Online Grocery Delivery: Pros, Cons, and Is It Right for You?

March 17, 2014

 Grocery shopping -- with all the cart bumping, fruitless searching, and line waiting – has to be one of my least favorite errands. And, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no prize-winning shopper. I fail in the planning department and always manage to forget a key ingredient – thus resulting in several more trips to the store.

So when I started to hear more and more buzz about online grocery delivery, the inner slacker in me rejoiced. You mean I can pay someone a small fee to trek through the aisles and deliver goods to my door?

It sounds too good (or too expensive) to be true.

But after a little bit of research, it appears to be far from out of reach for the everyday consumer. Here are a few of the pros and cons:

Pros:

More Providers are Making It More Accessible

In the early 2000s, Webvan came onto the dot com scene with a unique idea – selling groceries online. Unfortunately, the world wasn’t ready for this phenomenon and they failed, miserably.

Fast forward to today, and the most mainstream brands (think Amazon, Walmart, and big-name grocery stores) are now jumping on the grocery delivery bandwagon. And more providers means more accessibility (i.e. you don’t have to live in a major city to have access to this service), and, better yet, lower prices.

In fact, this price comparison puts the majority of delivery charges under $10 (different minimums apply).

Searching is a Thing of the Past

Finding specific or specialty items can be a huge pain – especially when the store is packed and you have no idea where to start your search. Online shopping takes the guess work out of the search since every item is just a few keystrokes away.

No More (Pricey) Impulse Buys

Despite having the best intentions, my cart usually ends up with a hodgepodge of impulse buys. I see something that I think I may need, and throw it in my cart only to realize I had the same item at home.

Online shopping makes you shop to your list because you don’t have the visual cues prompting you to pull something off the shelf like you would at the store. And grocery stores are laid out in a way to get you to do just that – like placing expensive items at eye-level, providing samples to push a sale, etc.

In fact, Paco Underhill, author of the book “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping” says “Two-thirds of what we buy in the supermarket we had no intention of buying.”

Shocking, right?

More Time to Do What’s Important to You

Yes, this is a service that costs something, but if you have more valuable ways to spend your time, the added convenience factor might just be worth it. Even if you have to be available during a delivery window, it’s almost a guarantee that spending time at home would be more enjoyable than navigating through a crowded grocery store.

Cons:

Small Orders May Make Delivery Not as Economical

If I managed to get my act together and really plan ahead, I could make good use of online grocery delivery and the cost wouldn’t be too significant. But, opting for several small deliveries a month would be considerably less economical.

For example, Walmart’s To Go program has a minimum delivery total of $30. If you just met the minimum, you’d still be required to pay the flat $10 delivery charge. That just doesn’t add up.

You Might Be Left With a Ridiculous Amount of Empty Boxes

Some online delivery recipients have complained that opting for delivery means dealing with a large amount of empty boxes – something manageable for an occasional delivery but more of a pain with multiple deliveries.

Services like Peapod (not currently available in Colorado) will pick up boxes on subsequent deliveries – but that could not be for a while depending on your ordering schedule.

Perusing the Grocery Stores Can Provide Cooking Inspiration

For some, walking the aisles of a grocery store is akin to walking the halls of a museum. If cooking is a passion, then the grocery store can be a playground. (I can say with confidence that I am not one of these people.)

If this is you, buying food online might just not be worth it. And if that’s the case, more power to you.

You Have to Trust Someone Else to Pick Out Your Produce

If you spend an exorbitant amount of time examining your produce and you’re particularly picky about what it looks like, you might not trust someone else to do the picking for you. You could just have the non-perishables delivered, but that may not be worth it for you (or you may not meet the minimum).

So what’s the bottom line?

As far as cost goes, the experiment conducted by the Wall Street Journal concluded that online store prices are comparable (and in a few cases cheaper) than the same products in-store. (ThreeThriftyGuys had a similar result.) So if the prices are essentially the same and a delivery charge is around the $10 mark (except for say Amazon Fresh who charges a $299 annual fee for free deliveries over $35), would you forgo going to the store?

Take our survey!

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