Reading Terminal Market, the iconic Philly food market where vendors sell everything edible from produce and spices to prepared foods, is pushing pause on online ordering and home delivery until at least April 20. The market, which relies on the Mercato delivery service, has been been unable to handle the spike in orders caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Philadelphians have been able to order fresh produce, straight-from-the-butcher meats, baked goods, and a wide variety of prepared foods from Reading Terminal Market since it signed on with Mercato in late 2018. The online ordering system was implemented slowly, according to the market, and early last month, it was fulfilling about 50 orders a day.
But when COVID-19 hit Philly and more and more people started relying on home delivery, the system became overwhelmed and floundered, especially in the lead-up to Easter.
“From the end of the first week of March, the growth of orders increased exponentially — in some cases doubling by the day. In the week before Easter, we were getting an average of 8,000–10,000 thousand [sic] daily orders,” Reading Terminal general manager Anuj Gupta wrote in an open letter posted on Twitter. “Our fulfillment system, and Mercato’s technology, did not have the chance to adapt to such rapid growth and, accordingly, incomplete/erroneous orders became numerous.”
Customers who had ordered from the market via Mercato last week received emails — in some cases after their delivery was expected — stating that the order was canceled and in the process of being refunded, along with a $10 credit for the service. A Mercato representative, speaking to the delivery service’s general policy and not Reading Terminal vendors specifically, says refunds for canceled orders are issued in three to five business days.
Although delivery has been suspended, Reading Terminal continues to remain open for in-person shopping from Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Like grocery stores, it falls into the category of essential businesses that are allowed to remain open amid coronarvirus-related government restrictions. Mercato, meanwhile, is still accepting orders for other local vendors, including several in the Italian Market.
In his letter, Gupta wrote that the market and Mercato are this week making “system changes and improvement[s] that will reduce errors and provide you with the customer service you expect and deserve” before the delivery service resumes on Monday, April 20.
At least one Reading Terminal vendor was sympathetic. In reply to Gupta’s letter, Mueller Chocolate Co. tweeted, “You guys are doing an amazing job, it’s a temporary hiccup in over 125 years of operation.”