These 8 New Shopping Hacks Will Make Your Day

By Christina X. Wood, Contributor

Posted in: 

Just a few weeks ago, we were all living in a world where an order placed today arrived in a few days. Grocery stores were so well-stocked that we could wander the aisles, be picky about brands, price-sensitive, and driven by whim. 

Remember that?

Now we’re sheltering at home, fighting over toilet paper, and wondering if we’re likely to run out of food before we can get any groceries delivered. Most grocery stores are still open, of course, but heading out means donning a mask and not knowing if that guy who coughed two isles over is going to get you sick. You won’t want to spend a lot of time there, so efficiency is priority number one. 

Your old ways are no longer filling the fridge, and the toilet paper supply is terrifyingly low. It’s time for some expert life hacks. 

Here are some hacks and tricks from experts on getting fed (and wiped) in the new normal.

1. Timing is Everything

“I see a lot of people on social media saying they get up at 3 a.m. to get a grocery delivery window,” says Tiffany Lopinsky, product manager at Popcart, which recently launched its Supply Finder feature to track inventory of essential goods. 

Grocery delivery services like Instacart, Shipt, and Amazon are so overwhelmed that in some areas it takes weeks to get groceries delivered. People assume that the middle of the night – when everyone else is sleeping – is the best time to get in line. It’s not, says Lopinsky. “Shop in the mid-afternoon,” she says. “That’s when stores restock.”

Place your order after your lunch break for the best shot at getting everything on your list delivered in a reasonable timeframe. 

2. Get In Line Online

Timing is just as important if you’re heading into the store in person. Once upon a time, you could predict when stores would be busy. Today, nearly everyone works from home and there’s no telling when your local grocer will be packed with anxious shoppers. You don’t have to head out blind, though. Check Google before you go. Search for the store you want to shop and scroll down to the “Popular Times” feature on the search results page. It will show you in real-time how busy the store is, so you can drop in when traffic is low. 

Another trick? Download the OpenTable app and it will notify when it’s your turn to shop. The service is in the midst of rolling out reserved shopping “appointments” at local grocery stores so you can get in and out in no time flat. If it’s already available in your area, it’s one of the best ways to stock up without fighting a crowd. 

3. Keep a Cart Prepped

If you’re looking for a hard-to-find item, “keep an online shopping cart prepped with the other items you need,” suggests Lopinsky. That way when a delivery window becomes available or the toilet paper (or any other vital item) you want is in stock, you can check out quickly enough to snag it. It doesn’t matter if you’re shopping on Amazon, Instacart, or a local grocery delivery service; a packed virtual cart is just a couple of clicks away from being fulfilled once a delivery time is available. 

“These items sell out in seconds,” she says. “You don’t want to waste time trying to fill your cart to meet the minimum delivery order.”

4. Score a Delivery Window

Finding a service to deliver a haul of groceries in short order is next to impossible right now, so planning ahead is the key to success. To make getting a delivery window easier, Instacart recently launched Fast & Flexible, which lets you place an order and allow Instacart to find the delivery window for you. You don’t have to worry about getting up at 3 a.m. or take time off from everything else to shop in the middle of the day. Just order when it’s convenient for you and let Instacart bring the goods when it has a lull. 

Instacart also launched an Order Ahead feature that lets you shop as much as two weeks in advance. Walmart lets you schedule your delivery window well in advance, as well. You know your household and what foods and supplies run out faster than others, so use your predictive powers and schedule these orders well in advance. 

These tips will help you get what you need when you need it, but remember that deliveries come with their own fees. Everyone charges for delivery – Walmart charges $7.95, most Albertson’s stores (Von’s, Safeway, and others) charge $9.95, with some reductions for large orders. Those fees do not include the tip for the person risking their own health to deliver your groceries. If you can afford to be generous it makes sense to offer a sizable tip, but if you’re just scraping by, nobody could blame you for pinching pennies, especially at a time like this. 

5. Use Drive-Up Pickup Instead

Most grocers are offering online shopping with curbside pickup. If you are able to get out and drive and are just trying to avoid the inside of stores, this is a much cheaper way to go. As the “Stay Home!” orders stretch on, stores are getting much better at this. 

Target, for example, has been beefing up its pickup system. “We’ve staffed up in-demand, same-day services like Drive Up and Order Pickup,” explains a spokesperson. “And we’re making the confirmation process contactless by eliminating guest signatures on our handheld devices.” You don’t have to have any contact at all with another human to do this because “team members are placing Drive Up orders in trunks or back seats of cars.”

6. Plan Ahead

The days of stopping at the store to plan dinner are, for the foreseeable future anyway, over. You have to plan ahead. Ask anyone who has been planning meals for a family, this task has a significant “mental load.” But there are tools you can use to help. 

If you have an Amazon Echo, use the shopping list feature to build a comprehensive list of everything you need so that when you go to the store or order online, you’ll be organized, meet the shipping minimums, and stay in budget. Popcart’s Lopinsky suggests you “separate your shopping list into fresh produce and frozen foods and everything else like pantry staples and cleaning supplies so you can get the non-perishable staples shipped, slowly.”

Don’t shop for a week. Shop for a month. It seems expensive at first, but, in the long run, this strategy saves time, money, and sanity. 

7. Scoring Hard-to-Find Essentials

Even the most dedicated preppers probably didn’t foresee how hard it is to get toilet paper right now. The stuff is hard to come by, and so are cleaning supplies, hand soap, and other essentials. 

Often, you’ll do better – at least in some areas – by shopping at a less-trafficked grocery store. The local markets that cater to specific ethnicities are great choices. If you want to automate your search for hard-to-find goods, cleaning products, hand sanitizer, and other essentials, try The Supply Finder or Instok. These online tools check local inventory and alert you when items you’re looking for are in stock.

8. Shop Local

Big stores and well-known delivery services are overwhelmed, but local businesses are suffering. Your local restaurants may be selling meals-to-go but they might also be selling – and willing to deliver – groceries. Call and ask!

One of my favorite local restaurants set up a marketplace where they sell prepared vegetables, pickles, and other staples right from their kitchen, in addition to take-out meals. This has become a thing all over the country. Check with the nearby restaurants you want to support. Or, try searching the hyper-local shopping app Nytch, which lets you ask nearby merchants if they’ll sell you what you need.

This is also a great time to try your local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group. Mine has become an essential part of my provisioning strategy. I go to Costco – or have goods delivered — once a month and get fresh fruits and vegetables delivered weekly from local farms. There are CSAs all over the country. You can find a CSA near you by searching LocalHarvest.