Aug 5, 2008

Guest Post: Try Online Grocery Shopping

The following is a guest post from Chris McGinn. She writes at Digital Landing - Hitting Home, a blog about finding new ways to save time and money, and get more out of your digital lifestyle. Thanks, Chris - this is an eye-opening post, since I never would have thought that online grocery shopping might actually save money!

A couple of months ago I began a new way of grocery shopping—using my local store's online ordering. After my second son was born in February, my grocery visits had deteriorated into a grab-and-go spendfest as I tried to gather food before he began to cry and I need to leave.
With the rising cost of groceries, I needed a new plan.

I had already learned valuable lessons from my first son's birth, as in: 1) shop with a list; 2) shop alone if you can; and 3) shop once a week, but my system was rocked by the new baby who was a little less accommodating that the first had been. Forget using coupons, staying on a list and remembering everything you were supposed to buy. It just wasn't happening.

So, when a new grocery store opened near my house with online ordering and drive-thru pick up, I thought I should give it a try. It didn't hurt that they waived the $4.95 fee for your first order to give it a test drive. A single-mom neighbor of mine was already using a similar service at another store and she swore by it.

In the past few months, I have learned a lot about the pros and cons of this grocery system and overall I definitely recommend it. To see if this might be for you consider the following:

  1. Drive-thru service. Seriously, this is the main reason I think this is the way to go. I drive up. They bring out the bags, load it in my car and I sign the receipt. Two minutes and no extra car seat buckles. Also, I can often combine it with another trip and save gas.
  2. Easy view unit-pricing. To really find the best deals, you have to pay attention to unit pricing. If you are shopping with kids, this is nearly impossible as it is always printed microscopically small and inevitably on the bottom shelf. With the online function you can not only easily see the unit price, you can actually sort by unit price. Say you want the cheapest potato chips, you can quickly sort to see which brand is the least per ounce.
  3. Easier to stick to your list. Shopping online has made it easier for me to stick to my list. For one thing you aren't walking down the aisles so you have to search for things by category like Produce>Fruits>Apples. Also, my store's interface allows you to save lists and to have a "master list" of all the items you buy so you can quickly add the staples with just a click. Also, deals on items that I regularly buy are highlighted on this list so I know when to stock up.
  4. Easier to get deals and use coupons. My store highlights current specials in red so they are easy to see. They often show how much you actually save as well. In addition, because I'm not running through the store, I have time to compare my purchases to my coupons so I don't leave out any and I buy the right products.
  5. Avoid impulse buys. This is huge. Grocery stores are designed around our shopping habits and purposefully tempt us with enticing deals. Get Rich Slowly posted that 60 to 70% off all of our grocery purchases are not planned! This is a shocking number, but likely very true. I have found that I spend 25-50% less when I shop online than I do when I go in the store.
  6. Expert shopping. The people who know the store best are doing the shopping for you. While not necessarily always true, you can hope that they may pick the best produce or best looking cut of meat for you. Of course, the opposite could also be true. I always put "no substitutions" on my order so they call me if there are ever any issues. For example, my shopper noticed that the chips I had ordered had changed the bag size for the same price. She pointed it out to make sure I still wanted them. I would probably not have caught the change.
Now, it's not a perfect system. Here are some of the pitfalls I have encountered:
  1. Scheduling a pick-up. You have to order at least 4 hours before you need to pick up the groceries and you have to give a 30-minute window when you will be coming to collect them. I find it hard to think far enough in advance to plan around nap times, eating times, etc because our schedule is always changing. If you had a set schedule, however, this wouldn't be an issue.
  2. Limited hours. Really this is only a problem because they don't offer the service on Sunday, which is the day I usually want to have my shopping done. I have to do my ordering now on Thursday or Friday rather than thinking about groceries on the weekend when I have more time.
  3. New impulse buys. While you avoid a lot of impulse buys by not being in the store, you aren't completely off the hook. My store uses a splash page with 2-3 specials for each category I select. You have to avoid temptation here, but it is still easier than being in the store.
  4. Limited selection. I've been impressed for the most part with the wide selection available online. It is basically everything in the store except sometimes they don't have all the flavors, sizes, etc for each product. For example, my son likes a particular yogurt snack. The site only offers strawberry, but the store carries three flavors. You can get around this by leaving notes in the text box on your ordering page.
  5. Shopping more. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but a few weeks it made me shop more because I tried to hit another nearby store for their best deals only and then swing by the drive-thru for the bulk of my groceries. If you are a hard-core couponer, this may work in your system, but I think I'll cut that to once a month. The point of not going in is partially to save money from impulse buys and this didn't help.
  6. A note about coupons. You can still use coupons, just like you normally do, however, they apply to the next online order rather than the current one because you bring them when you pick-up the groceries and you have already paid online. This kind of keeps you coming back because otherwise you have to forfeit the coupons or go through the hassle of getting them to apply this in-store.
In general, I think I will use this system at least 2-3 times a month. I think I will still have to go in person at least once to get things that aren't available on the site and to just see what might be new in the store. I definitely suggest you investigate your local stores to see what options they have for "virtual shopping" because it not only saves time, it can save a lot of money.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating -- I have not yet seen any grocery store around me offer drive-thru pickup, but that sounds like a pretty neat idea. I agree that online shopping would seem to allow you to sidestep many of the financial hazards of shopping in a grocery store, which is why I have thought about using Peapod at some point. I would venture to guess that the small cost of delivery might be more than offset by the savings from limited impulse buys.

Anonymous said...

This really is a great idea. I never really thought about it before. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

We don't have the store pickup option in my area, but I love this service too. My biggest issue, though, is the way that our stores sell their produce. You can either buy it by the item (i.e. 70 cents per apple) OR you have to buy a huge 5 lb bag. I often end up going into our green grocer to do my produce shopping. Also, Safeway shoppers in the midatlantic should know that safeway delivery does NOT accept coupons (Giant does).

Chief Family Officer said...

@Richard - Hm, I might have to look into Peapod myself.

@Rachel - Please let us know if you end up doing it!

@Julie - Thanks for that additional info, very helpful!