What you need to know about H-E-B’s quickly growing curbside service

You might never have to set foot in an H-E-B again.

For many Texans, not shopping at H-E-B is like not watching the Longhorns or not eating breakfast tacos. But as the grocery delivery industry ramps us, the grocers themselves are coming up with ways to save customers time and money on delivery fees. That means trying to compete.

With its H-E-B Curbside service, rather than deliver the groceries all the way to your house, H-E-B is betting that you’re OK with spending a flat $4.95 fee to swing by the store on the way home and pick up your food. You can’t use coupons or in-store discounts, but the prices are either the same or less than 3 percent more on average, according to a representative.

H-E-B now offers curbside grocery pickup at 17 of more than 40 stores in the Austin area, and to encourage new users this fall, the company is offering four free curbside pick-ups, no matter how large the order.

I tried the service for the first time last month, and it was seamless. It was nice to see familiar prices and packages as I ordered online, and the set fee makes it easy to understand what I’m paying for. Any extra I paid wasn’t high enough for me to notice. I picked out the groceries online at lunchtime on a Friday, but all the pickup times for that afternoon were taken, so I picked one on that Sunday. It took longer than I thought to click my way to a decent grocery cart, but I was relying on my memory of the store and my fridge back home. I know this step will be faster once my order history is set and many of the items I buy week after week will be easy to reorder.

When I went to pick up the groceries at the Oltorf Street and Congress Avenue H-E-B, I parked in one of the spots outside the mural-covered trailer they’ve converted into a curbside building. A sign instructs you to text a code to a number, and then you get a message saying someone will be out to load the groceries into your car. A few minutes later, a store employee came to my window, where I signed for the groceries, and then he loaded them in the trunk. I didn’t even get out of the car.

He wouldn’t take a tip. The store’s service saved me about half an hour. That’s worth $5, especially when I’m swamped, but there’s no way I’d give up the pleasure of pushing a cart through a store, looking at the groceries and thinking about what I’m going to be eating in the week ahead. I can do that at a computer — using my imagination to walk through the store’s colorful, tactile inventory — but where’s the fun in that?

The company has been working on this convenience feature at stores throughout Texas, and by the end of the year, 100 stores will offer the service. As they expand and invest in each curbside pickup location, there’s no doubt that many customers will find it helpful now and then, and some will find it indispensable for everyday shopping.

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