A Lot of People Are Accidentally Ordering Way Too Much Food Online

From 68 pounds of chickpeas to a case of vanilla frosting to 22 bunches of bananas, online grocery orders aren't going so well right now.
April 21, 2020, 5:07pm
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Photos courtesy Jenny Hale and Patrick McKelvey

Search "accidentally ordered" and "pounds of" on Twitter, and you'll find a curious selection of mistakes: a block of cheese longer than an adult forearm, 9 pounds of sugar cubes, 30 pounds of potatoes, two pounds of garlic instead of two bulbs, 10 pounds of baked beans. There's the person who accidentally ordered 88 pounds of flour, the person who mistakenly got five whole chickens, the person who accidentally ordered 176 pounds of dog food, and the list goes on.

As anyone who's stayed up until midnight or after in an attempt to get an online grocery delivery slot can now tell you, the coronavirus pandemic has driven many, many people online for food. While online ordering mishaps are common even during non-pandemic times, the current surge seems amplified by the fact that more people are now ordering food online using platforms that are unfamiliar to them. Plus, as VICE has written before, there are too many options on sites like Amazon, making it hard to discern between products with similar stock photos—especially if you're shopping bleary-eyed at midnight. Put those things together, and you get some confused customers with way too much food on their hands.

Earlier this month, Patrick McKelvey asked his partner to order some groceries. "We ordered them from Costco, which was new for us," he told VICE. "I asked my partner to order ten cans of chickpeas, but he wasn't paying attention to the size of [the] can, apparently." While a can of chickpeas is typically 15 ounces, a can of chickpeas at Costco is 110 ounces, as McKelvey learned when the order arrived. With 10 cans, each carrying close to seven pounds, McKelvey and his partner now have over 68 pounds of chickpeas total. Luckily, they like chickpeas.

The problem they're now facing is more of a pragmatic one. "We have yet to figure out how to cook 7 pounds of chickpeas in a single setting, so storage is an issue," McKelvey added. According to Fine Cooking and the shelf life guide Still Tasty, an opened can of chickpeas should sit in the fridge for only about three or four days, which means cooking a lot of chickpeas in a fairly short amount of time. "Now that we have them, we plan on eating this stew from the NYT at least three times a week for the foreseeable future, and to donate some to a food bank." (Editor's note: Yes, it is The Stew.)

Around the same time, author Jenny Hale took to Amazon to order a tub of frosting to use for cupcakes for her son's birthday. "I just clicked on it very quickly in an order of many things and then did a quick scan of all the items' prices before clicking submit," Hale told VICE. What she didn't notice in that quick scan was that instead of getting one tub of frosting, she ordered one case of frosting containing eight individual tubs, as she posted on Twitter. At least that frosting will go to good use soon: "We do like frosting! We have three birthdays in the next three months, so we'll use some of it then. I might make a multi-layer cake!"

Screenshot via Amazon

Hale's mix-up makes sense. As of this writing, the first item that comes up in an Amazon search for "Duncan Hines frosting" is indeed the case, and though it says "8 - 16 oz cans" in the title, with a small "8x 16 oz" in the image, it's easy to miss, especially if you're buying several other items in the same shopping session. While one might expect that the price would make it clear, prices for Duncan Hines frosting on Amazon are all over the place: the case of vanilla frosting sells for $8.88, but a listing for a two-pack of Duncan Hines cream cheese frosting totals to $7.50 per jar.

Cans and shelf-stable jars, which last almost forever if unopened, are probably the best possible thing to have too much of. On the opposite end, there are so many people who've ordered too many bananas that the Houston Chronicle wrote an article about them. J. Gordon Wright, for example, recently made the mistake of getting 20 bunches of bananas instead of 20 individual bananas.

"I ordered bananas from Amazon Fresh. They were labeled at the time as 'bananas (each)' which was confusing but I thought that bananas were just getting really expensive (turns out they were actually quite cheap)," he told VICE, "and I didn’t want to end up with only a few since it’s so hard to get deliveries scheduled. Since then I noticed their website has been fixed to say 'bunch (5 min.)'"

That position is undeniably more precarious than having a stockpile of cans since as we've surely all experienced, bananas seem to go from all green and firm to speckled and ripe in the blink of an eye. Luckily, Wright said that he and his daughter like bananas and "actually have been eating many per day."

As the Chronicle pointed out, the frequency of banana ordering errors is likely because some grocery services list each banana as individual items, while others list bananas by price per pound. "For all the per-pound options, it’s unclear whether or not you’re adding 1 pound by adding '1' to your cart, or if you’re adding one bunch. For bananas sold individually, it seems a little more straightforward, but one must be paying attention. There is no standard across the stores," the paper concluded. That means people who don't read carefully—because who among us truly reads a product listing?—or those who assume all sites work the same way can be in trouble.

There are worse things to have at home than a lot of food, especially in the midst of a pandemic that forces us to stay indoors. But all these accidental purchases point out an undeniable truth: Just as VICE editor Casey Johnston put it back in December, shopping does in fact "suck now." That's the case in real life, as we wait in long snaking lines just to get into the store, but alas, it's the same online. No matter how quickly companies can get products to our doors, the task of shopping is still a user-unfriendly mess.

If life gives you bananas, though, you can at least make some banana bread.

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