When it comes to grocery shopping these days, a lot of customers are just phoning it in.

Most of central Ohio’s largest grocery chains now have a cellphone app that allows customers to sign up and click on the items they want to buy, and a personal shopper fills up the cart.

“It’s a game-changer,” said Amy McCormick, corporate affairs manager for the Kroger Co., which calls its service ClickList. “It really is for a lot of people.”

Although the personalized shopping services operate under different names at Kroger, Giant Eagle and Wal-Mart, they work basically the same, with a few variations: Shoppers open an account using their computer or cellphone, click on the items they want to purchase, indicate the best time for pickup and wait in a designated space for delivery.

All stores have designated times and parking areas for pickup, and an employee loads up the groceries.

At central Ohio Kroger and Giant Eagle stores, for example, the first three online orders are free, followed by a $4.95 charge per visit, regardless of the size of the transaction, according to the grocers’ websites.

Eryn Gilson of Hilliard said she’s a true believer in Giant Eagle’s Curbside Express, the personal-shopping service for which she signed up in February.

“I use it all the time,” Gilson said. “I work from home, and I have three kids – my youngest is 5 months old – and going to the grocery store is just not possible. My husband works really long days. I use it for the convenience.”

She said although a fee applies, she actually saves money through identifying sales and better meal planning.

“There is no turning back,” she said. “I sing their praises all the time.”

Wal-Mart’s Online Grocery service is free, with a minimum order of $30, according to Wal-Mart’s FAQ section online. Customers can receive $10 off their first order of $50 or more by using the code, wowfresh, during checkout, according to Molly Blakeman, spokeswoman for Bentonville, Arkansas-based, Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart also has a reference component to the online shopping: A customer who refers a friend who uses the site gets $10 off each order, up to 20 per year.

The national chains would not disclose the precise number of online or app shoppers nor the percentage of those using online shopping.

Blakeman said curbside pickup applies to almost every type of shopper.

“We see many customers adding groceries to their cart all week long as the fridge empties and then check out at the end of the week by scheduling a weekend pickup,” Blakeman said. “Many of them place orders after the kids go to bed, as 8 to 9 p.m. is among the busiest hours for ordering.

“They also shop while comforting crying babies in the middle of the night, during their lunch hour at work and after school during their kids’ lessons or practice.”

Meijer does not offer curbside service in central Ohio, instead focusing on delivery services with Shipt, said Joe Hirschmugl, spokesman for the Grand Rapids, Michigan-based, chain.

For $99 a year, Shipt members receive unlimited free grocery deliveries on all orders costing more than $35, Hirschmugl said.

“I guess we’d say that home delivery is the ultimate in convenience,” he said. “Based on what we learned when we launched our Meijer Curbside program in 2015, we decided to bring our customers the next evolution of convenience and service, which is why we brought our store-to-door service to 660,000 households in and around Columbus.”

Other grocery-delivery services, such as Grocery Gazelle and AmazonFresh, also are gaining momentum.

Jennifer Williams, owner of Weiland’s Market in Clintonville, uses Instacart, a third-party business, for delivery only.

Williams said the service, in place for about three months, extends Weiland’s to a wider geographic area. Customers can place specific instructions on the order sheet – for example, asking for ripe bananas instead of green ones.

Not all of Weiland’s products are available for delivery because they aren’t always on the shelves, Williams said. The inventory can change rapidly.

She said although it was important to offer the service, it accounts for very few sales, maybe one or two a day.

“I don’t have the staff, the expertise and personally don’t have the time to build a platform for (online) shopping,” Williams said. “It’s too much.”

Huffman’s Market, an independent grocer in Upper Arlington, has provided an in-house delivery service for more than 30 years, said Ryan Huffman, general manager of the store.

At Huffman’s, ordering is done the old-fashioned way: calling or emailing in the shopping list.

Huffman said the store owners still are deciding whether to hire an independent company to provide third-party shopping, but for now, the delivery orders account for only 5 percent or less of the business.

“Right now, the environment is changing so much,” he said. “We’re figuring out how to do it.”

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary