Is online grocery shopping worth it?

I first heard about online grocery shopping a few years ago when I lived in a neighbourhood without amenities within walking distance. I used to dread spending the time, energy, and gas money going to the grocery store each week. I was working 70 hours, and a trip to the store could easily take one or two hours out of my day. It didn’t seem worth the hassle, and I often bought take-out instead because it was easier – not great for my waistline or my wallet. :|

When my neighbour told me she had started ordering her groceries online, I was intrigued. For a small fee, she was able to do all her shopping on the internet, and choose the delivery time most convenient for her. It seemed like the perfect solution to my time crunch, so I decided to try it out. It was great, and I used the service a couple of times before I ended up moving into my current home – which is more conveniently located for shopping.

But, I’m feeling the time crunch again. Even though I’m only working 50-55 hours/week, I find myself busy after work almost every day of the week – field hockey practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and running Monday, Wednesday, Fridays. Weekends are filled with more running, field hockey games, and social commitments that I’m never able to fit in during the work week. I was finding it hard to go anywhere but Safeway for my groceries (a 5 minute walk from my house), but everything is so expensive there.

So, I decided to try ordering groceries from my preferred store, Thrifty Foods. They charge a flat rate of $7.95 for next day service (same day is $9.95), which I thought was reasonably priced considering it would cost me $4.60 in gas to drive there and back, plus at least an hour of my time.

It took me about 15 minutes to order all of my groceries online (I did it over my lunch break at work), and I was impressed. I felt like I was able to stop my impulse purchases (which were almost always junk food), and I could see the total amount of my order as I shopped – which helped me stay on budget.

Online grocery shopping at Thrifty Foods

Online grocery shopping at Thrifty Foods

 

What impressed me about Thrifty Foods is their customer service, although I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve shopped with them for as long as I can remember, and it’s always been top notch. Their customer service reps will call you if anything you’ve ordered is out of stock, and suggest replacement items for you instead. Their delivery drivers are extremely friendly, and I feel really happy with how I was treated.

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However, even though I’ve had some really positive experiences, and the service fees are reasonable, there are definitely cons to having groceries delivered.

For example, even though I was able to leave a note attached to each product I put into my online shopping basket, I almost never got the fruits the way I would have picked them out myself. “Slightly green bananas” can mean different things to different people, I guess. :) Additionally, it’s kind of inconvenient to have to wait at home for the delivery to arrive (a 1.5 hour window), and every other week I end up having to make a supplementary trip to the local Asian market anyway to pick up produce and other perishables.

I don’t think this is something I would do on a weekly, or even a bi-weekly basis. But I do think it’s something I would do every few months when I have a big shopping trip ahead of me.

In theory, anyone with a busy schedule can benefit from ordering groceries online. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to use the service again! However, it might only be worth it on a regular basis for the following types of people:

  • People who don’t have vehicles, and cannot make big trips to the grocery store for regular staples.
  • The elderly, disabled, or injured, who find it difficult getting out of the house.
  • Those who live far from any reasonably priced stores.

Have you – or would you – ever go online grocery shopping?

About Krystal Yee

I'm a writer, personal finance blogger, and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I'm a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner's Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I'm not working, you can usually find me running, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.

10 comments

  1. I started to write something else and then realized that you’re probably too young to remember Webvan – and then I felt really old this morning! LOL

    Back in the heyday of the dot.com I used Webvan for almost all of my grocery shopping. I also loved that it helped me stay on budget and not impulse shop. Plus, I lived in a 3rd floor walkup apartment at the time, and it was nice to have someone ELSE have to carry the groceries up the stairs! I was never so sad as when Webvan died. I still miss it, and it’s been close to 15 years now.

    Online grocery shopping isn’t perfect and I don’t think it’ll ever replace in-person shopping entirely – especially not for people who enjoy cooking – but it definitely has it’s benefits when you’re busy, planning a big family meal, or just need regular delivery of staples to insure that you don’t find yourself without milk or eggs or coffee at 5 a.m. some morning!

  2. it takes an hour or two for you to grocery shop?! crazy. i live 8 minutes (driving) from the closest grocery store. I can get there, shop and back home in about 40 minutes. For the 1.5 hours waiting at home, you can go and get everything yourself in that time frame.

    • Well, yeah it does take me about 1.5 hours to shop at the grocery store I prefer (30 min. roundtrip driving, 10 min. waiting in line/cashier, and about 45-50 min. shopping). I’m not a fast shopper. I like comparing prices, reading labels, etc. But like I mentioned, there’s a Safeway about a 5 minute walk from my house… but the prices make it not practical to shop there on a weekly basis.

      4 out of 5 work days, I don’t get home until 9 or 10pm due to work, running, or team commitments… so the time that I actually do have at home (usually Sunday evenings), I’d like to be blogging, or writing, or cleaning house, or cooking, or doing anything other than shopping. :)

  3. I’m not even sure they have the same service here in Canada but I know they have it in the UK. The online grocery and delivery service has been running in the UK for probably close to 10 years now. Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury’s run online grocery shopping services. All the orders are picked from a central warehouse and then sent out on a delivery schedule. If they have run out of stock then you have to give alternatives or risk not getting anything at all. You can’t buy reduced items either and you can’t pick and choose the quality of fruit and veg. It’s ok, but I’ve got no intention of using the service.

    • Yeah, that’s a limitation I didn’t think of – not being able to buy reduced items at the store! I thought that the quality of fruits and veggies might be a problem if I wasn’t able to pick them out myself, but aside from the whole “slightly green bananas” thing, it was all spot-on. However, I think the next time I use the service, I’ll be more picky with what produce I buy from them (probably only veggies), and buy my fruits from the farmer’s market instead.

  4. I don’t think it’s really worth it for all the points you made, especially the one where you can’t pick out your own produce and products the way you normally would. Then again, I’m someone who kind of enjoys a Friday night of grocery shopping (that’s when I find the grocery store the least busy). I would just sacrifice a run on the weekend or a social activity to get this done. Perhaps you should look at grocery shopping as a weekly job in itself and dedicate 1-2 hours out of the week to get it done. It’s great that you’re dedicated to an active lifestyle but I don’t think there’s any reason to give up on something as simple as grocery shopping.

  5. Here in NYC we have FreshDirect which does have rates that rival other grocery stores in town. I love that you can specifically see their prices for a certain category, like ground beef all in front of you so you can pick a great deal. You have to pay for delivery for non-work hours which I’m not keen on but it does work in urban environments in NYC when the food is much cheaper than the local overpriced Manhattan grocery store.

  6. I don’t know if I would do grocery shopping online. Even when my days get hectic, I find it a bit peaceful to just walk up and down the aisles. I think it’s more the act of just walking that takes my mind off of things than actually shopping for food. That and I try to do most of my shopping at Costco when I can really stock up on food.

  7. I grocery shop online from time to time. I use an organic grocer and it’s great for those days when I’m just exhausted. I don’t have a car so it’s sometimes a life saver. The items are delivered in a cooler with lots of ice so it’s always there when I get home. This is usually a winter shopping option for me!

  8. When our car flooded during hurricane Sandy, online grocery shopping was such a nice alternative to renting a car and driving to the chain grocery store. I loved the convenience and not having to stress about high prices at the local small stores and shops. I still order online sometimes, but now that we have a car I’ve been going to the regular store again (mostly for the coupon deals and because things are cheaper).

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