Taking Action: We put grocery delivery services to the test

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - So many moms are time-starved and searching for solutions to make their lives easier. I became a mom last year and it’s been a great, life changing experience so far. Like many of you, I take on the task every week. Imagine my delight when I found out there are options available in our area that mean I can get what I need without leaving home. WHNT NEWS 19 is Taking Action to show you these shortcuts and find out if they’re worth the price you pay.

Sarah Jones Whelchel is a wife and mother of three boys.

"I have Mason who is eight, Easton who is six and Carson just turned one,” says Jones Whelchel.

Their schedule is packed.

"The blue is sports, the red is school stuff and the green is other,” says Jones Whelchel, describing the family calendar posted prominently in the family's kitchen. "It’s just nonstop. Book fairs, meetings and sports every day of the week almost.”

Fitting in trips to the grocery store was a bit much. Now, she skips it. Each week, instead of hauling kids and carts through the aisles of a store, someone else does the heavy lifting. This way, Jones Whelchel saves that time for what really matters.

"Is that really how the three of us want to spend our time?" asks Jones Whelchel. "We really want to spend our free time at the grocery store? No! They’d rather be here playing or doing other things and I would rather just be home.”

Jones Whelchel makes valid points. Ones I totally identify with. When it comes to grocery shopping, truthfully, I’d already been looking for some shortcuts. I’m full-time working mom and don’t have time to be in the grocery store all day. I've been using the online pick up option that some local retailers offer like Kroger and Walmart, but you still have to go to the store, bring all the groceries home and lug them inside yourself.

Not anymore.

It's a new day and age. Now, all you have to do is click through choices from the comfort of your home. Someone else shops for you. Emails and texts keep you in the loop. Then, a short time later, groceries arrive at your doorstep.

Shipt and Instacart are two grocery delivery services available in the Huntsville/Madison County area. I gave both a try.

Shipt has an annual membership fee of $99, but offers a free two-week trial. The Birmingham based company gave us a complimentary membership to test it out and delivered the first order to WHNT NEWS 19. Shipt Spokesperson Julie Coop says many people go this route.

"If your home is not covered, but your office is, register with your office address and you can have your groceries delivered to your office," explains Coop. "If you vacation and you’re going to Gulf Shores for the weekend, you can change the address to your condo or beach house and have your groceries delivered there. Your membership travels with you. We’ve got people that would even send groceries to elderly parents that live in a different part of the city. You can change that address as many times as you’d like under that one membership.”

For those 365 days, deliveries are unlimited.

"We operate during store hours during a regular business day and during a holiday,” says Coop. "You could order every single day if you want, twice a day if you want. There’s no delivery fee on orders over $35, under $35 there’s a flat delivery fee of $7.”

It’s also perfectly acceptable to be picky.

"You have the option to leave a note on every single item that you order,” says Coop.

Those are the words a control freak like me loves to hear.

"Southern hospitality is really close to our heart," describes Coop. "We hire local shoppers. They're the nice people that know your neighborhoods and know your local stores. They’re background checked and have a great knowledge of everything.”

With Shipt, prices do vary from what’s in store and are higher in some cases. I noticed that on one of my items in particular – the frozen waffles my son likes.

"We like to say on about a $35 order, you might pay about $5 more," says Coop. "We honor BOGOs. We honor sales. If it’s on sale in your store bulletin or Sunday paper, it’s going to be on sale in the Shipt app.”

As for Instacart, you can try it out the first time for free. After that, delivery prices vary based on your location, store and the value of the items in your cart. Prices on items are higher in some instances. The company does not honor in-store discounts, but sales are available in select retailers in addition to Instacart coupons. There’s also a 10% service charge that’s automatically added to your order. However, you can opt out of it. If you choose an annual Instacart membership of $149, and order weekly, like Sarah Jones Whelchel, delivery fees are waived for orders of $35 or more.

With Instacart, you can choose from multiple retailers – like Publix, Whole Foods, Costco and CVS. Shipt was exclusively with Publix, but recently added a partnership with Kroger too.

If you want to give this a go, you have to ask yourself, "How much am I willing to pay for convenience?"

For Jones Whelchel, it was an easy choice.

"I’m fully capable of shopping and I do have the time," explains Jones Whelchel. "The boys are at school and I do have time, but I would miss things like volunteering at their school or going to eat lunch with them. It’s just the little things. Yes, I could be shopping, but it’s the fun stuff that I would have to try to fit in. It’s just nice to get a little bit of time back.”

It's important to note, you have to put in your zip code with both companies to see if the delivery is available where you live. It's not everywhere. Both Instacart and Shipt give customers the option to rate shoppers after the delivery or give a tip. Whether the shoppers meet you at your door or actually come all the way in your house is up to you.

Clarissa McClain's review of the services:

Why didn't I take advantage of this sooner!?! :-) I was pleased with both services and I see fewer trips to the grocery store in my future. With both, the quality of the food was good, produce choices aligned with my preferences and the shoppers delivered on time. Everything arrived in good condition and at the proper temperature. Meat and frozen items were cold. I didn't order anything from the deli or that would have needed to be kept warm, but I was told they could handle that. Specifically with Shipt, I like that it can be used for more than one purpose. I can take care of my regular shopping for my family or use it if I plan a party, travel somewhere or just want to do something nice for someone else. With Instacart, I like that there are more grocery store options available to choose from. I'm a private person, so I also liked that the companies use masked phone numbers for security. So, when you communicate with the shoppers, neither of you actually see each other’s real phone numbers.