Curbside Service Review: Walmart Versus HEB

Several stores have started offering curbside pickup service, where they do your shopping for you based on the list you give them. Broadly, the services work by you going to the store’s website, making your selections from what they have available on the website, picking the date and time that you want to pick up your order, indicating which items if any you would allow them to make a substitution for if it’s out of stock, and then paying for your order and checking out.

At the indicated date and time, you go to the store, they bring your items out and load them in your car for you, and you go home without having to deal with the crowds and all that.

With my social anxiety running amok last year and a desire to shorten how much time it takes me to get my groceries, I decided to use said service. I’ve used the Walmart when several times and then today I use HEB’s service, HEB To You, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on each, broken down by what I feel are the important considerations for a curbside service.

Availability: Walmart

Walmart has made their curbside pickup service available at pretty much every Walmart as far as I can tell. We have three here in the Bryan-College Station area and all three are available for pickup. Walmart allows pick up between 8 am and 8 pm, with pick up times scheduled by one-hour blocks.

HEB on the other hand is being more selective in which stores offer curbside service, and seems to be declining to offer it at stores in what they consider to be “lower-income areas”. As such, the two Bryan stores do not have this service yet, while the two College Station ones do and even have started offering home delivery.  Pick ups can be scheduled based on thirty-minute blocks that span from 7:30 am to 9:00 pm.

Selection: Tie

Both stores seem to offer a relatively full selection of groceries for their curbside pickup service. And in general, I found the most common groceries available at both. However, both stores have their shortcomings in what is available. Walmart often does not have some of the more specialized ingredients I use for cooking, while HEB’s website does not always offer the full complement of products that you can actually find in the store (for example, they only have a single Blue Bell pint flavor listed!).

That said, I would tend to lean Walmart on selection because with Walmart you can also order non-grocery items from other parts of the store, and while it’s not everything in the store, it does offer a wider selection than HEB’s offerings for nonfood items.  Oh, and both stores do allow for alcohol in orders, though due to Texas’ backwards ass laws, you cannot schedule pick up for orders with alcohol on Sunday until after noon.

Website Ease-Of-Use: Tie

Both stores have separate websites apart from their main websites for handling their curbside service orders. Neither is what I would call perfect, but both are relatively functional despite their individual flaws. Walmart’s search seems to be a little better, and it offers the ability to browse not only by category but by the specific group of shelves within that category. However, it lacks any ability to actually sort the results that you get which can make looking for specific products on a shelf aggravating. The Walmart website also has some nice perks in terms of having a generous holding time for your reserved date and time before you required to check out and offering the ability to add items to your order up until around 12 hours before the order is due to be picked up. So if you forget something, you often can toss it into the order instead of having to go inside to get it or wait for the next time. One big feature that is missing from their website is the ability to add any comments to your order or the items in the order to indicate any substitution preferences.

HEB’s website also offers the ability to browse by their store categories, but it lacks more finite drilling down when browsing in some categories. It also lacks the ability to modify your order after it’s placed.  Once you select a reservation date and time, it will only hold it for 30 minutes before you must check out or lose the slot. Their website does however have sorting capabilities within product lists, much better filtering options, and the ability to add comments to each individual item in the order as well as to the order itself. This is a particularly nice feature because it lets you specify the substitutions you would prefer if you’re allowing a substitution on an item, preferences for things like fruit and deli items, and helps you get around the lack of certain variants of foods buys indicating which variant you really wanted. For example, their website does not have all of the Blue Bell pint flavors, but you could use the comment section to indicate that you really wanted this flavor not the one that you had to pick because it’s all they had.

Ease of Pickup: Walmart

While neither store is very difficult to deal with in terms of actually picking up your order, Walmart takes better advantage of modern technology by allowing you to simply check in on their mobile app to indicate that you’re on the way, and by using the GPS in your phone, they have an estimate of how long it’ll take you to get there and can just come outside with your order when you arrive. Within the app, you also note your car color is so they know which one is you when you park in their marked spots.

With HEB, they send you a text message to confirm that your order will be ready on time, you drive to the store and pulled into one of their marked spaces, and then you have to text them back with the number of the space where you parked. Walmart also did a better job of putting the curbside spots in an area that’s away from the main parking so it’s not a huge hassle when the store itself is very busy. With the HEB ones, they just converted existing parking spots which encourages people to park there even if they aren’t doing curbside pickup and can make getting to the spots a mild pain during heavy shopping times.

Grocery Packing: HEB

While Walmart does nicely marked the bags of substitutions and fragile items, they also pack the items in the oddest of ways. It almost looks as if they had different runners go pick up different items in each one with their items in an individual plastic bag. So if you do a large grocery order, you may end up with 20 or 30 plastic bags. Besides being very wasteful, it means more bags to haul between the car in the house. HEB on the other hand seems to actually get all the groceries and then bagged in the same as you would if you checked out in the store. So my order today, was only in five bags and easier to manage.

Service Quality: Tie

So far, I have not had a bad experience with either of the curbside pickup services. I’ve done the Walmart multiple times and every time the associate was friendly, smiling, and did a great job putting the groceries in the car. Now I will admit that on my last order the associate forgot to tell me they did a substitution and forgot to ask me if I wanted the eggs in a different spot, however it’s only been one time and I knew about the substitution from the app anyway. Walmart also sends your confirmation when your orders been picked up that includes your final total, which is particularly useful if you’ve bought any fruit or veggies that had to be weighed, they had to do a substitution, or something wasn’t in stock.

When I went HEB today, despite it being a complete madhouse with the back-to-school shoppers, the associate was also friendly and smiling, which on a day like that can be a hard thing to do. And she did let me know that one of my items was not available and that as I’d said no substitutions they just removed from the order. HEB did not send a confirmation or a final receipt for my order, so I actually don’t know my real total because that one item was removed. Even going back to the website did not get me the final amount, so I will presumably not find out until it actually is charged to my account. For this order, that’s not a huge deal as I know it was just one item that was removed and probably lowered the price by a dollar or two. But I would not like it if I’d had stuff that had to get weighed and it significantly increased my price, as it would’ve thrown my budget off.

Price: Walmart

In this case, I’m talking purely about the price of service, as you can make up your own mind about the price of the actual things you buy because sometimes one store is cheaper and sometimes the other one is. But when it comes to the curbside service price, Walmart is the winner hands down. Their curbside service is completely free; instead of charging, they simply require all orders to be more than $30. The prices of the items on the site also match the prices in the store, no marking them up.

HEB on the other hand has indicated that they will eventually charge $4.95 per order, though currently they are “waiving” the fee, and when you check out a note indicates that all the prices had been raised 3% to pay for the shopper. I could maybe understand HEB doing one or the other, but that their plan seems to be both makes their service far more expensive than I think can be justified. Even if they did hire new associate specifically for doing the curbside pickups, surely that would mean they’re getting enough quantity of those to be profitable from the one fee or the price increase and do not need to do both.

Both services do strongly discourage attempting to tip the shoppers for the curbside pick up services, and Walmart associates are required to refuse any tips offered.  Also, you cannot use an EBT card or gift cards to pay for either service, and they must be paid for online when they are placed.

Overall Preference: Walmart

While I was pleased with my experience with the HEB curbside service today, I will most likely stick to Walmart for the majority of my curbside pickups. The lack of extra cost, the wider availability meaning it’s much closer to my house, and the overall ease of pickup just works better for me. I can see myself using HEB’s service again in the future though, particularly if I need to order more specialized goods that Walmart does not carry. For example today my order included dried lemon peel and shaved Parmesan, which you just will not find that Walmart.