Eyes in the Aisles: Whole Foods Curbside Pickup

I last set foot inside a Whole Foods Market store shortly after President Trump declared the COVID-19 pandemic a federal emergency. I expected Illinois would soon implement a lockdown and wanted to stock up on bottled coffee and cooking supplies.

The experience was a nightmare. Panicked shoppers were trying hard to maintain some semblance of social distancing, forming a checkout line that snaked through the aisles. Shelves had been picked clean of entire categories such as pasta and beans. I’d traditionally enjoyed shopping at Whole Foods even on its busiest days, especially since those usually involved plenty of sampling opportunities, but this time I couldn’t wait to get out of the store.

I'd used Amazon’s Prime delivery service from Whole Foods while recovering from surgery in February and found the experience highly convenient, but by the time I thought to place an order the service was already booked solid. I turned to shopping at other retailers for months until a May 19 email notified me that Whole Foods had added additional grocery delivery windows and expanded its pickup service to my area.

The pickup service was originally available at approximately 80 stores but has now expanded to 150 locations. Like the delivery service, it operates through or the Amazon mobile application. The service is free for orders of $35 or more that are to be picked at least one hour after checkout. A $1.99 fee is charged for smaller orders or for expedited pickup in 30 minutes.

As with the delivery service, it’s easy to fill a cart for pickup through a digital storefront that highlights previously purchased products, SKUs that are discounted for Prime members and items that are trending in my area. When checking out, Amazon suggested adding products I may have forgotten based on previous baskets. I was also asked to choose a possible substitute from a dropdown list of similar products, to decline a substitution or to allow my shopper to use their discretion.

It was easy to hit that $35 free pickup threshold and pickup times were fairly widely available. Once I chose my slot, I received a confirmation email encouraging me to download the Amazon mobile application so that I could check in when I was on my way to the store and have my groceries waiting for me in the parking lot. I did so, and by the time I pulled into one of the designated spots at my store a masked employee was standing ready with a cart containing my bags. He confirmed my identity, I popped the trunk, and he loaded in the bags. I received a follow-up email confirming that my order was picked up and asking me to rate my experience.

The service was extremely easy and convenient, letting me get the specialty products I’d been missing while I wasn’t willing to venture into the store. Bags were packed well so that refrigerated and frozen products were still cool and the only substitution I received was broccoli instead of broccolini. This is likely to remain my primary way of shopping at Whole Foods until the pandemic is better under control.