Is Online Grocery Shopping Right for You?

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If it hasn’t already, online shopping’s popularity exploded by the time the pandemic shut down large parts of the economy. It’s becoming so popular for nearly anything imaginable that you can pretty much order anything without leaving your house these days. Really, what can’t you buy on the Internet these days? One of my friends just told me they ordered dinner the other night and instead of having cooked food delivered, the restaurant sent two guys to set up shop in their backyard and cooked the food fresh right there. He said the meal tasted even better than if they went to the restaurant.

And as an added bonus to the convenience of “shopping in your pajamas,” many online merchants offer better pricing than brick-and-mortar stores because the competition is now from any merchant in the whole country instead of just a few stores in your local area. What’s not to like? For most items, online shopping is the way to go. It’s not like you have to wait a long time to get it. Amazon pretty much ships everything to you the next day. As long as you don’t need to have it in your hand this very minute, online shopping is usually easier.

One possible exception to this rule is shopping for groceries. There are plenty of sites offering groceries online but, unlike books, for example, online grocers aren’t putting any traditional stores out of business. There seems to be something about grocery shopping that doesn’t jive as well with e-commerce as other types of shopping, like for books, electronics, and clothing.

Some of the reasons that online grocery shopping hasn’t been more widely adopted yet probably include:

Lack of immediacy - Unlike a phone or a pair of jeans, when we’re out of milk, we generally need it now. Groceries are not something we can usually wait days for.

Expensive - Online stores tend to offer fewer sales and specials than your neighborhood grocer. While they may entice you with low prices on a few items, expect that their pricing overall will be higher than your local stores. In addition, most online stores don’t accept coupons, which is a common way many consumers reduce their grocery costs. If you do shop for groceries online, be sure you're familiar with what constitutes good prices for the items you’re purchasing. Some sites have purchase requirements as to how much you must spend, say, on refrigerated, frozen, dairy, meat, or deli items.

Limited selection - Putting an entire grocery store’s inventory online would be a monumental task for the business itself and a shopping nightmare for the consumer to navigate. That’s why online stores offer a limited selection of items, brands, and sizes. It’s often difficult to buy products online in the size you want or that are most economical for your needs.

Adding to the limitations on product availability, some online stores are prohibited from shipping certain items in certain types of containers. Some will not ship in glass, or ship products with pop-top lids for example.

Delivering/handling charges - On top of already higher prices for their merchandise, online grocers generally charge for picking and delivering your groceries. Many of the delivery models ask for tips for the drivers too. Sure, it’s not mandatory, but the drivers who deliver groceries depend on these tips to make the delivery worthwhile for them. It’s only appropriate for you to let them earn a living by offering you convenience. Still, those fees quickly eat into any bargains you may have found.

Sometimes orders get mixed up - Speaking of drivers, they are expected to buy not just for you but to shop for multiple orders each time they step into the grocery store. That’s why you may see them drive to different locations before they get to your house on each delivery. When they arrive, they try their best to bring your groceries to you and then move on. Still, sometimes they miss a bag or two because they are constantly in a rush. They may even give you another person’s groceries. I’ve bought groceries once and the driver forgot to give me two full bags of groceries on my order. We were lucky I double-checked before he drove away because he didn’t need to drive back to give me my full order.

You don’t get to “squeeze the tomatoes” - When someone else does your shopping for you, you are completely removed from the choices that are part and parcel of grocery shopping, like, which melon do you prefer? Do you want this package of ground beef or that one? And it’s not just about picking the one that’s clearly fresher either. When I get bananas, I always get ones that are slightly green because we don’t eat them that quickly and I want to make sure I prolong the time of when I get them until they start to go bad. Others will want bananas that are ripe when they walk out of the grocery store because they want to have all of it immediately. Shopping cannot possibly know everyone’s preferences.

You may not understand the description on the website - I heard on the radio the other day how so many people are overspending on groceries now that they are shopping for products online. There are stories of people who wanted five bananas but instead bought five bushels of banana, or a gentleman who bought a dozen cartons of eggs when he just wanted a dozen eggs.

These stories may sound funny to those who are grocery shopping veterans, but there’s no question that you have to be more careful with shopping online because you can’t physically see the actual product you are buying. And unlike buying other merchandise online, it’s much harder to get a refund on produce so there’s often no do-over.

Still, Grocery Shopping Can Be Worth It

There is one indisputable fact about online grocery shopping, however: It’s the convenience. When you purchase groceries online, you don’t have to actually walk the aisles, brave inclement weather, or lug home groceries. You are essentially paying someone else to do it for you. For me, the best part about shopping for groceries online is that I don’t have to wait in line to pay. I often buy just a few things, but I’m often stuck behind others who have a whole shopping cart full of groceries. If you’re someone who doesn’t like to shop or physically can’t, online grocery shopping may represent a huge convenience to you and be worth the extra expense.

Perhaps there are some items you really can save on, or maybe you can find specialty items online that are inconvenient (or impossible) to find locally. In those cases, online grocery shopping is a wise choice. For strict savings on groceries across the board, however, it’s not the most frugal option. Take into account the costs versus the convenience when considering whether online grocery shopping is right for you.

What groceries do you purchase online? Is it for savings or convenience?

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