By Kristina Russo | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor
6 Min Read | August 13, 2020 in Money
I’ve been grocery shopping online for over a decade. As my family has grown, I’ve found it to be a helpful convenience, a time saver, and a lifeline whenever going to the grocery store wasn’t an option. Recently, many people have jumped onto the virtual shopping wagon with me: 31% of U.S. households used online grocery services in February/March 2020, more than double the number from August 2019.1
Allow me to share what I’ve learned about how online grocery shopping works. I bet even those of you who say you need to touch, see, or even sniff your produce and protein purchases will see why conservative forecasters expect the number of online grocery shoppers to increase by another 60% in the next four years.2
I discovered that there are three types of online grocery services, which differ in their delivery methods, product availability, and fees:
So how do you actually “shop” for groceries online? I’ve found that the actual shopping process is similar among the different types of online grocery stores.
Usually, you must first create an account with all the typical profile information you’d provide for any online shopping. With third-party platforms, you also have the option of selecting one or more participating local stores for each particular order.
Then you start selecting items. Each grocery website has different tabs or drop downs for all of the typical departments within a grocery store: produce, pantry, dairy, frozen, health and beauty, household items, etc. Clicking around is similar to walking the aisles – when you select an item, you put it in your “cart” and move on. You may be asked to select a weight, or even a preparation – e.g., thickness for deli meat or vacuum sealing for butchered meat.
Ready to check out? Choose a delivery method – pick up or to your door – and time. Delivery schedules are based on your zip code, and are divided into time slots – say, 2-hour windows. Some services allow very precise delivery time selection and can be as quick as the same day, while others must be selected in advance, maybe a week or more. To pay, use your credit card or debit card – then just sit back until your delivery time. In fact, if unattended delivery is an option, you won’t even need to be home.
For me, the magic of online grocery shopping comes from these digital features:
Let’s face it: All this convenience comes at a price. Delivery fees, service fees, or markups on item prices compared to in-store prices are common costs of online grocery shopping. So it’s important to know what your service charges to avoid surprises at checkout. Most services have thresholds for minimum orders and while tipping isn’t required, it may be appropriate.
That being said, you can often minimize the extra costs of online grocery shopping with coupon codes, loyalty programs, referrals, free trials, or subscriptions.3
If you become an online grocery “frequent flyer,” you will likely find that a subscription plan makes economic sense. Subscription packages, which differ by grocer, provide a combination of unlimited free delivery, discounts for repeat or automated purchases, and access to other assorted special perks, for about $100 a year.4
Your particular shopping habits will determine whether online grocery shopping saves money or costs you extra. Tools that make it easier to manage item costs – combined with automated access to coupons/promotions, the ability to easily see your running total in a virtual cart, and the reduced likelihood of impulse buying – can help you save money.5 And don’t forget to consider indirect savings, like lower transportation costs and the value of your time.
More people are grocery shopping online than ever before, and the industry is expanding to meet the demand. Determining which online grocery shopping service works best for you is largely a matter of personal preference, based on how you shop combined with the service’s fee structure. However, most shoppers agree that saving time plus the convenience of home delivery are key benefits that attract and retain them.
1 “Online Grocery Shopping Surges to Record Levels in U.S. During Covid-19 Crises,” Brick Meets Click
2 “The Online Grocery Report,” Business Insider
3 “10 Best Grocery Delivery Services to Use in 2020,” Good Housekeeping
4 “A Guide to Ordering Groceries and Supplies Online,” U.S. News & World Report
5 “Is it Worth it to Buy Groceries Online? A Review of the Best Options,” Money Under 30