(Originally written March 2016, most recently updated July 8, 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.
(See below for other online grocery options.)
If you’ve never used PC Express, here’s how it works: You place your order online, drive over at your designated time, pull into one of the reserved parking spots, call them, and they bring out your order.
I’ve been using the service weekly since 2016 when I first wrote this review, except during the first couple of months of the pandemic, when demand far exceeded capacity, so I left it for more vulnerable people. But right now you can order groceries and pick them up later the same day. They must have hired a lot of extra staff.
How it works
First, you select your pickup location from over 700 stores across Canada.
Then you choose a pickup time.
Depending on the pickup time, the service will cost you $3 or $5.
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. 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. Considering they stock tens of thousands of items in 700 stores nationwide, they do pretty well. This is no small feat.
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 since the pandemic there have been more. (Also since the pandemic I haven’t been receiving emails, but I think that’s just me. My mom gets them. Trying to sort it out.)
Usually the PC Express shoppers do a good shop of picking substitutions, 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.)
Sometimes they shop for your items a few hours before your pickup window. By the time you get there the shelves may have been stocked, so you might find items they couldn’t.
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 15 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.
With the increased demand since March, this hasn’t been as smooth as usual. However, since June I’ve noticed they seem to be doing better. Nonetheless, 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 overcrowding 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.”
In addition to staying out of the store, one of the benefits I like is 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 ago, and Superstore was 9-10% lower, on average.
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?
Package size fails
Be careful about package sizes when ordering! If 900g vs 4kg of dried beans doesn’t mean much to you, take a minute to pull out a package or two from your kitchen to make sure you’re not getting way more (or less) than you want.
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 isn’t perfect, but it saves time, keeps the stores less crowded, and provides a service for vulnerable people, so I’ll call it 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, but I’ve heard mixed reviews on social media.
- 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.)
If you try any of them, let me know what you think! Happy to hear from you on the Sweet Spot Facebook page or by email.