Walmart Grocery Pickup
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I Tried Walmart's Grocery Pickup and This Is What Happened

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Walmart Grocery Pickup
Cheapism

I Tried Walmart's Grocery Pickup

Note: This story, written before the coronavirus pandemic, has been updated to reflect changes to Walmart's curbside pickup program.

I'm a very picky shopper, the sort who likes to scrutinize every item before it goes in the cart. In other words, I actually like going to the grocery store. What I dislike are the crowds, so the idea of ordering groceries online and picking them up at my convenience does have some appeal. I had never shopped for groceries at Walmart. Ever. But curiosity got the better of me, so I decided to try Walmart Grocery's free pickup service and find out what it's all about.

Related: Grocery Stores With Special Hours for Seniors and Other At-Risk Shoppers

Walmart Grocery
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Grocery Pickup During the Pandemic

Like other major grocers, Walmart has seen a dramatic spike in online orders for grocery pickup during the coronavirus pandemic. Here's what we know:

Curbside pickup is operating for existing orders, but good luck placing a new order. Walmart currently offers only a 48-hour window for scheduling pickups; previously, I could schedule a pickup a week in advance. On March 20, a search of 18 stores in the Austin, Texas, area yielded only one store with available slots for the following morning. But Walmart's servers were so overwhelmed that I couldn't select that slot — even though it showed up as available — and gave up after several tries. Searching Central Texas, I found an open slot at a Walmart in New Braunfels some 60 miles away.

Walmart stores are open for walk-in customers, but hours have been cut back to 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. nationwide to allow workers additional time to stock shelves and fill existing orders.

Stores open Tuesdays at 6 a.m. for customers ages 60 or older. Some Walmarts are also limiting the number of shoppers who can be in the store at one time. This is scheduled to last at least until April 28, according to a company news release.

Some grocery items will be limited, including: paper products, milk, eggs, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, water, diapers, wipes, formula, and baby food, according to the company website.

Choosing Store
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Choosing Your Store

Back in October 2018, when this was first written, only a few Walmart Supercenters in Austin offered grocery order pickup. These days, every Walmart in the area does, making it easy to find a store. Just plug your ZIP code into the site's search window in the upper right and you'll be presented with a list of all stores nearby, based on distance. I selected my closest option and got set to shop. Note: Walmart requires a $30 minimum on all pickup orders.

The Website and App
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The Website and App

The Walmart Grocery website has a clean, modern design that will be familiar to anyone who has used Walmart.com or SamsClub.com. Your cart occupies the right edge of the screen, with your subtotal clearly displayed in large blue type at the bottom. On the Walmart Grocery app, your total is displayed right beside the cart icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Desktop or mobile, the bulk of the page is devoted to browsing promotional items and staples such as milk, toilet paper, and produce. You can also shop for groceries by department or search for specific items, just as you would on Walmart's main site.

Shopping and Selection
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Shopping and Selection

Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually front and center at the grocery store, so I started my shopping by perusing the produce. In general, selection is pretty good — you'll find everything from artichokes to yellow squash — but there are limits. For instance, I found gala, granny smith, Fuji, and honeycrisp apples, but not other common varieties such as golden delicious or McIntosh. (I opted for a 6-pound bag of organic honeycrisps.) In the meat department, I found plenty of fresh beef, pork, and chicken, but couldn't find lamb or veal, while fresh seafood was limited to salmon, trout, and tilapia. Dairy and staples such as cereal were plentiful. I didn't find all the ingredients for a fancy Julia Child recipe or my favorite brand of Icelandic skyr, but I had no trouble finding my go-to groceries for the week.

A Test
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Two Tests

One of the reasons I quit using grocery-delivery services was that frozen items such as ice cream almost always ended up more cream than ice. (Did I mention how hot it can get in Austin?) So I added a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream to my cart to find out whether frozen food would stay frozen. I also chose a bottle of red wine to see how Walmart would handle online liquor sales.

Placing My Order
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Placing the Order

Once you click the "Check Out" button, you'll be asked to log in to your Walmart account; if you don't have one, you'll have to create one. It was 12:30 p.m. on a Friday when I placed my order, and the soonest I could pick up my groceries was between 5 and 6 p.m. that afternoon. I wasn't in a big hurry, so instead I opted to pick up my groceries the next morning between 8 and 9. Next, I had to enter my personal info and provide a credit card (you have the option of saving your payment method as well), and opted for text-message updates about my order as well as email confirmation. Another nice touch: Walmart gave me until 1:45 a.m. Saturday to make changes to the order.

Note: With a surge in recent online orders for grocery pickup, your experience may differ.

How Long Did It Take?
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Time Spent Shopping

Shopping online at Walmart took longer than it probably would have if I'd just shopped at the store itself. Browsing took about an hour, but I'll attribute that mostly my not being familiar with the site. If I were a regular user, I could have added all of my favorites with one click, speeding up the process significantly.

Oops (My Bad)
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Oops (My Bad)

A couple of hours after I placed my order, I realized that I'd scheduled my grocery pickup for the same time as my dog's appointment with her veterinarian. Although I could access my order from the confirmation email and make changes to my grocery list, there was no option for changing my scheduled pickup time. That's a small but significant drawback, in my opinion. (Fortunately, I have a forgiving vet.)

Ping! Groceries Are Ready
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Ping! Groceries Are Ready

At 7:58 the next morning, I received a text from Walmart, letting me know my order was ready when I was. A few seconds later, a similar email popped into my inbox. All I had to do was check in before I left the house. That's as easy as a tap on the app, but if you don't have a smartphone, you need to call Walmart to let them know you're on your way. The app displayed a map with the Walmart Supercenter where I was going, but to my disappointment, I couldn't tap it and get driving directions the way I could if I were using Google Maps, for instance.

The Pickup
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The Pickup

It was impossible to miss the vivid orange signs in the Walmart parking lot marking the route to the grocery pickup zone. And just in case I missed those signs, the entire corner of the building where you pick up your order is also painted bright orange. Kudos to Walmart for this thoughtful touch. It was 8:15 a.m. and I was the only person in the pickup lot. I parked and waited maybe a minute before a door opened and a young sales associate came walking toward me, toting my groceries on a cargo cart. She greeted me with a smile — and a voucher for $10 off my next grocery order — then checked my ID to confirm my order (and allow my wine purchase) and helped me load the car. The whole process took maybe five minutes and was totally painless.

Note: With a surge in recent online orders for grocery pickup, your experience may differ.

The Unbagging: What I Liked
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The Unbagging: What I Liked

All of my groceries arrived in plastic grocery bags, except for a few bulky items such as seltzer and a whole salmon fillet. Everything I had ordered was in stock except some bagged greens, which were deducted from my order. Nothing appeared damaged, at first glance. The wine was swaddled in thick, padded kraft paper, the kiwis and bananas were firm and unblemished, the sweet potatoes solid, the clementines pristine. My cheese, yogurt, and almond milk all felt as though they had been refrigerated properly, but the ice cream had thawed to the consistency of somewhere between soft serve and milkshake.

The Unbagging: What I Disliked
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The Unbagging: What I Disliked

The corn on the cob had clearly seen better days, the husks dried and tips withered, but once I'd peeled and trimmed the ends, it was surprisingly good for out-of-season corn. The honeycrisp apples were the only true disappointment. Most of the puny apples in the 6-pound bag were bruised to the point of being unappetizing, though still quite edible. This is the main reason I never buy bagged apples from any grocery store: They're frequently second-quality, small, and inevitably damaged in the journey from farm to store. I could have called Walmart to receive a refund, but frankly, it wasn't worth the bother for such a minor purchase. Had it been an expensive item like the pound of salmon or bottle of wine, you can bet I would have called customer service, though.

The Verdict: Thumbs Up (Sorta)
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The Verdict: Thumbs-Up (Sorta)

Would I use Walmart's grocery pickup service again? I'll give it a qualified yes. For picky shoppers like me, the convenience is outweighed by the pleasure of choosing groceries myself, especially fresh produce. And I work from home, so I can shop pretty much whenever I feel like it. But if I were a busy parent juggling the daily commute, after-school activities, and daily errands, or someone with a disability that makes shopping difficult, there's no question that a service like this could come in handy. Worth noting: Walmart Grocery employees aren't allowed to accept tips, but you can pay it forward by leaving them positive feedback during the optional online review process.