Internet grocery shopping, trending across the country, is catching on in the Lowcountry

Piggly Wiggly reserves a parking spot for online customers at its Maybank Highway store on Johns Island.

St. Claire Donaghy has heard people talk of the days when neighborhood markets delivered groceries to your door. Such service is rare these days, but Donaghy is quite pleased with the next best thing.

She uses Click'n Shop with Piggly Wiggly. While not technically savvy by her own admission, setting up the account and using the program to become an online shopper has been a snap. It's also helped Donaghy, who has cerebral palsy, overcome two challenges.

Shopping independently without being able to reach everything she wanted from her wheelchair was one challenge. Organizing grocery shopping trips that included her two children, 7 and 9, was another.

Donaghy says shopping online works so well she'd do it even if she didn't have cerebral palsy.

Shopping with two kids when everyone is hungry and they're “yelling mommy, mommy get me this or that” is stressful.

The busy wife and mother, who is a reporter for the Index-Journal in Greenwood, normally shops there. But she is shopping at the Piggly Wiggly on Maybank Highway while her family is on vacation here.

Normally, it takes an hour for her to drive across town, give the store's shopper her reusable bags to fill, have her groceries loaded, coupons deducted, pay in the parking lot using the store's wireless credit card machine and drive back to her house.

Her order typically is filled perfectly, Donaghy says. When there is an error, the store quickly corrects it.

A 3-pound bag of potatoes was left out of her order and Piggly Wiggly's shopper delivered it to her home immediately, she says. When the store was out of her yogurt brand, it honored her coupons on another brand.

“To me, that kind of customer service is worth the five-dollar (online shopping) fee.”

Piggly Wiggly instituted the program after considering the trend toward Internet shopping at supermarkets across the country, says Bethany Harmon, Click'n Shop's manager. The locally based chain decided it was a good option for many of its customers.

While Harris Teeter also has such a program, called Express Lane, Bi-Lo, Publix and Food Lion say they do not. Piggly's Wiggly's Northbridge store also offers delivery.

Piggly Wiggly tested seven of its stores in 2008 and expanded to 36 late in 2011, Harmon says. The program, available at 13 Charleston area stores, is used mostly by professionals and moms pressed to save time.

“They are trying to squeeze in soccer practice, ballet lessons and dinner with the family and have realized that grocery shopping is something they can delegate,” Harmon says.

The $5 fee is waived for the first order. There also is a 30-day unlimited option for $15.95, designed for those who may want smaller orders to be cost effective. There is no minimum purchase.

Trish Ladson of Piggly Wiggly's Coleman Boulevard store in Mount Pleasant has been a personal shopper since the company piloted the program in 2008, she says. Among those she shops for are 15 to 20 regular customers. Most of them are mothers with young children and some are seniors.

Mothers usually spend $150 to $200 per week and seniors might spend less than $50, Ladson says. “I am very particular as far as choosing a good cut of meat and produce. It has to be appealing to the eye or we are not going to put it in that bag.”

Between a full-time job, swim team and T-ball practices, Kellen Correia's schedule gets filled up pretty fast. So she loves being able to order groceries online whenever she gets a few moments.

In fact, Correia half jokes she's practically the poster child for online shopping at Harris Teeter's store at Six Mile Road east of the Cooper. She never anticipated or wished for a such a program, but quickly responded when she learned of Express Lane.

“I was like, 'sign me up!' ”

Correia, president and executive director for Friends of the Hunley, says she's been grocery shopping online for about a year. The first time it took about 30 minutes to complete her shopping list, then after a time or two, it took five minutes.

Last year, she prepared her shopping list before going on vacation. On her return, she visited the store's website while still in the airport and processed her order.

She's briefly wondered what it would be like to have her groceries delivered, something routinely done a couple of generations ago, but says it probably would add stress by requiring her to be at home in time for the delivery.

A shopper who likes to squeeze the fruit before buying probably would not like the online experience, she says. So far, her only disappointment has been receiving one bad avocado. The store deducted the fruit from her bill and added a free one to her next order.

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Correia says she does not mind the $4.95 charge for the service. She has seen it cut by more than half during promotions. Sticking to her prepared list and not being tempted to impulse buy makes the fee worth it.

Stew Williams and his wife, Linda, also are online shoppers who buy from the Harris Teeter, but at the Savannah Highway store. The retired program director for Clear Channel and Kirkman Broadcasting says they were eager to give the program a try.

The couple have shopped via the Internet for a year, he says.

“Once we discovered it we said 'Boy this is great!' Once you get used to the process, it's easy to follow. The first time you have to find out how the store has the food subdivided. You have to figure out where everything is.

“We use it two to three times a month,” Williams says. “Ninety percent of the time you know what you want. If you are not sure of what brand, it takes a little time.”

These days, it takes the Williamses about five minutes. They go into the store about every sixth or seventh time they need groceries.

“The $4.95 charge is not bad when you think that you could spend 90 minutes in the store. It's a matter of what your time is worth.

“There is not enough time to do all of the things you want to do,” Williams says. “It gives you more time to spend with your family.”

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705.