HARLINGEN — When it comes to buying groceries, it looks like the rest of the country is finally catching up to the Rio Grande Valley.
Walmart this week announced plans to expand its pilot program, Delivery Unlimited, from four test markets — Miami, Salt Lake City, Tampa and Houston, including several stores in the Valley — to 1,400 additional stores this fall.
At H-E-B, a delivery option has been available at some of its stores, including at 613 S. Expressway 83, for about two years.
Both H-E-B and Walmart contract with delivery services to bring home the bacon to their customers. H-E-B uses delivery firm Shipt, which charges a $99 annual fee (or $14 per month) for unlimited delivery of orders over $35. A $7 fee is charged for orders under $35, according to the Shipt website.
Walmart deliveries are about to change when it comes to payment.
“The program gives customers the option to pay a yearly $98 fee or a monthly $12.95 fee to receive unlimited Walmart Grocery Delivery orders,” company officials said in a news release. “Customers will continue to have the option to pay a per-delivery fee, without a membership.”
As might be expected, the shoppers using the delivery option have been enthusiastic about it, said Mario Rodriquez, a department manager at the Walmart Supercenter at 1801 W. Lincoln Ave., where the delivery option has been available for about two months.
“ A lot of customers use it, especially the Winter Texans when they come down,” said Rodriguez. “It works out well with the Winter Texans and a lot of our other customers have started to use it.
“Of course, we try to go out into the community promoting the service as much as possible, besides commercials on TV and all that,” he added.
Both the Walmart and H-E-B delivery systems depend on online ordering.
“The person has to download the app,” said Raquel Mena, customer service supervisor at the same Walmart. “We have two apps, we have the old one, the Walmart app, and then we have the grocery app.
“Say that you’re going to place an order and you need detergent or body wash or whatever. You put it in here and it goes to your shopping cart,” she said, clicking items on the Walmart grocery app on her mobile phone.
When shopping is done, a user has the option of choosing whether to drive by to pick up the order, or have it delivered to his or her home.
Looming large over these bold new buying options for grocery shoppers is the shadow of online retail giant Amazon.com.
Grocery store chains are looking to expand delivery service to blunt Amazon’s foray into the industry with its purchase of Whole Foods Market Inc. about two years ago. Amazon now offers same-day grocery delivery in selected cities, although the closest Whole Foods Market stores to the Valley are in San Antonio.
Target Stores Inc. also offers same-day delivery at selected stores. Costco, too, has a delivery option.