(Originally written March 2016, most recently updated March 28, 2020.)
If you’re near a Superstore, No Frills, Wholesale Club, “Your Independent Grocer,” or Loblaws, and need groceries, PC Express is one way to get your grocery shopping done without going in the store, but at time of writing, open pickup windows are over a week away, so you have to plan ahead.
(See below for other online ordering options, but I’d say the same principle applies.)
If you’ve never used PC Express, here’s how it works: You place your order online, pull into one of the reserved parking spots at your designated time, call them, and they’ll bring out your order.
I’ve been using the service weekly since 2016 when I first wrote this review. A few things have recently changed, for obvious reasons:
- Normally the fee is $3 to $5, depending on the pickup time, but now they’re waiving it.
- Normally you can get an order the next day, but right now, in Calgary at least, it’s over a week out.
- Apparently they’ve reduced selection on the website, to facilitate faster orders, so you may not find everything you want.
- Normally they bring the order out within five to ten minutes, but right now, I’m sure there will be delays. Apparently they’re doing three times their normal volume, so be patient.
- Normally you can add items to your order until midnight the night before your pickup time. They’ve suspended that, so order carefully! Also, you can’t cancel your order online right now – you have to call them.
This is a service where a person actually goes around the store with a cart and shops for you. It’s not highly automated like Amazon. So be flexible and forgiving. I’m sure everyone is doing their best under very demanding conditions.
Update, April 22, 2020, I have received several emails suggesting that the service has been delayed past the reserved window and that people have waited up to an hour in the parking lot. Often there are numerous missing items due to outages. I’m not sure how widespread this is, but clearly they are overwhelmed. My colleague Vincci Tsui wrote a list of unconventional places to get groceries, like restaurants, in Calgary. That may be a better alternative for some.
How it works
First, you select your pickup location from over 700 stores across Canada.
Then you choose a pickup time.
After that searching and selecting products is straightforward. If you can do Amazon, you can do this.
It took me just under an hour to place my first order, but now they usually take just 5-10 minutes, thanks to the “My Shop – Most Purchased” list, which lists my most frequently purchased items. Click click click… easy!
There are often hiccups. This isn’t a perfect system. But considering they stock tens of thousands of items in 700 stores nationwide, they do pretty well. This is no small feat.
If something is out of stock in the store you’re shopping, you won’t be able to order it. This week I couldn’t find a few items on my list, but normally that’s not a problem.
Usually I get an email right before my pickup window saying that my order is ready and listing the substitutions they’ve made. Usually there are just a couple of items, but in the past couple of weeks, there have been eight to ten per order, with all of the panic buying going on.
Usually the PC Express shoppers do a good shop of picking substitutions that make sense, but not always. About half the time I go into the store to get a better substitute. (You could ask them to do this for you, but I don’t like to wait.)
When you arrive, you simply pull into one of the designated parking spots, call the number on the sign, and wait for them to bring out your order, which is waiting inside in the PC Express freezers, fridges and shelves. They have to transfer your bins to a rolling cart, so it usually takes 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how many people got there before you.
They’ll ask you if you’re okay with the substitutions, and if you want to use the card on file or have them bring out a machine so you can use a different payment method.
An alert on the site last week said “If you shop at our full- service locations & don’t want to interact with our colleagues, that’s fine! Simply open your trunk and we’ll load your groceries in, receipt and all.” That protects both you and the worker, who likely encounters many people in the course of a work day.
With the increased demand, this may not go as smoothly as usual. PC Express is advising customers not to come until they actually receive the email. One person in my Facebook community, who lives in Toronto, reported that hers didn’t come until a couple of hours after her reserved time. On my last order, March 20, I didn’t get an email at all, so a couple of hours after my pickup window I called them. It was ready, but somehow the email hadn’t been sent.
I wanted to pass on this message shared by a PC Express supervisor, in the spirit of empathy, kindness, and helping it all run more smoothly…
|“Please people pay attention to the time and date of your order…show up during your timeslot unless you have been told otherwise by a phone call from PC express staff. this prevents over crowding and having 20 people showing up at one time. it cuts down on wait times.
Please review your email..check your spam. about any changes to your order prior to pick up make note of anything you want removed let us know at pick up. this helps the process to go quicker at time of pickup.
Please use the card on file. so the credit card you used to secure your order online. less contact that way…
and heres a biggy when we ask u to pop your trunk and remain in your vehicle we mean it…that door opens u get a warning to get back in. after that we walk away with whatever groceries remain on the cart. this is to protect not only our staff but also u. remember we are high risk to exposure.
when we say there is no ground beef ….there was no ground beef at the time of picking your order and no we do not have the staff to run out and quickly check or grab something else.
We are not tech support. don’t know how to add your credit card or having issues with the website don’t call the store call the help line on the website. .we do not have access to any of your personal info.
so many things that customers can do to make the whole process easier.
we do not have anything to do with instacart…i have no access to any instacart order.”
Back when I first wrote this review in 2016, one of the benefits I liked was the avoidance of impulse buys. Everything about a grocery store is designed to maximize your spending, so never setting foot inside is likely to save you money, especially if you’re shopping with children.
You can see unit prices right in the search window, making it easy to compare, if that’s a priority for you.
My only complaint here is that you can’t sort items by unit price, but it’s easy enough to scan it.
I haven’t done an extensive price comparison, but I did compare two orders between PC Express at my local Superstore and Save-On-Foods a few years back, and Superstore was 9-10% lower, on average.
I recently heard from one angry reader who felt they were overcharged for an item, relative to the sale price, and couldn’t get ahold of anyone when they called to have that corrected. Also, the PC Express price/ad matching services aren’t available at this time, to this reader’s frustration. Again, things may not be perfect.
How’s the produce quality?
When I mention this service, people often express doubts about the produce, saying they’d prefer to select their own. While I empathize with this, expect for the occasional dud, I find it pretty good.
My only complaint is that you can’t tell country of origin which, for some products, makes a big difference. For example, I prefer apples from Canada, but I’ll take US-grown, never New Zealand. Unfortunately, they don’t provide that information online.
For people with mobility challenges or those
dragging around enjoying the company of small children, this will be a huge benefit, especially now that we’re all trying to practice social distancing. But keep in mind that this is one more in a long list of activities that no longer require us to move. Not necessarily a good thing. So if it actually saves you time, can you replace that big-box store walk with a sunshine and trees walk?
Amazingly, they’ve managed to give the nutrition information and ingredient list for most items, even food that would not normally have a food label, like fresh produce and meat. So if you want to dig a bit, you can even read labels while shopping.
Another, quicker approach, is to narrow your search down to PC’s healthier store brand, Blue Menu, which is a quick way to find whole grain, lower-sodium, or lower-sugar packaged food: cereal, crackers, etc. But read the label just to be sure.
The bottom line on PC Express
This service is going to get busier and busier as we head into the coronavirus unknown. It isn’t perfect, but if it keeps the stores less crowded and provides a service for vulnerable people, I think it’s a win.
If you have more questions, check their FAQ page here.
This post isn’t sponsored! I have no affiliation with Loblaws or any of their stores. Other options for ordering your groceries online, at least in my neck of the woods, include:
- Save-On-Foods, which also delivers (see my review).
- Spud.ca, which delivers organic food, much of it locally produced. I used in the past and been quite happy, but it’s a little hard on the budget if you’re feeding a family.
- Walmart.ca, which I’ve never tried.
- Instacart, which delivers from numerous stores, including the Loblaws stores, as well as Walmart and Bulk Barn. I’ve also never tried this one. I did see one person on Twitter that their Instacart order never arrived, and they never heard back after numerous attempts to contact them. (I checked back with her four days later).
- Sunterra Market, will deliver for $8, if you live in Calgary or Edmonton. I’ve never used this either, but I have heard from one person that they have a short delivery window. (I haven’t been able to verify.)