It works, it actually works!
Such is my gratitude at finding an online grocery-shopping service in Lebanon that I have crawled out of my writing void just to tell you about it.
I knew Spinneys offered online shopping – a long time ago I saw the signs in Spinneys saying so – but I didn’t give it a moment’s consideration because online stuff doesn’t usually work in Lebanon.
But this does. And, like all life-improving discoveries in Lebanon, it came through word-of-mouth. An acquaintance told me about it and, seeing the look of disbelief on my face, assured me that it was easy and reliable.
I remembering questioning her sceptically, almost belligerently, like an immigration officer trying to find out the lie in her story. “So do you mean to tell me that they have all their products listed on their website and you just click on what you want and they will bring it?”
“Yes,” she said. “They don’t have absolutely everything that you can find in one of their stores, but most things are there.”
“But surely you mean just non-perishables,” I said. “Canned and dry things.”
“No, it’s all there. Frozen, refrigerated, and all the fresh fruits and vegetables, too. And they keep them separated in the delivery van, too. The cold things come in a refrigerated compartment and things that shouldn’t be near food – like bathroom cleaners and detergents – get their own compartment.”
“But how do you pay? I don’t like putting my credit card information into a local website in this country.”
“You don’t have to. You don’t pay anything until they bring you the groceries, and then it can be credit card or cash. When you’re filling out your order online you tick the box for either cash or credit card payment upon delivery. I use a credit card and the guy who brings the bags up carries a little wireless credit card swiper with him. I’m telling you, Jenn, it’s easy. Try it.”
“Stop lying and tell me why you really want to enter Canada!” I bellowed, grabbing her by the lapels.
No, I didn’t. I thanked her, cast my doubts aside, and the next day placed my very first online delivery order with Spinneys.
And she was right. It was easy. You create a user profile with your name and phone number, but it’s really short. Actually, before you do that you should make sure they deliver to your neighbourhood because they don’t cover every area of Beirut. There’s a map showing which areas they deliver to, but even if your neighbourhood is blacked out I suggest ringing Spinneys on the phone and double checking. My neighbourhood showed itself it to be out of range, but because we are very central and areas on all sides of us were covered I rang them and found out we are covered.
When you fill in your address information they also provide a little map with a push-pin which you can stick in exactly where your building is. This is a wonderful feature for Beirut, where street addresses mean almost nothing.
Once you’ve done that and are logged in you can begin your order. As soon as you pick your first item a “My basket” opens on one side of your screen, showing the products you have selected and your running tab. Here also you will find the answers to two of the first questions which popped into your mind when you heard that Spinneys has a delivery service – and that ought to be written on the main page but are not (there is no FAQ section on the website, either, unfortunately, but that’s okay because it is a simple site to use). First, you will see a note on your shopping tab stating that there is a minimum order of 100,000 LL (67$), and secondly, that delivery is free. That is to say, there is a 7,500 LL delivery charge written with a red strike through it, as if delivery were only temporarily free for promotional reasons but will one day will cost you the five bucks. I don’t know. It is certainly free right now, that’s all I can say for certain.
As far as I can tell – though I haven’t done an actual study – prices on the online site are exactly the same as in Spinneys stores.
Their website is good but not perfect by any means, nor kept as up-to-date as one could wish. Keep that in mind at all times and you’ll be fine. Some things are mixed up in name or in category (potato chips are in the ‘Snacks’ section, and called ‘chips’ even though there is a ‘Crisps’ section, and in the ‘Crisps’ section there are no chips/crisps although there is some breakfast granola).
There is a space to add a note at the bottom of your order, so you can clarify things here. (For example, the mozzarella I order has no option to select in what form I want it – a solid block, slices or shredded – so I specify this in the note section.)
You can choose your delivery to come within a three-hour range: 9 a.m. to noon, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., or 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. It doesn’t tell you how near to the delivery time you can place your order, but it will stop you when you submit it if you’re too close to the delivery time. I know that if you want your groceries to come the same day in the afternoon you must order before 7 a.m. As for punctuality, I’ve ordered from them five times so far, and three of those came within the stated delivery time, and two of them were about half an hour past it.
The funniest part of the whole ordering procedure is the page that appears at the end, prompting you to select your “personal shopper”. There are photos of two smiling women with their names below, and a third woman’s name without a photo, and apparently based on their appearance you are to award one of them the honour of selecting your products for you. Actually, I don’t think it means much. I’ve gone with the default, pre-selected name each time (I think her name is Layla) and sometimes I’ve gotten her and sometimes it’s been someone else.
The reason I know who is doing my shopping for me is because your personal shopper will call you while they’re filling your order. There are always a couple of items out of stock and your personal shopper will offer you the choice of something as close as possible in type and price. They’re fairly good at this, I find. If you had selected a mid-price parmesan cheese they offer another mid-price one. Same if you ordered a premium brand of something or a cheap brand of something. When I wanted Spinneys-brand white vinegar because it was the cheapest white vinegar they had (I only wanted it for de-calcifying my washing machine) and my personal shopper told me it was out of stock she offered the next-cheapest one as a replacement. They do it quickly and efficiently and – oh, almost forgot – they speak English.
I’ve had some mistakes, one or two small ones with each order. Pear and peach flavour Lipton ice-tea instead of just plain peach flavour. That sort of thing. Hardly anything to bother about. I always make sure I order all the pop and juice and water we could possibly need when I’m doing the Spinneys delivery because that stuff is so heavy and the two young men who bring it up to my apartment take it right into the kitchen for me.
I tip the two lads 5 thou each. I think that’s plenty – maybe too much (I’ll know from the sounds coming from M once he reads this). It’s just, you know, they work hard and don’t look like they’re rolling in dough.
And it’s a pretty darn nice service.