Calgary woman worries online grocery shopping frenzy hurts those most in need

The uptick in online grocery shopping and delivery services has at least one major grocery chain asking people who can shop in store, to do so.

Save On Foods encourages people who can shop in store to do so

Joanne Costello is asking Calgarians to shop in-store, rather than online, to help decrease wait times for those who can't do in-person shopping. (Joanne Costello, Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

The uptick in online grocery shopping and delivery services has at least one major grocery chain asking people who can shop in store, to do so.

This message is highlighted on Save-On-Foods website, and according to a spokesperson, applies to all of its stores across the country.

"We are experiencing extremely high web traffic and demand for online shopping at this time and are encouraging any customers that can shop in-store to please do so," the message reads.

Calgarian Joanne Costello can attest to this. She says she tried to buy groceries through Save-On-Foods's online shopping and delivery services this past week without any luck.

"I couldn't even log onto my account a bunch of the days because the server was just crashing," Costello said.

Pre-pandemic, she said she could order groceries and have them delivered in hours. Now, she said, it takes about a week, if she can get through.

Costello has a genetic condition called common variable immune deficiency, which she said makes her too weak to shop in-store.

Save-On-Foods is encouraging customers who can to shop in-store in order to alleviate the strain on the online ordering system. (

For now she has a backup solution. She belongs to a Facebook group of volunteers who have offered to pick up her items in a more timely fashion.

But what happens when Calgary's volunteerism fatigues, she said.

"I definitely can see that it could be a strain and having to go without because of not being able to get [those groceries]," she said.

"We have to make sure that the people who absolutely rely on [online grocery shopping] aren't left in a position where they literally can't get groceries."

She noted this concern could apply to people with other disabilities, seniors and those who have to self-isolate.

Healthy people worried about risk

When she posted her concerns on a Facebook group, she said she had mixed feelings over the responses she received.

"There were some people saying, 'Well, no, we can't go out. We can't risk things.' I felt a little bit hurt and like, don't you care about people who don't have the option," Costello said.

She said she found that some people believe they can't shop in-store, even if they aren't self-isolating. Costello said it made her realize some people are making decisions based on fear and misinformation, not selfishness.

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A spokesperson for the Alberta government said that Albertans who aren't self-isolating or in quarantine can grocery shop as usual.

"Only those who are confirmed cases of COVID-19 or whom AHS has officially asked to self-isolate should not be grocery shopping," the provincial spokesperson said. "They should ask their friends and families for help in picking up materials, utilize delivery services or take advantage of other support networks that are available to them."

The province recommends that when grocery shopping, people follow health guidelines to avoid peak times, practice social distancing and take other precaution to limit the spread of germs. The spokesperson also said online shopping "can be a great way to limit their exposure."

Ask for priority service

The Retail Council of Canada says the growth in grocery e-commerce has helped take the pressure of in-store visits and the challenges around social distancing.

Karl Littler, the council's senior vice president, said retail stores are busy trying to hire more staff to meet the demand for that online shopping.

But for those who can't wait for a delayed order, he said they should call their local pharmacy or grocery store to alert them directly of their specific challenge.

"I believe they may be able to do something to put priority on your delivery if you do so, " Littler said.

A woman overlooks produce in a grocery store. Many Calgarians are avoiding going to stores in an effort to reduce interactions and the spread of COVID-19. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

He said Save-On-Foods's call for in-store shopping to alleviate the strain on its online system may not work for every chain.

"I don't think every provider is going to be in exactly the same circumstance, so they are going to have to obviously play it by ear," Littler said.

Rather be shopping

Costello said she appreciates the offers for help that have helped her keep her fridge stocked.

If it weren't for her illness, she said she would rather buy her groceries in person than go through a helper or online shopping. She said that's in part because she believes buying at the store directly might mean less food handling.

"I could make sure that my hands are clean before I touch any little groceries and that my hands are clean when I unload," Costello said.

"I don't know how they're handling all the groceries and if they've washed their hands really well."


Colleen Underwood has been a reporter/editor with CBC news for more than 10 years filing stories from across southern Alberta for radio, television and online. Follow her on Twitter @cbccolleen.


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