Man delivering a woman's groceries to her house

Is Online Grocery Delivery Worth the Cost?

Grocery shopping can eat up an hour or two of our day. Between coupon clipping, meal planning, and actually finding the time to go to the grocery store, you may be exhausted before you even start. That’s why online grocery shopping is so alluring. Service such as AmazonFresh and Instafood allow you to fill your cart digitally and will deliver your groceries right to your door. Well, as long as you pay the associated fees and live in the right area. We’ve laid out the pros and cons of online grocery shopping; check these before you check out.

Costs of Online Supermarkets

When you go to the grocery store, you’re spending a little bit on transportation (be it gas or public transit), you pay taxes on your food, and you’re good to go. Online grocers have competitive prices; for the most part, you’ll be spending about the same on your actual grocery bill. However, there are a few extra costs associated with online grocery delivery.

You’re expected to tip your delivery driver a couple bucks, just like you would for the pizza guy. Many services require a minimum bill for home delivery—which isn’t hard to meet if you’re feeding more than one person—and tack on a delivery fee. Alternatively, you can purchase annual memberships that include free delivery; these vary by online grocer, but the most expensive on the market seems to be Amazon’s Prime Fresh membership, which is $299 a year.  And on top of everything, some companies may require a fuel surcharge when gas prices skyrocket.

Expect to pay between $5.99 and $9.99 for a delivery fee (if you don’t have a membership), $2 to 4 dollars for a tip, and an extra dollar if the service requires a fuel surcharge.

Advantages of Online Grocery Shopping

  • Online shopping saves you time.
    This is potentially the greatest advantage of online grocery shopping. Say goodbye to finding a parking spot, long and winding checkout lines, looking for products at the back of the store. Everything you hate about grocery stores is taken out of the equation when it comes to online grocers. Spend half an hour (or less) instead of two; order your food and have it delivered in time for dinner.
  • You can save some money, too.
    Pay attention to pricing when you shop online. Depending on who you shop from, some products may be cheaper online than in the store, and vice versa. Some online grocers, such as Peapod even let you use digital coupons.
  • The convenience is unbeatable.
    Online shopping is perfect for people who live far from a supermarket and people who can’t leave the home for extended periods of time due to medical reasons. If you can see yourself buying your groceries online every week, you would definitely benefit from a membership.

Downsides of Online Grocery Shopping

  • You can’t examine your food before you buy.
    Nothing is more disappointing than having a watermelon that is all rind and no red. Preventing the problem is easy when you’re in the store and can check out your food personally. There’s always the chance that you’ll end up with shabby produce. Thankfully, most online grocery services will give you a refund, no questions asked. Having to do a second round of shopping, however, is counterproductive to the convenience.
  • Most services aren’t nationally supported—yet.
    For example, AmazonFresh has a huge variety of products but only delivers to the metropolitan areas of Seattle, New York City, and some Californian cities. Some brick-and-mortar grocery stores are starting to offer delivery services, but they come with delivery fees that online grocers tend to beat.  We’ll probably see online grocery services expand within the near future, but until then, it’s a limited service.
  • Are annual memberships worth the cost?
    To avoid delivery fees, some online grocers offer a premium membership. AmazonFresh comes with a full-fledged Prime membership in addition to the grocery benefits. Is $299 a year worth it? Maybe, but only if you see yourself buying online groceries every week. Over the course of a year, that $299 equals out to about $6 a week for deliveries. 
Last Updated: July 31, 2015