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.
choosing your store
Not every Walmart Supercenter offers grocery pickup. Of the nine stores in central Austin, Texas, where I live, grocery pickup is offered currently at only three stores. The one closest to me doesn't offer the service (yet), but the Walmart Grocery website located two other stores nearby that did. I selected my closest option and got set to shop. Note: Walmart requires a $30 minimum on all pickup orders.
the website and app
Walmart Grocery's 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 like 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
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 like 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 like 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.
One of the reasons why I quit using grocery-delivery services was that frozen items like 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 and Jerry's ice cream to my cart to find out whether or not frozen food would stay frozen. I also chose a bottle of red wine in order to see how Walmart would handle online liquor sales.
placing my order
Once you click on 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 p.m. 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.
how long did it take?
Shopping online at Walmart took longer than it probably would have if I'd just shopped at the store itself. All told it 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, significantly speeding up the process.
oops (my bad)
A couple hours after I placed my order, I realized that I'd scheduled my grocery pick-up 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 pick-up time. That's a small but significant drawback, in my opinion. (Fortunately, I have a forgiving vet.)
ping! groceries are ready
At 7:58 a.m. 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 in-box. All I had to do was check in before I left the house. That's as easy as a tap on their app, but if you don't have a smartphone, you'll 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.
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 my wine purchase) and helped me load the car. The whole process took maybe five minutes and was totally painless.
the unbagging: what i liked
All of my groceries arrived in plastic grocery bags, except for a few bulky items like 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 to be 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 it 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
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 get 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)
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 at home, so I can pretty much shop 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 can 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.