As someone who doesn't like to shop for groceries (or lug them all from my car to the house), the thought of finding a service that helps me avoid the check-out line altogether is very appealing. A service that would put my groceries away would be even more amazing, but I won't get carried away. Even without that added bonus, though, the advantages start to stack up.
Advantages of online grocery shopping
1. Save on transportation costs. Back when I was working away from home, I simply scheduled my time to swing by the grocery store on the way home from work. I still had to carry everything into the house, but I wasn't making an extra trip. Since May last year, I have been a strictly work-from-home kind of gal, so any trip for food is, at minimum, 28 miles round-trip. I try not to make the trip unless I have to, or unless I have some other errands I can run too. If I am feeling particularly hermit-like, I can talk my husband into picking up groceries on his way to or from work, so at least that's an option.
2. Save time. A 28-mile round trip, plus whatever time it takes to shop can easily burn up an hour or more of my day. That's an entire hour I could spend working and earning money, or cleaning. I could always clean. While my lifestyle is not really busy, I can see how this would be a great benefit for those with busy households.
3. Save pain. While taking my seven-month-old baby out in zero-degree weather isn't actually painful, it is rather unappealing. But there are people who do find grocery shopping painful. Imagine navigating a parking lot, a cart through aisles, lifting heavy food items, reaching up or bending down if you're in pain. Having the groceries delivered to your door would be an amazing luxury.
4. Stay organized. I am in the middle of creating a standardized grocery shopping list for our household. As you can imagine, getting a standardized grocery list together is a bit clunky as I review old receipts and calculate how often we buy apples and how many pounds of bananas we purchase in a month. Most of these online grocery shopping services keep track of your orders. You can also schedule when your groceries get delivered so you can be there when they arrive. Plus, it's just easier to compare prices.
Are there disadvantages?
Despite how appealing online grocery shopping sounds, I had questions:
- Since we're trying to beef up our savings account before we buy a new car, we don't want to spend any more on groceries than necessary. Even if the price is higher on the items, would I still be able to save overall by decreasing my transportation costs?
- Is there a difference in quality?
- Is the convenience factor worth it?
If you've been happy shopping at your grocery store, you may not have thought about ways to order groceries online. But if you needed to use this service for some reason, exactly where would you start to look? First, check with your current grocery store to see if they offer this service. Although my usual grocery store offers a wide range of products, it is in a small town and probably could not support online grocery shopping. And when I asked, I found that they don't offer it. But that news didn't stall me completely.
Even though my grocery store of choice doesn't offer it, I do have an Amazon Prime membership. That means that I first go to Amazon when I need to order something online. While I have purchased snacks a few times from Amazon, I never looked to them to meet many of my food needs.
1. What kinds of food do they have and how much does it cost?
At least when I searched Amazon, they didn't have any produce at all. In addition, they did not offer any of the dairy products that I am used to purchasing. (Well, some seller did offer a gallon of milk for $75, calling it “aged” and warned it would be sent without refrigeration. Funny people.) Instead, they had powdered milk or shelf-stable milk available. Breakfast cereals were more expensive via Amazon than at my store too. I assume this is because breakfast cereals are often a loss leader at the store where I shop.
Another online grocery service I found that does have more produce available is Netgrocer. They ship to the lower 48 states; however, the shipping is not free. And this service is more expensive. Way more expensive. While I can buy a three-pound bag of apples for $2.50 at my standard store, one apple was over $2 at Netgrocer. (Whoa.)
Vitacost is another online service I have used. This company specializes in health food items that can also be found at traditional stores, but I have found their prices to be excellent. They also frequently run sales AND have free shipping once your order reaches a certain amount.
2. How is the quality?
Shipping techniques allow perishable items to be shipped to your door. While I usually don't order refrigerated or frozen items, I occasionally order ice cream from a company two states away. It always arrives frozen and delicious. Any item that I have ordered online has been just as (or even more) tasty as anything I have purchased from my conventional grocer. (Maybe this is where the convenience part becomes the worth-it part!)
3. Is the price right?
As I did a little (super) market online research on items that I would normally buy in a brick-and-mortar grocery store, I discovered something that didn't really surprise me.
Despite its convenience, doing all my household grocery shopping online is more expensive than I would like. However, there are a few obvious good deals that I have purchased online before that I will continue to purchase online because of the free shipping. But for everything else? I think I'll try to sweet talk my husband into doing most of the household food shopping instead. If he were not available, though, I would seriously consider online grocery shopping, especially during the bitter-cold temps in the winter months.
How about you? If you buy any of your food online, what do you see as advantages? How is the quality with the service you use, and is it more expensive than shopping at your local grocer?
Lisa Aberle is a college professor by day and a freelance writer by night. Always an aspiring writer with an interest in money, she once ironically misspelled “mortgage” during a spelling bee. Most of her current adventures take place on the four-acre mini-farm she shares with her husband in the rural Midwest (where she writes with gel pens whenever possible).