When The Register editor and associate publisher Sarah Dunn sat down to do her weekly supermarket shop at the weekend, she got more than she bargained for.
Politely put, I’ve always had a bit of a problem with germs. Putting my hands on potentially-unclean surfaces such as supermarket trolley handles and greasy touchscreens at the mall bothered me long before Covid-19 came to New Zealand, and I’ve had a widely-mocked five-step routine for sanitising my space on aeroplanes for years. I had litres of hand sanitiser hoarded before it was cool.
This fear of mine isn’t because I’m at high risk of any kind of health complication – I’m just an uptight germophobe.
Back in early March, when social distancing measures began to be adopted but weren’t yet formally mandated, friends and family were already joking that I’d been training my whole life for this situation.
So, as soon as restrictions around public spaces began to be put in place, I jumped at the chance to shift our weekly grocery shop online. My partner and I set up an account with our local supermarket, chose a convenient Click and Collect timeslot and started adding items to our cart with ease.
The next day, I rolled up to the supermarket car park on my way home from work, parked in the designated Click and Collect parks, and picked up a week’s worth of shopping in less than 10 minutes. It was brilliant. Quick, convenient, and so easy that I called my grandparents to suggest that they start shopping this way too.
Because of this earlier experience, I wasn’t too concerned when restrictions were heightened last week. I saw reports of queues and panic-buying at all major supermarkets, plus widespread difficulty in getting groceries delivered, and was mystified at the fuss. Smugly, I wondered: “Why doesn’t everyone just do Click and Collect?”
On Thursday night, I took the grocery list off the fridge and sat down to place our order once again. The first sign of trouble was that all the Click and Collect slots were booked out for the next week in advance.
We’d stocked up on shelf-stable foods in a modest way earlier, so I didn’t panic, and decided to get up early the next day to book a slot for the following week. It wasn’t until then that I realised shopping was now deeply serious business. By 6am, the fresh Click and Collect slots were already booked out.
My new serious-business strategy had me waiting until midnight the next evening, when I’d deduced that the Click and Collect slots for Saturday week would come online. I pre-loaded our items into the cart so that when a slot became available, I could grab it and check out immediately.
This turned out to have been a very good idea, because as soon as the clock ticked over from 11.59pm to 12am, the supermarket’s website threw its toys out of the cot completely. Any click took minutes to process. So many other people had also stayed up late to book their Click and Collect groceries that we’d collectively managed to overload the server.
By the time the Click and Collect slots had loaded, only one remained, with four places left. I clicked it and then waited for the page to reload with confirmation, cheering it to the finish line like a spectator at the races.
Successfully securing a slot was a huge relief, but this meant I then had 30 minutes to check out before the slot was reassigned. This would have taken less than five minutes with a site that behaved normally, but under the strain of so many shoppers, it became a slow-moving mess that timed out frequently. I was sweating, with minutes on the timer to go, before the checkout process was complete.
Now I know why everyone is mobbing physical grocery stores.
I’ve since received advice that those of us who can shop in-store safely should do so, and leave the contactless channels open for people at high risk of complications from Covid-19. In light of this very reasonable request, I’ll switch back to regular shopping after our Click and Collect order comes through and just wear disposable gloves to the shops before going through an elaborate self-cleansing ritual at home. It’s fine.
But I’m also going to call my grandparents again. Something tells me they won’t be checking out online without a lot of assistance.