By Julie Hill
Even we–by no means technophobes–were skeptical about HomeGrocer.com, the Seattle-based online-grocery service. For one, their Peach-emblazoned vans seemed a little too precious for Seattle’s pot-marked streets. But now that we’ve bitten into the Peach, we’d do it again. Here’s why:
Selection. With more than 13,000 different items, HomeGrocer (HG) offers just as much choice (if not more) than QFC, Safeway and the other chains we throw our money at on a weekly basis. Not every HG section has wide variety; fresh pasta, for instance, has just two suppliers (Buitoni and Carso). But overall the selection is refreshing.
You can pick up some Macadam Horseradish Cheddar ($5.29 for 0.66 ounces) or Greek Kasseri ($3.89 for 7 ounces). And the wine list is broad, although not incredibly deep. Ethnic foods, including kosher, are mixed in with others in their category, and included in the “Ethnic” section. For many packaged items, clicking on the photo gets you nutritional info.
HG also has a good selection of organic foods, especially produce, at competitive prices. Since broccoli is one of the heaviest-sprayed veggies, it pays to buy it organic. The HG price is 99 cents a pound–not bad.
You can also order a limited, but growing, array of other stuff: magazines, toys, videos (for sale), party goods. And this is probably why HomeGrocer has attracted venture capital galore (the IPO is this week or next). Those peachy trucks can carry just about anything.
Pricing. This is where we earned our pay. We compared the list of the 20 items we ordered from HG with prices for the same items at QFC. Our list was eclectic–shampoo, sponges, fish, etc. Guess what? HG charged us about $3 less than QFC would have (our HG bill was $42.44). Granted, we could have probably gotten a better deal at Safeway, the local cost leader. But Safeway isn’t exactly known for its selection.
Keep in mind, however, that HG charges $9.95 for delivery. This charge is waived for first-time buyers and for orders over $75. Also, if someone enters your name in the referral section and then places an order, you get $20 off your next order (one-time only).
Quality. We can’t vouch for the fish, cause we accidentally ordered the frozen kind. But if the veggies are any clue, the quality is above-average. We wouldn’t have chosen that head of lettuce. But the cucumber, the bananas and the red pepper all looked good. And, if you’re not happy with quality, they give replacements or a refund.
Customer Service. As with any grocery trip, you’re bound to forget stuff. HomeGrocer lets you add/delete items up until 11 p.m. the day before your order is delivered. Customer service is on the ball. We fired off a couple e-mail queries last Friday at 4:30 pm and got well-written replies within an hour.
Privacy. HomeGrocer uses “cookies” to track your web-surfing. It will also use the info you provide to advertise to you. But it promises not to sell any of your personal data to any other company.
Site navigation. Online ordering is made easy by HomeGrocer’s three-frame format: on the left are categories of grocery items; the center lets you scroll through all items in each category; and the right is your shopping cart. Access was fast with our DSL connection. But we’ve heard from others that it’s really slow with a 56K modem.
The typeface is almost too small (on Netscape browser). And, as with any grocery store, it takes a while to figure out “the aisles.” If you can’t find something, chances are that it’s in “Lunch & Dinner,” a catchall category that contains everything from ethnic foods to pizza. Once you’re in a category, though, it’s very easy to scroll through the choices, which for the most part are listed alphabetically. Here are some other potential trip-ups:
- Spelling of ethnic foods. “Hoison” typed as “Hoyson” won’t get you far.
- Easy to confuse “fresh” with “frozen” in the fish section.
- Easy to click on the wrong thing. We ordered “Shampoo with Conditioner” by accident.
Next-day delivery. You must pick a 1.5-hour interval for delivery (starting usually at 1:30 p.m.), during which you wait for the Peach Person to show up. You can have HG deliver to your workplace, but your boss may not appreciate that. HG will not just leave the groceries on your front porch. Someone–a neighbor even–must sign for them. If there’s no one to receive, they try to track you down. If they can’t, they’ll “credit your account for the order and hope to hear from you soon.”
Stranger in your house. HomeGrocer has such a squeaky clean image that we felt compelled to tidy up the kitchen. When she arrived, the Peach Gal pulled out two bright-blue footies to put over her hiking boots so she wouldn’t soil the floor. And she refused a tip (company policy). She told us she’d be our delivery gal from now on. And she promised to phone if she’s ever running early or late. Wow! We can’t even get our significant others to commit to that.
Julie Hill is a freelance writer and web developer
10230 NE Points Dr.
Kirkland, WA 98033
Site Cynic Rating
Overall rating: Bright (3.5 out of 5 Lanterns)
Offline Service: 5