There you go, PC Express, Metro and Instacart: which is the best?
When it opened its doors in 1989, Chicago-based Peapod offered something unimaginable at the time: fresh groceries delivered right to your door.
The company’s operations were rather clumsy. « Peapod’s web graphics were so rudimentary that customers couldn’t see images of what they were buying, » wrote The Atlantic in a 2019 profile of the booming industry. Nevertheless, Peapod – the first online grocery delivery service in the United States – prevailed and still works today.
Other startups in the then-nascent industry weren’t so lucky, failing to take off in the late ’90s. (Webvan, anyone?) But now, some three decades after that Peapod’s first delivery truck hit the road, it looks like online grocery delivery is here to stay.
With the pandemic ushering in a new era of fast grocery delivery, market competition is tough. Hundreds of grocery delivery trucks pass through the GTA every day, and there seems to be no shortage of new online grocers trying to take a bite out of this hot market.
But it can all be a bit overwhelming, scrolling through thousands of items and prices and hoping you can find a delivery slot that fits your schedule.
The Star tested four popular grocery delivery services – Voila by Sobeys, Metro, PC Express and Instacart/Walmart – and rated each on speed, value, accuracy and ease of use. .
Some offered great service and quality, while others missed the controls and were difficult to use.
With the goal of spending around $50 each on common grocery items, receipts reflect the total cost of all items plus any additional charges. The Star tipped delivery drivers whenever possible. PC Express and Instacart offered tipping options, while Voilà and Metro did not.
Read on to find out which grocery delivery service comes out on top.
That’s by Sobeys
With its distinctive forest green delivery trucks, Voilà by Sobeys is arguably one of the city’s most recognized grocery delivery brands. Since Empire launched the service in the GTA in June 2020, it has grown significantly and overall provides fast, reliable service at competitive prices.
Voilà’s dynamic delivery pricing is perhaps the most innovative and popular. Delivery costs vary depending on the one-hour time slot you select, with evening time slots usually being less expensive than afternoon or late morning time slots. Another advantage: no tipping is expected and, unlike some other delivery services, there are no annoying service charges or surcharges.
Voilà offers a wide selection of products — far more than its peers. It even offers Farm Boy products and many non-food items, such as health and beauty products, household items, and some pharmaceuticals. There were plenty of suitable alternatives for items that weren’t available. And of all the online grocers, Voilà had the most number and variety of items for sale.
Delivery was quick and convenient. Voila’s driver called five minutes before arrival, which was a good idea. The only downside to Voilà was its website, which was often glitchy — it took multiple attempts to select a delivery time — and poorly designed, requiring multiple clicks to navigate between different menus.
Metro is a solid choice for consumers looking for grocery delivery, offering a wide variety of products at an affordable price. You can find everything from staple foods and prepared meals to household items and pharmaceuticals.
Its website is well laid out, easy to navigate and offers various filters so you can quickly find the best products at the right price. Flyer deals are plentiful and offer significant savings throughout the store.
The only factor where Metro lags its competition is delivery. The company’s delivery windows are two hours, wider than the one-hour standard among other services. Standard shipping costs $7.99, although there is a promo code for free shipping on orders over $150. Shoppers in a hurry can receive their groceries in less than two hours, but at a hefty fee of $13.99.
There’s also, annoyingly, a $50 minimum spend to use Metro’s grocery delivery service, far higher than its competitors. (Minimum order amount for Voilà, on the other hand, is $35. Delivery, however, was fast, accurate, and on time, though Metro only provides email updates, unlike other services, which often text or call customers before groceries are dropped off.
Loblaws is more expensive than many of its competitors. Its delivery service, PC Express, is no exception. Prices are noticeably higher compared to other online grocers, with rare discounts, the star observed.
PC Express’ sales section was limited – although there were a surprising number of discounted hair color products. Most deals are ‘multiple’, meaning you need to buy two, sometimes three, of the same products to qualify for savings – ideal, perhaps, for those with large households, but not so much for those with live alone.
The overall selection was limited compared to other online grocers and several items were unavailable during the star-selected delivery window. In addition to food, there are some pharmaceuticals and household items available.
The most striking thing about PC Express, however, is the shipping cost. At $9.95, not including tip, the delivery charge, at least for Star’s order, is almost three times more expensive than Voilà’s. It may be worth it for a large order, but certainly not for an order under $50 or even $100.
Delivery, handled by DoorDash, was quick and efficient, arriving during the selected window. There were, however, some issues on DoorDash’s side with the estimated arrival time, which was around 25 minutes.
Instacart, the billion-dollar U.S. grocery delivery company, began operations nearly a decade before many of its biggest competitors rolled out during the pandemic. This shows. The whole process – from ordering to delivery – is painless and surprisingly fast.
Instacart employs shoppers who collect groceries for you and deliver them to your doorstep. In Toronto, Instacart customers can choose from a variety of grocery stores, including Walmart, Costco, Metro, Loblaws and No Frills. It also offers smaller outlets, such as T&T and Fortinos, as well as non-food retailers like Staples, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Bed Bath & Beyond (a rather random selection).
The star chose Walmart. For a general retail store that also sells electronics, sports equipment, and garden supplies (yes, you can buy all of those for delivery), it also has a surprisingly large selection of groceries that can compete with your conventional grocer.
Instacart’s minimalist website design makes it easy to navigate – if you can get past all the sponsored product listings. Prices are cheap – it’s Walmart, after all – and there’s a good selection of products on sale. Shipping was free, as part of a promotion for new users, but the Star was charged a nominal service charge of $4.24 for the $52.20 order. (The total amount spent at Instacart was less than other services because one item – grapes – was unavailable and was therefore refunded.)
The best feature of Instacart, however, is the transparency. The buyer is constantly in touch via text, letting you know if an item is unavailable or if a substitute is available. Several items in Star’s order were out of stock and the buyer chose approved substitutes instead. These changes were clearly reflected in the receipt, unlike most other delivery services.
Fast, cheap, accurate, and easy to use, Instacart, the third-party delivery service, is a cut above the rest. Its website is clean and simple. Plus, unlike other services operated by large grocery stores, Instacart offers selections from more than half a dozen stores in the GTA. And often items can be delivered in less than two hours from most grocers. It’s hard to beat.
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