We shopped at Whole Foods and Walmart to see which curbside pickup service is better - and the winner is clear
Katie Canales/Business Insider
- Amazon recently launched a curbside pickup service at two Whole Foods locations.
- Walmart has been operating a similar service since piloting a grocery pickup program in 2013.
- I went to Whole Foods to test Amazon's curbside pickup service against Walmart's - and there was a clear winner.
Amazon is not slowing down in its mission to venture into the grocery industry if its new curbside pickup service is any indication.
The company recently announced that it was launching a curbside pickup feature at two Whole Foods locations in Sacramento, California, and Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Available on the company's Prime Now platform, which launched Whole Foods grocery delivery earlier this year, the service allows Prime subscribers to create a grocery list for a Whole Foods employee to assemble, choose a pick-up time, and drive to the store, where their orders can be loaded into their cars.
Walmart has been operating a similar service since piloting its grocery pickup program in 2013.
Curious as to how the two stack up against each other, I ventured to the Sacramento area to test both services - and I'm definitely partial to one of them. This is what I found:
First, I went to the Whole Foods in Sacramento, California, which is one of only two locations that offers the curbside pickup service through Amazon right now. The other location is in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Amazon plans to launch in other cities this year.
To use Amazon's curbside pickup feature at Whole Foods, you have to have an Amazon Prime subscription and download Amazon's Prime Now app, the same one customers use for the company's home delivery service.
After I downloaded Prime Now and entered my Prime log-in information, I chose my pickup location, which in this case is one of two zip codes since only two Whole Foods are providing the service currently.
Next, I started adding items to my grocery list. Some items weren't available through the curbside pickup service, which you can see on the app when the Amazon logo was displayed next to an item instead of the Whole Foods logo.
The app will ask you if you want employees to find substitutes for items that are out of stock, which I agreed to. When my list was complete, it was time to choose a pickup time. The fee for a one-hour pickup window is $1.99 if your total is under $35, but I opted for the $4.99 fee that would allow me to pick up my order within 30 minutes of checking out.
Since orders are stored in appropriate-temperature areas once they're completed by an employee, it's not a big deal if a customer is late. An Amazon spokesperson told me that as long as they arrive before the store closes, they can pick up their groceries whenever. If they don't make it before the store closes, the order is cancelled, and the customer gets a full refund.
One perk of using the service is that you get a reserved parking spot where you can wait for your order to be delivered. The spots weren't hard to find, and they were close to the store entrance.
There were only two spots, though over time that number may grow.
About 30 minutes after checking out on the Prime Now app, I pulled into Pickup Parking Spot No. 1 and followed the instructions to check in on my Prime Now app to notify the store employees that I was here.
Minutes later, an employee showed up with a green cart full of my groceries. She could see on a phone she had that there was alcohol in my order, so she stopped at my window to check my ID. Then she wheeled my order to the trunk, opened the hatch, and placed my brown-bagged groceries in.
I asked her how she liked the new service. She said, "It's fun." And then off she went. The whole service took all of one minute, and it was very no-nonsense. I made it a point to stay in the car to fully experience the "curbside" benefits. But I was curious about my order once she left...
...so I lifted the hatch to find three pristinely packaged bags staring out at me.
The presentation was similar to how groceries through Amazon's home delivery system are packaged. I kept my shopping list simple: avocado, tomato, rosé wine, asparagus, a cooler bag, blueberry coffee cake, eggs, and yogurt.
I was reminded with a little sticker on the bag to take care with any food items I ordered that required refrigeration. I had purchased a cooler bag to transport my groceries since I'd be traveling a fair distance that day, but I'd imagine items like lettuce or milk would be just fine going from the local Whole Foods to a customer's home.
The brown packaging was so aesthetically pleasing that I almost didn't want to ruin it.
But I did, just to make sure that nothing from my order was missing and to survey the quality of the food.
Everything was neatly tucked inside. The yogurt was cold and the vegetables weren't mushy or warm.
I plucked my tomato out to inspect its state. No dents, no leakage, no deformity — exactly what I would spend time searching for if I had done my produce shopping myself.
My bags also came with reminders made by store employees like, "Eggs. Do not SMASH or STACK!!"
A quick inspection showed that the personal shopper had made sure not to pack any cracked or bad eggs.
And my bottle of rosé got its own bag and was marked "Alcohol." At checkout on the app, a tab told me that an ID would be required, since a bottle of alcohol was in my order.
I only experienced one hiccup with the service: I wasn't able to add a particular package of cat food to my order. I tried time and time again to add it to my shopping list, but the only option I was given was to add it to my actual Amazon cart, which would ship the food to my house. I figured maybe that Whole Foods location was out of stock, so I ran in to check...
...but there it was in plain sight. I grabbed a bag and, while ringing it up at the cash register, I asked an employee if she knew why I wasn't able to order it through the curbside service. She replied that since it just launched two days prior, the kinks are maybe just still being worked out.
Even with that road bump, I was pleased with Amazon's curbside pickup service. Using the app was easy, efficient, and even fun, and everything was on time and fresh. The flawless packaging was the icing on the cake. It's a feature that could be the saving grace for people too busy to do their own grocery shopping at Whole Foods.
Next, I went to Walmart, which has been operating its grocery pickup service for much longer.
During checkout, I encountered a few things that I found irksome. I chose items similar to ones in my Whole Foods order in addition to a new pair of socks. When I searched for socks, though, the results were limited.
I also had to order a minimum of $30 worth of items to qualify for curbside pickup, whereas Amazon will allow any total with a $1.99 fee for a one-hour pickup window.
But my biggest qualm with Walmart's curbside pickup was the limited pickup time windows offered. I was ready to check out at about 10:30 a.m., and the soonest I could pick up my order was at 3 p.m. For locals who are at work and can't pick up groceries until they're done for the day, this may not be an issue. But Walmart's pickup service was not for short-notice orders while Amazon's definitely is.
Nevertheless, I sat out the waiting period and pulled up to the Walmart in Dixon, California, at about 2:45p.m.
I'd unknowingly chosen a location that is still in the pilot program for the company's curbside service. The Walmart employee that brought me my order told me it's only been active for three months there. Promotions for the service were displayed everywhere.
The pickup section was clearly marked in brazen orange on one side of the building.
Markings on the street directed me to my reserved parking spot.
I was a little confused at first as to where I should park...
...but as I drove a bit further, I could see a row of orange-marked spots and banners indicating my waiting spot.
There were banners instructing me to text or call when I arrived to notify the pickup team that I was ready to receive my order. I opted to check in on the Walmart Grocery app instead.
A door painted (you guessed it) orange was feet away from the line of reserved pickup parking spots. I figured that's where a Walmart employee would appear to deliver my order to me, which, after a couple of minutes, she did.
Like Amazon, Walmart had an alcohol disclaimer on the app, since I ordered a bottle of wine, and an employee checked my ID at my window.
Unlike Whole Foods, however, I had to give a signature for my order on a tablet, which was fine, but not having to do that at Whole Foods was nice. Again, I waited inside my car until the employee had disappeared before I went to inspect my order.
Right off the bat, I liked Amazon's packaging more than Walmart's. The plastic bags were flimsy, though it's written on the bags that they're hand-washable and able to be reused 125 times. I'm looking forward to trying that.
The food was in good condition. Like my Amazon order, the food was cool, fresh, and wasn't mushy or squished.
I was confused as to why my multi-pack of Altoids needed its own bag though.
I had the same question about my two peaches. Amazon didn't charge me for bags, but Walmart did. Ten cents a bag isn't much, but it still didn't make sense to me that they wouldn't consolidate a bit more efficiently.
Since I was a new customer, I got a fun goodie bag of brochures, Takis snacks, and hand lotion.
Right as I was leaving Walmart, another car pulled in to a pickup spot. I felt a twinge of guilt when I saw her get out of the car to greet the Walmart employee and to open her trunk for her. I'd remained in the car for the entire process, having to yell instructions out of the window to the employee on how to open the trunk.
Overall, I liked both services because the apps were intuitive, the food was fresh and in good condition, and the delivery to my car was efficient and quick. The services had similar limitations in the selection of items that were available for pickup as well. But, despite Amazon's curbside pickup service being in its infancy, I preferred it to Walmart's service.
Amazon's pickup windows were more flexible and convenient, and everything was wrapped nicely and efficiently. On top of that, though Amazon's app was equally as intuitive as Walmart's, I'm more familiar with Amazon's interface design, since I've been using Amazon to shop for ages. I hope Amazon will be expanding its service soon.
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