Winter is coming, and so is a spike in demand.
A young woman delivering groceries to a home in the evening.
Credit: RichLegg/Getty

As someone on a TV show once said, winter is coming. While normally that means it's time to start looking forward to the holiday season, this particular mid-pandemic winter will more likely be remembered as a time when us humans made like animals, hiding away the supplies we'll need to gather in order to get through the colder months (not to mention doing a bit of hibernating). 

And unlike those crazy, scary days of March and April, the hope is that this time, the companies responsible for handling online grocery deliveries will be a bit more ready for the onslaught. Since then, online grocers like Amazon, Boxed, Shipt, and others have taken steps to enhance their operations, beefing up staff, stockpiling winter staples in advance, and even augmenting how they offer their services to meet the demands of a potentially busy winter. 

In the case of Amazon, it hopes that a small change to how it does delivery can save people a lot of aggravation. Specifically, the Whole Foods-owning company will now notify potential customers when a delivery slot opens up during periods of high demand, sparing them the madness of constantly refreshing. The company says the feature "will be available to us should we see sharp spikes" in the winter months, according to CNN.

For other grocery deliverers, coping with 2020's unique circumstances is a matter of ramping up manpower. Shipt, a delivery service outgrowth of Target, plans to hire 100,000 new workers to keep product flowing this winter. Meanwhile in New York, FreshDirect is adding 1,000 new workers, including everyone from truck drivers to butchers, in order to keep up with local demand. Much like other retailers, FreshDirect says it's also secured holiday staples like spices, baking supplies, and even canned pumpkin well ahead of time.

While grocery deliverers can take all sorts of preparatory measures to make sure the goods can flow, it's impossible to guarantee that everything will go off without a hitch. That's especially true given that certain supply chains could grind to a halt should cases spike to the point that further lockdowns or workplace restrictions are needed. 

"It's not going to be perfect, but it's going to be better than it was in late March and early April when no one was prepared," Brick Meets Click analyst David Bishop told CNN. Ultimately, though, he notes that "retailers will only be able to get what suppliers produce. The pain point is supply."

So while you probably won't need to buy another six month's worth of toilet paper in December, it's worth having a little bit of patience the next time you send someone else to acquire groceries for you in the middle of a pandemic. While there's reason to believe we'll all be a bit more ready for things this time around, just remember that this isn't over yet.