Shoppers have blitzed grocery delivery websites since COVID-19 arrived on American shores, prompting Amazon to announce on Sunday that it would put new grocery delivery customers on a wait list.
One way some people are getting the food they need is by turning to alternative sources, including regional grocers, convenience stores and bodegas, restaurants and restaurant wholesalers.
Learn how to shop for groceries at a dollar store.
1. Shop small
I asked my colleagues, many of whom live in New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, how they've managed to fill their fridges and their advice was unanimous: shop small.
"I haven't been able to get a Whole Foods delivery window in almost two weeks, but I filled my whole fridge with produce from Western Beef," a grocer local to the New York area, said Zack Sigel, a managing editor for Policygenius.
Others have turned to local convenience stores, restaurants that have pivoted to carrying groceries and farm stores.
Daniel Ng, a sommelier at a New York restaurant, heard from a coworker that Baldor, a big-time restaurant wholesaler, was pivoting to home delivery. He was able to order all the essentials from them.
"The only thing is they have a $250 minimum for all deliveries, so in order to meet that I coordinated with one of my friends who also lives nearby and I also split it with my roommate," Ng said.
Ng ordered meat to freeze and nonperishable items. He ordered little produce because it came in such large packages.
"I ordered some watercress and that came in a six-bundle portion," Ng said. "I had to scramble to use it all up before it went bad."
Baldor is one of many wholesalers that have switched to home delivery over the past few weeks. Benjamin Friedman, president and CEO of Riviera Foods, an Englewood, New Jersey, wholesaler, said his company is now making up to 800 home deliveries a day.
Riviera's customers were 90% restaurants before. Now most of those restaurants are closed.
"We've turned around on a dime, did a complete 180, and went from delivering business-to-business and modeled ourselves as a business-to-consumer model," Friedman said.
Customers within a 60-mile radius of Englewood can choose from a standard or organic produce box with 11 items.
"It's had a positive net effect of keeping people in their jobs and it's starting to boost our sales," Friedman said.
Customers should consider smaller delivery services like goPuff, which operates in 175 U.S. locations and plans to add thousands of employees over the next three months, the company said in an email. Bottom line: If the big services like Amazon, Walmart or Peapod are clogged up, think smaller.
2. Be patient
Delivery times are hard to come by on the bigger services, so take the time to refresh throughout the day, in case one comes open. It may also help to log on at off-peak times, like late at night.
3. Keep in touch with your shopper
If you're using a service like Instacart, you should also be flexible with whomever is shopping for you. Because of the high demand grocery stores are facing, you may have to stay in touch with your shopper and compromise on substitutions for some items. Sorry, but you won't necessarily get your preferred brand of cereal.
4. Stock up on nonperishables
That said, you may want to prioritize nonperishables and food you can freeze. Ng said his Baldor order was heavy on canned goods like tinned fish, olive oil, salt, pepper and meet that he froze, to allow him to go longer between grocery runs.
5. Tip well
Finally, please, please tip well. Whoever is shopping and delivering food on your behalf is taking a big risk to get the food you need. Money is tight for everyone, and if you can afford to be generous, you should.
Get essential money news & money moves with the Easy Money newsletter.
Free in your inbox each Friday.