Canada, Home cooking, Tips

PC Express Review: A Contact-Less Grocery Alternative

Given the current recommendations to avoid any non-essential trips in the community, we haven’t step foot into a grocery store for over 4 weeks now by alternating meal kit delivery services with online grocery pick-up services. Ideally, we were going to use direct-to-home grocery delivery services like Instacart but there have not been any available time slots every time we have checked in the past few weeks. The grocery pick-up service that is available in our area is PC Express. We’ve used this service in the past but opted to not use again it until recently because there were some inherent issues with it, which will be discussed below.

The Ordering Process

The ordering process is pretty straight forward. You can either use your web browser or their app to complete your order. You first need to choose a store location, then a time slot. Given the increase in demand, you may notice that there may not be a time slot available for days at your preferred store. For example, I ran a search today on April 11 and my next available time slot at my preferred store is April 23. You can also look up other stores which may have earlier time slots. For example, I found another store which had an open slot on April 18 and given we have a car it is not a problem to drive a little farther if we can get our groceries sooner. Make sure you select a store and preferred time slot FIRST before you start adding items to your cart as the availability of items is different for each store and items may be removed from your cart as you look around at the different store options.

On their website, they state that the prices online should be the same as those in-store and currently they are suspending their pick-up fees, so theoretically you should be paying the same in-store or using this service, at least for the time being. 

You can leave notes on your order for specific preferences (e.g., weight of veggies or specific number of items in a bunch , etc.). You can also select if you allow or disallow substitution if an item is not available. Once you’ve submitted your order, you can edit it up to 48 hours prior to the time of your pick-up. This ordering process gets an A+ from me. It’s very easy to use and those familiar with online shopping should have no problem with this. 

The Pick-Up Process

The pick-up is also very simple. You will get a text when your order is ready for pick-up. You will also get an email with a list of any items which were not available and what the substitutions were, if any. For one of our orders we did not receive a text until 2 minute prior to the end of the time-slot so we showed up later than our assigned time but were able to get our groceries anyway. They did already warn us that there will be delays due to increased demand earlier that day so we were not too bothered. Once we arrive at the parking lot, we park at one of the marked spots and call them for the pick-up. A few minutes later, a staff will bring the groceries down and place these in our trunk with the receipt. There is no contact at all with the staff as you sit in the car with your trunk open.

If you’ve ever wondered if you can use this service if you don’t have a car, YOU CAN! I saw someone do that today. Of course the contact-less aspect is not as strict with this method unless you tell them to just place the groceries at the end of the parking spot at least 2 meters away from you instead of handing it directly to you.

The Analysis

Given the time delay in the time slots availability, you will not be able to access groceries same-day with this method. Even though you may need to plan far in advance for your shopping needs, I prefer this over the time wasted having to wait in line outside the stores and run the risk of exposure while in the store as it is quite difficult to keep the 2 meter distance away from everyone at all times. Sure, there is the risk of fomites on the bags/packages your trunk from the staff bringing over the groceries or the staff picking your groceries from the shelf but you can disinfect all of these prior to bringing it in your house if you want. 

A clear downside of this service is the inability for you to choose your own produce. We have been given subpar produce in one of our orders but I am willing to forgo this in the midst of a pandemic. 

Depending on the order there will be situations where many of the items requested were not available. For example, on our latest order, they were unable to fulfill 8 of our items whereas in the previous order, we were able to receive 100% of our items. Luckily these items not included were not urgently needed. This can be the case even if I went into the store myself if they simply did not have it in stock. This could also be due to the inability of the staff to locate it. This is especially true if you need very particular item such as an ethnic ingredient. This was one huge downside which caused me to opt out of the service in the past. I’ve ordered items where they advised me it was not available only for me to find it on the shelf when I went into the store myself. Again, this is something I am willing to forgive in the current climate and I will just have to make do with simpler recipes and whatever ingredients I have.

Given how busy grocery workers must be, there can be human errors as well. For example, we had ordered an item which was supposed to have been substituted and this was charged to our card but we did not end up receiving this. I have contacted PC Express and hopefully they will refund this amount to me.

Overall, I have been generally happy with their service in the last few weeks to avoid line-ups at grocery stores and physical interactions with other human beings. If you need your groceries within a few days or if you are worried about not getting everything on your grocery list exactly the way you want it, this service is still a work in progress.

Stay safe everyone!

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Resources:

Shopping Safety: If you must venture into a grocery store, Ottawa Public Health has created this poster for shopping etiquette during this time. 

Mask Safety: The CDC and PHAC has reported that the general public can use non-medical masks to prevent transmission. If you do use it, it’s very important to do it safely.

Hand Hygiene: This is key! The most important thing is to wash your hands often especially after you have handled anything outside the home. There is no recommendation from public health to wear gloves and it could be a source of self-contamination if not done properly but if you must, do it safely. 

Grocery Safety: There is currently no evidence that there have been COVID-19 infections caused by grocery items purchased but if you want to be extra cautious, this is a great video by a family physician on how to do it properly.

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