Vulnerable Shoppers Get Extra Services

Reserved hours, curbside pickup spots, tutorials in online ordering and special bundles are among the offers.

May 14, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many retailers to make adjustments on behalf of people the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as high-risk individuals, reports

One of the most popular is establishing special morning hours strictly for seniors, pregnant women, disabled individuals and those who are immunocompromised or who have pre-existing conditions.

However, many vulnerable shoppers aren’t able or are afraid to venture to the store, and online shopping isn’t always the answer due to technological restrictions, long wait times and limited order windows. Health experts, and even a few grocery chains, have even questioned the wisdom of allowing several at-risk shoppers into a store at the same time. Now, a growing number of companies are creating alternative services to get vulnerable shoppers the products they need.

A growing list of retailers are reserving curbside pickup hours, as well as in-store shopping hours, for at-risk shoppers. This includes Walmart, Whole Foods and Hy-Vee. In addition, Walmart has distributed new marketing materials aimed at helping first-time, curbside customers, including a YouTube instructional video and pop-up message on its main grocery page.

Contactless home delivery and curbside services are convenient and safer for at-risk shoppers. However, grocers have been swamped with online demands that impact their ability to fill orders in a timely manner, and not all seniors and disabled individuals can drive to stores to pick up groceries.

In response, some companies have set aside special product bundles and online services for at-risk shoppers. In March, H-E-B launched a dedicated delivery service for shoppers age 60-plus that offers a limited assortment of items seniors can order via phone, the H-E-B app or its website. H-E-B has volunteers operating phone lines and Favor delivering orders within a few hours. California-based Raley’s sells two “essentials” bags for seniors that include grocery items and fresh produce.

Bill Bishop, chief architect with Brick Meets Click, said that Favor has doubled its geographic service area during the pandemic. He cited H-E-B and Trader Joe’s, which has placed stringent limits on the number of shoppers allowed in the store at one time, as two grocery chains that excel in serving vulnerable customers. 

“Just extending the opportunity to do delivery just makes it much more attractive for high-risk customers,” Bishop told Grocery Dive. 

Pradeep Elankumaran of the online grocery service Farmstead, has seen a wave of new customers sign up for service, including many considered high risk by the CDC. Farmstead has put all new customers on a waitlist as it opens additional delivery spots, but vulnerable shoppers get bumped to the front of the line.

Some companies that didn’t previously cater to grocery needs have launched new delivery services that interface with retailers and simplify the experience for elderly customers. 

Go Go Grandparent, a mobility management service that arranges Lyft and Uber rides for its seniors, recently added a grocery delivery program that provides seniors with food and home supplies, such as cleaning products. The company planned to launch the grocery program within the next 12 months, but the pandemic stepped up the rollout. 

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.