Now let’s talk about how shopping for groceries online might actually save you money compared to shopping in person. Yes, despite the delivery fees.
When I tackled this topic for the Washington Post a couple of months ago, my first question was are online and in-person grocery prices the same or different? Frankly, I was worried that there might be a markup on online products. So I compared online and in-store prices at Giant and Safeway, two of the largest nationwide chains, both of which have delivery services.
I checked 10 popular products that most families would buy and found that the total at both stores’ brick and mortar locations was about $45. I’m delighted to say that their online store totals were within a dollar or two of that. Some prices were a few cents higher, but some were lower, so it came out almost even. I only checked the 10 products but when the website cheapism.com did a broader comparison, it also found online and in-store prices were pretty equivalent.
So if we consider that settled, then it’s all about whether you can make back the delivery fee. Stores charge between $7.95 and $12.95 to deliver your groceries, depending on the size of your purchase. You may also want to tip your driver, although some stores don’t allow it. So… can we recoup the delivery fee? Stay with me…
You offset a little of the delivery fee right away since you don’t have to pay for gas. Plus there are ways to get free or discounted delivery: First, many stores offer discount codes for free delivery if you buy a certain dollar minimum. Second, sometimes manufacturers will pay for your delivery if you buy a certain amount of their products. Third: when certain time slots aren’t filling up, stores will often offer discounted delivery.
I would argue that the bigger benefit to shopping online is the time you save by skipping the trip. Plus, if you enter your loyalty card number, all the products you’ve bought at the store in the past should pop up as a customized shopping list. Just click the ones you’d like to buy again and you’re done. No wandering from aisle to aisle. When you shop from home you can also check your pantry to see if you need something, rather than guessing and wasting food. And, if you’re a parent, taking kids to the supermarket inevitably takes more time. So there’s that.
But here’s the real beauty of shopping for groceries online: your online shopping cart keeps a running total of your purchases. If you’re over budget, you simply uncheck something to remove it from your cart and get back on track. By contrast, when you’re at the store, unless you’re Rain Man, you have no idea what your total is as you shop and putting items back after the checker rings them up is awkward.
You can also shop around by unit price online. Looking for something like canned peas, where the brand doesn’t matter? Tell the computer to sort them by price from lowest to highest, and stick the cheapest one in your cart. By contrast, scanning up and down the shelves with your eyeballs is much more time consuming.
Shopping online also helps you avoid impulse buys. In fact, when I spoke with a Giant executive, she admitted that that is challenging for them as a company.
You can even use coupons when you shop online. Some stores allow you to use paper coupons for online orders by presenting them to your driver. Others have virtual coupons right on their websites. Online grocery stores also feature sales. Some even have handy tools that list products you’ve purchased in the past that are currently on sale.
Now, to address what EVERYONE always says when I suggest they try grocery shopping online: picking out your own produce. Yes, it’s nice to choose your fruits and veggies, but keep in mind, online grocery stores DO have a comment section where you can leave instructions for your personal shopper. Like your bananas green? Your apples small? Say so. I now do a combination of in-store and online grocery shopping. I hope I’ve convinced you to at least give online shopping a try.