demand right now is crazy,” Matias said. “It’s been a lot of orders.”
Even while she’s filling up more and more orders, she’s seeing more Instacart shoppers in the grocery stores too. This week in Stop & Shop, she said there were 5 or 6 fulfilling different orders at the same time.
Customers make a “batch” through the Instacart app for a specific grocery store. Then shoppers —- independent contractors who have to pass a background check — pick up the items at the store and deliver them to the home. Customers can choose a delivery without any contact, which lets the driver leave the groceries outside their door.
Matias said most of the customers are middle-aged and older. She’s glad she can shop for them, because she knows how important it is that they stay home right now.
“They’re very appreciative,” she said.
As the number of coronavirus cases increases across the state, the demand for online grocery shopping follows.
Stop & Shop suspended its pickup service, but is still offering Peapod deliveries. However, the supermarket has acknowledged challenges due to an “unprecedented demand” and delivery times are extremely limited.
“We expanded availability of delivery times, but given the challenge of keeping items in stock, we can’t expand any more at this time,” the company said.
On Tuesday, delivery times from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. were sold out through April 13. The website did not show future dates.
“Lower product availability doesn’t mean that you can’t get the products that you need. We can often substitute out of stock items for similar items under a different brand name,” said a message posted on the website.
Walmart is experiencing similar problems with the demand for pickup and deliveries.