Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why in the World Are You Not Grocery Shopping Online?

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

click and drag the tomato to test for firmness

…Or, How to Never Set Foot in a Grocery Store Again

When the internet was invented by Al Gore in 2003, we were promised amazing things like limitless knowledge at our fingertips, the ability to communicate instantaneously with anybody in the world, and—most importantly—the opportunity to buy lots of crap we don’t need from the comfort of our bedrooms.

For the longest time, there was one category of merchandise that precluded our pajama-clad shopping sessions: groceries. Some small services emerged in random locations that would deliver various fresh and processed foodstuffs to your door, but coverage of such services was spotty. Now, thanks to the advent of complex, money-saving ideas like “supply chain management” and “cheap illegal immigrant labor,” to-your-door grocery delivery is now available to a large percentage of American citizens. Simply visit a participating supermarket’s website, click the items you want to purchase, schedule a delivery, and bam!: groceries in your home like magic.

You might be thinking any number of reasons for why grocery shopping over the internet and home grocery delivery is not for you. Here are all of the ones I’ve heard:

  1. I have two legs or a good wheelchair or friends or some other way of getting to a grocery store and doing my own shopping, thank-you-very-much. Point taken; you probably can do your own grocery shopping, so why shouldn’t you?
  2. I want to grope my fruit. Unless you are physically in the store molesting those melons yourself, you’re going to get some horrid reject of a fruit that all the other produce openly mocks at night while the store is empty.
  3. I’ll get milk that expired last week. Not only will your fruit be sub-par and/or diseased, but all of your other fresh products will be picked from the damaged goods and expiring soon shelves.
  4. I don’t want some man handling my goods. Somehow, the grocery store delivery person will do terrible things to your packaged goods. Perhaps he’ll crack open your box of tampons and take them for a test drive… and then return them to the box afterwards.
  5. I have to pay extra for home delivery. You know how the internet works: for the convenience of delivery to your door, you have to pay a moderate shipping fee.
  6. I have to sit at home and wait for delivery. Instead of sitting at home, waiting for your grocery delivery, you could go to the store and take care of the shopping yourself!
  7. It’s just not the same. Browsing pictures of groceries on the internet is simply not a suitable replacement for roaming up and down store aisles.

I’m here to tell you that all of the beliefs above are absolutely 100% totally wrong, bad, and very wrong. And stupid. (Except for the one about two legs. Unless… you don’t have two legs. Then I’m deeply sorry.)

By the end of this article, you will be asking yourself “why the hell am I not already shopping for home-delivered groceries online?”

Debunking Online and Home Delivery Grocery Myths

mmm, yummy at signs, only 2.99 a pound

I’ll admit it: I was a non-believer like you for the longest time, even well after internet grocery shopping was available in my area. It wasn’t until I approached the idea of home grocery delivery with an open mind that I saw just how much time, money, and aggravation I could save myself while actually improving the quality of the food entering my home.

First, let’s look at why each of the common assumptions about home-delivered internet grocery shopping we mentioned above is incorrect. (The numbers below match up to the ones above.)

  1. You have two legs… but you don’t need them. At least not for grocery shopping. Just because you can do something yourself doesn’t mean you should. Don’t forget to consider the value of your time before spending two hours a week at the supermarket.
  2. Home-delivered produce is superior. Your grocery delivery order is typically filled in the morning from produce that hasn’t even hit the store shelves yet. And because stores want home delivery to succeed so they can save money on real estate and cashiers, they mandate that such orders be filled with the best of the best produce they have in stock. That means you typically get better quality than you could ever find shopping in person at your local supermarket.
  3. You’ll get the freshest of everything else. Just like with your fruits and veggies, your other perishables will be picked from the highest quality and latest expiring lots. If you kept getting milk that expired yesterday, home delivery would die quickly, and stores don’t want that!
  4. Packers and drivers don’t have time to man-handle your goods. The whole packing and delivery process is closely scrutinized and randomly inspected. Workers get penalized for not making timely deliveries (so no time for hijinks), and packers get flogged for damaged or missing items.
  5. I don’t have to pay extra for home delivery. Some stores do charge up to $10 for home delivery, but there are many ways to reduce or eliminate these fees and bring your home-delivered grocery bill to the same exact price as your in-store bill.
  6. Delivery times are flexible and precise. Most home deliverers offer small delivery windows of two or four hours. For example, if you know you’ll be home Thursday evening 7-9pm, you can request that window and your groceries will be delivered during that time.
  7. You’re right. It’s not the same. It’s better. Ask nearly anyone who’s ordered groceries online if they prefer the internet or in-person shopping experience. I bet at least 90% of them will choose the internet version, and the reasons why are worth exploring in a separate section.

Internet Grocery Shopping is Better? (And Cheaper???)

my money is on the cart because it can roll over the mouse and break it

How can virtual grocery shopping be better than walking through the aisles and tossing cans and boxes in your cart? Well, let’s look at some of the reasons why shopping in stores sucks and what internet grocery shopping does to fix that.

In-store grocery shopping Online with home delivery
  • You have to drive there. And park.
  • If you have a laptop, you could shop from your toilet if you want.
  • You have to push a heavy cart.
  • Internet shopping carts weigh 0.003 grams.
  • You have to maneuver through crowded aisles.
  • Internet aisles can fit any number of people. Even really big ones!
  • It can be hard to find what you need on poorly-organized shelves.
  • Most internet grocery stores have a search function that takes two seconds to find any item.
  • Sometimes price labels aren’t always easy to find.
  • Internet groceries always have an obvious price tag.
  • It can be hard to compute unit prices (e.g. per ounce) for price comparisons.
  • Most online grocery stores have clear, easy to compare per-unit prices.
  • That woman just stole those great-looking apples from your cart!
  • Heh, this would be a funny “feature,” but it doesn’t happen during internet grocery shopping.
  • You need 20 boxes of condoms. In the checkout line with you: your five children, a priest, and your wife’s gossipy friends.
  • Only the packer and delivery guy will know of your amazing sexual exploits.
  • Checkout lines can last forever.
  • Checkout takes roughly three mouse clicks.
  • You have to load your groceries in the car, unload them at home, and carry them into the kitchen.
  • The grocery delivery person does all of this.
  • Crap, you left your purse in the shopping cart.
  • Nope, your purse is in the bedroom next to your computer.

As if that’s not enough, here are some other things that make internet grocery shopping with home delivery so awesome:

  • Better organization. At my internet grocery store, everything is neatly categorized and sub-categorized, so I can track down nearly any item I need in 15 seconds or less.
  • Sort by price. Wouldn’t you like to yell “Hey, which one of you is cheapest?” to the 15 varieties of spaghetti sauce on the store shelf and get an answer back? With internet grocery shopping, you can sort categories of merchandise by price with a couple of clicks.
  • Reusable shopping history. If you buy the same eggs, milk, bread, and toilet paper every week, many online grocery websites will remember these items and allow you to add them to your new order with just one click. You can finish half your grocery shopping in two minutes this way!
  • Same prices as in-store. I’ve never seen an online grocery item cost more than the in-store counterpart for the same grocery chain. Sometimes items are actually cheaper through the internet storefront! If that box of Hamburger Help Me is $1.99 in store, it’ll be $1.99 (or less!) online.
  • Delivery staff is friendly… much friendlier than your typical cashier or stock boy. They rely on good feedback from you to keep their jobs, and it’s easier to issue damaging complaints about them because they service fewer customers than your average checkout clerk. A recent example of a friendly delivery: on my last order, the driver actually called customer service on the spot to sort out a pricing error that I would normally have to handle myself.
  • Delivery staff usually doesn’t accept tips. Having to tip your grocery driver could turn this excellent deal into a slightly less excellent one. Where I live, most of the major grocery delivery outfits instruct their drivers not to accept tips. I’ve offered them before and they’re always refused.
  • Special online-only promotions. Remember how I said stores want online groceries to succeed so they can save money on expensive physical stores and employees? To draw and keep more customers, stores often offer discounts on their internet storefronts you won’t find in stores. Coupon codes for percents- or dollars-off your entire order are fairly common; I once used some to get $80 worth of groceries for under $30 without the need for clipping coupons. More on this below.
  • Customer service is actually competent. On the rare occasion that you’ll need to call the delivery service’s customer helpline, you’ll usually get someone who can solve your issue immediately and to your satisfaction. And they speak real good English too!
  • The whole process takes about half the time of regular grocery shopping. This number is from our actual grocery shopping experiences over the last year. Back in March and April (the last months we shopped exclusively in store), we spent an average of five hours a month on all grocery shopping activities (driving to and from, scouring aisles, checking out, loading/unloading, etc.). Now that we shop virtually always online for groceries, that figure is down to about two hours a month. The actual shopping takes less than half the time, and the hard parts (waiting in line, lugging grocery bags, and driving) are all completely eliminated.
  • Grocery delivery trucks are refrigerated. I’m guessing your car is not.

I would be remiss in my duties to you if I didn’t share the few minor annoyances internet grocery shopping poses. Most of these shouldn’t have any impact on your shopping experience, but I list them anyway (along with potential solutions) so you know I’m not a corporate shill for the internet grocery conglomerate.

  • Online inventory is not real-time. While grocery stores try to keep every item in stock all the time (and do it much better than, say, Wal-Mart) there’s a small chance that an item you order online will be out of stock at the time of your order fulfillment. In my experience, this has only happened when I ordered multiple varieties of a particular item (e.g. 10 different varieties of jelly) and one of those varieties was temporarily sold out. Solution: To avoid cases where an item you need isn’t delivered because it’s sold out, most online grocery sellers ask if you want to allow substitutions on a per-item basis. You’ll have to pay the actual, potentially higher price for any substituted item, but you’d have to do this anyway if you shopped in the store.
  • Online groceries can be bad for internet shopaholics. If you find yourself spending $100 daily on random internet purchases, you’ll want to be ready before embarking on your first online grocery shopping trip. Otherwise, you could end up buying lots of food you don’t eat just because it’s “on sale.” Solution: As with in-store shopping, prepare a shopping list ahead of time. Set yourself a time limit to “get in and out” of the online grocery store.
  • Paper coupons not always accepted. Very few online grocers accept clipped paper coupons. The technology just isn’t there yet, I guess. Solution: Most stores that offer their own coupons in flyers do offer online coupon code counterparts. As for the coupons from your Sunday paper, they’re usually a waste of time and money anyway.
  • Occasional missing/damaged items. Once in a while, an item may arrive damaged upon delivery. Solution: If you spot it while the delivery driver is still there, simply return it on the spot and your account or credit card will be credited for the price of the item. If you don’t discover the damage until later, you can return the item in store for a refund. There’s also the possibly (though it hasn’t happened to us) that an item that was said to have been delivered was actually missing from your order. Solution: Again, try to spot the error while the driver is still there for prompt and easy credit. Otherwise, call the customer service line as soon as you notice the missing item; they should take your word for it and credit your account or card.
  • Minimum orders required. No matter how much of a delivery fee you’re willing to pay, most online grocers won’t deliver an order of less than $50 worth of stuff. Solution: $50 of groceries shouldn’t be a hard total to reach. If it is, you’re shopping too frequently. Try once a week for internet grocery orders at the most. At some internet grocery stores, you can purchase $50+ and bring the total below $50 with coupon codes and they’ll still deliver your order.

Where to Grocery Shop Online

There are many local non-national grocery chains that have their own internet home-delivery service, but today we’ll just look at three of the biggest names in the online grocery business. Between these three services, much of the internet-literate country should have access to the essentials and more at the touch of a keyboard.


peapod, monopolizing the snowpea delivery industry since 1999While Peapod isn’t a physical grocery store itself, the founders of Peapod pretty much invented online grocery delivery, and they dominated the market during the dot-com era. But because of various buyouts and partnerships, Peapod now only provides delivery service for the Giant and Stop & Shop grocery chains. That means you generally won’t find Peapod service outside of the northeast part of the U.S.

You can place your order by visiting either grocery chain’s website or simply jumping straight to


  • Excellent order interface. Peapod has the best internet grocery ordering interface around. You’ll be able to speed through your shopping trip with ease.
  • They accept manufacturer’s coupons. Simply give them to the driver on delivery.
  • Option for unattended delivery. If you live in a safe neighborhood, Peapod can drop your delivery at your door in special insulated containers, and you don’t even need to be there in person. Great for the psychos out there who work 24 hours a day.
  • View nutritional information online. Peapod posts snapshots of the nutritional labels off the backs of boxes and cans.


  • Higher grocery prices. Around here, Giant grocery prices are typically slightly higher than other supermarkets, including Safeway and its delivery service (see below).
  • Poor coupon code offering. Peapod is stingy with the coupon codes, so chances are you’re going to pay for most of your deliveries after the first.

Safeway / Vons / Genuardi’s

safeway, unlike the other grocery stores which are the dangerouswayA newer contender in the online grocery delivery business, Safeway and Co. has proven a worthy challenger and grew quickly to provide delivery coverage to many metropolitan areas in the western and mid-Atlantic regions. While Safeway Inc. operates stores under several other names, only those branded Safeway, Vons or Genuardi’s currently offer internet ordering and delivery.

You can visit their sites and begin shopping at, or


  • Fantastic internet promotions and coupon codes. Six months later, and I have yet to pay a single delivery fee because there’s always a coupon code out there for free delivery. Safeway also offers crazy deals occasionally where you can get, for example, $10 off your order for purchasing 10 or more of certain products… and then some of the products only cost $1 each! We were drowning in free Snapple for a while back in August.
  • Convenient access to sale items. Just one click is all you need to bring up all of the buy-one-get-one items or club card offers within a particular category. This makes it much easier to spot sales on products you need.
  • E-mails when your regular purchases are on sale. I really like this feature. If you like to stock up on items when they go on sale, Safeway’s computers will recognize this and send you a weekly e-mail with your most frequent buys when they’re on sale.


  • No manufacturer’s coupons yet. They say they’re working on it, but you coupon clippers will have to get your savings fix elsewhere for the time being.
  • Sometimes temperamental website. Once in a while, the Safeway ordering website will be down without any warning. It’s usually back up again in a few hours. The website also doesn’t want you to rip off its company too badly; while you can use as many coupon codes in a single order as the coupons themselves allow, I’ve sometimes had all of my coupon codes removed when I entered a whole lot of them that should have worked together. I tried again the next day and it worked fine though.

amazon grocery, now with 50 percent more powdered goatsThey sell books, clothes, electronics, and everything else, so why not groceries? We reviewed Amazon Grocery when it premiered last year, and it has since grown to become a popular destination for folks seeking organic foods, diapers, and bulk products.

If you don’t know where is by now, then you have no chance of finding Amazon Grocery without a link, so there it is.


  • Excellent substitute for warehouse clubs. If you don’t have a Sam’s or Costco near you (or even if you do), the bulk items on Amazon Grocery can save you some money over regular grocery store prices.
  • Interesting and sometimes really good deals. Amazon Grocery will offer a lot of promotions for new and different products. You’ll see many $X off $Y deals for things like candy, breakfast items, nutritional supplements and other strange but useful things.
  • Foods you didn’t even know existed. There are some crazy products for sale on Amazon Grocery. Organic lollipops, chicken made of vegetables, dried cherries—all sorts of weird crap you won’t find in normal grocery stores because normal people won’t buy it. But you will!
  • Makes baby-raising cheaper. Viewing the Amazon Grocery store by bestselling item order shows that most of the bestselling products are for your baby. Diapers, wipes, and diet pills (for you) are sold in bulk at discounts that usually beat supermarket prices.
  • Free shipping. As long as you spend $25 or more on your order, you’ll get free shipping automatically on just about every item on Amazon Grocery.


  • Almost exclusively bulk items. Don’t go wandering to Amazon Grocery looking for a 16-ounce plastic bottle of maple syrup because you’ll get 12 quarts of mapley goodness instead. The same goes for just about every other item at Amazon Grocery. You’ll need a second home just to fit the four major food groups if you purchase them all from Amazon, though you won’t run out again until 2024.
  • Don’t expect your milk to come from a cow. Maybe a powdered goat, if you’re lucky. Multi-day delivery means no perishables from Amazon Grocery. They’re not a one-stop grocery store.

Some Advanced Tips for Making the Most of Your Internet Grocery Experience

pineapple van is coming your way, pineapple van is coming today, pineapple van yay yay yay, pineapple van driven by pineapple ray

Having done the online grocery shopping with home delivery thing for about half a year now, we’ve got it down to a science. Before logging on for your first internet food-shopping experience, review these money- and time-saving tips that the internet grocery stores may not want you to know.

  • Scour the ‘net for coupon codes first. Any of my online grocery trips start with stops at two websites: for the latest grocery coupon codes and the FatWallet Hot Deal forums for advanced discounts and strategies. At the latter, simply search for the name of the store and you may find unadvertised promotions or detailed coupon code strategies that can save you big. That’s how I got those $80 worth of groceries for $30 delivered not too long ago.
  • Browse their paper circular for loss leaders. You’ll find the weekly sales flyer either in your mail or on the grocery store’s website. Skim through it for loss leader items (things sold at or below cost to lure you into the store) and add them to your cart if you need them.
  • Place bigger orders and shop less frequently. If you have the storage room, save even more time by combining multiple in-store shopping trips into a single internet shopping order. They can fit a ton of food in those delivery trucks—a lot more than you ever could in your vehicle. Free delivery coupon codes are also much easier to find if you spend over a certain dollar amount in a single order—usually $150.
  • Include directions if your home is hard to find. Do your friends typically get lost on the way to your place? While delivery drivers often have GPS navigation systems to get around, you can help ensure a timely delivery by including a sentence or two describing your neighborhood or distinguishing features of your residence. Many online grocery websites give you a free-form text box for such instructions, but it’s entirely optional.
  • Plan ahead. This means a few things. First, know when you’re going to want your next grocery delivery so it can coincide with a time when you’ll be at home anyway. (We usually aim for weekend mornings or afternoons.) Second, take a moment to check your cabinets for items you might run out of before your next order so you don’t have to make any in-person trips for one or two essentials. Third, allow yourself time to do the actual shopping. Sure, it takes half the time of in-store shopping, but this isn’t something you can do during the first commercial break of CSI: Miami.
  • Pick one delivery service and stick with it (usually). In our area, we have at least two major grocery delivery services to choose from. We went with the one for the store that typically has slightly lower prices for most items. Yes, there are a few good deals at the other store, but it’s generally not worth the time and the trouble of comparison shopping. There are exceptions though. Be sure to scour the various internet deal forums once in a while for hot promotional offers that make it worth your time to try the other delivery service from time to time.

I think it’s safe for me to say that switching to internet grocery shopping has changed our lives. We have more free time, we don’t dread grocery shopping trips full of screaming children and long lines, and we spend about 15% less on food now for better quality goods.

So now that you’ve heard about the wonders of internet grocery shopping with home delivery, go try it for yourself and let us know how it goes. Hopefully you’ll see just how much of a life-altering experience it can be.

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