- H-E-B is offering a dedicated grocery delivery service for customers aged 60 and older, the retailer announced in a press release. The program, initially available from around 240 store locations, offers a limited assortment of groceries that senior shoppers can order by phone, on the H-E-B website or through the company's app.
- The volunteer-run phone order line is open 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day of the week. Shoppers order their groceries by credit or debit card only, then a Favor Delivery driver brings it to their homes "within just a few hours" and leaves it on the doorstep. H-E-B includes a $10 tip for Favor drivers with each order and is waiving all delivery and service fees for the first 30 days.
- The Senior Support Line allows elderly customers to shop H-E-B without having to leave their homes and potentially expose themselves to the coronavirus, the grocer said. “There’s no such thing as being too cautious with our seniors at this time," Martin Otto, H-E-B's chief operating officer said in a statement.
H-E-B's new dedicated delivery service is the company's alternative to offering seniors-only store hours, which many other grocers have introduced over the past week. Instead of helping seniors avoid crowded stores, they're helping them stay away from stores altogether and offering an alternative to the online shopping options that might not be intuitive for elderly customers, and that are also getting overrun with demand.
H-E-B previously told CNN it wouldn’t host senior hours because it did not believe it's safe to have a group of people that are particularly susceptible to the virus congregating in stores. Sprouts' Farmers Markets has voiced similar reasoning for its refusal to hold special store hours for seniors, disabled and immunocompromised customers.
"Special shopping hours can result in long entry lines and crowding, which conflicts with social distancing recommendations for the elderly and at-risk groups," Sprouts said on its website, noting that it has increased staffing and social distancing measures at checkout to ensure customer safety.
News reports have underscored this potential problem. According to a local radio station in New Mexico, dozens of people showed up to a senior shopping period at Smith’s in Albuquerque, creating crowded store conditions. Some shoppers that had underlying health conditions saw the large crowd and left without getting groceries, according to KRQE.
Retailers are taking steps to mitigate risks for seniors and other customers. Trader Joe's is capping the number of shoppers who can be inside its stores at any given time and Albertsons just announced social distancing measures, including marking out customer spacing on floors around cash registers and other points where shoppers tend to congregate.
With the Senior Support Line, H-E-B is able to leverage its own delivery service, Favor, to serve customers in the place that's safest for them — their homes. Operating a separate service in addition to its main delivery and pickup business could challenge, H-E-B. And some of the program's finer points remain unclear, such as how volunteers will communicate product assortment and availability over the phone and how they will confirm that the customer is 60 years of age or older.
Some grocers have also allowed immunocompromised and pregnant women to shop alongside seniors during their special store hours, while H-E-B's service is only for seniors.
In addition to offering this new service, H-E-B has also waived fees for next-day pickup and pharmacy delivery. To help stop the spread of the virus, it has shut down its in-store restaurants and limited services to its bakery, floral and deli departments. It has reduced hours at all of its locations including Central Market, Joe V’s and Mi Tienda and temporarily increased pay for its warehouse, transportation, in-store and manufacturing employees by $2 an hour.