How Grocery Delivery Can Save You Money

Grocery delivery box.
Photo by Atstock Productions / Shutterstock.com

According to an industry report, titled “The Digitally Engaged Food Shopper,” online grocery orders are expected to quintuple over the next decade. Projected sales by 2025: $100 billion per year.

This isn’t just rich people having caviar delivered to their Park Avenue penthouses. Everyday people are finding delivery convenient and, when handled properly, also money-saving.

“Our typical weekly food bill runs around $140 to $150 for our family of five. However, when I use online shopping I rarely spend more than $100,” says Missouri writer Tracie Richmond Forbes, who gets groceries delivered from Hy-Vee.

With delivery, there’s no “impulse purchases of things that we may not really need, but that catch my eye as I walk the (supermarket) aisles,” says Forbes, who blogs at PennyPinchinMom.com.

The process is pretty simple: Sign on, fill out a virtual grocery list, pay the bill, and wait for companies like Amazon Fresh, Kroger, Peapod or Safeway to bring the food to your door. The delivery fee generally runs from about $7 to $13, or $364 to $676 per year if you opt for weekly shopping trips (and that’s not counting tips; more on that later).

Does that sound like a lot? It is. But if you’re saving $40 or $50 at a clip, you can afford it. Besides, it’s possible to get discounted or even free delivery (more on that later, too).

The convenience/peace of mind factor can be huge, especially if you have kids. No more meltdowns in the cereal aisle, or failing to notice that your 9-year-old sneaked a package of beef jerky onto the checkout conveyor belt.

Shopping online means you’re less likely to cave to your own cravings, too. After all, you won’t be in the store to smell that hot-from-the-oven French bread, or to hear the announcement about the sale on chocolate chip cookies. You won’t see those gorgeous out-of-season peaches, or be tempted by the full-price pork chops instead of the on-sale ground beef you’d planned to buy.

Get only what you need

That doesn’t mean you can’t buy extras. Personal finance writer Emily Guy Birken admits that the occasional pint of Ben & Jerry’s does find its way into her virtual cart. However, shopping through Peapod and Amazon Subscribe & Save has all but done away with her unplanned purchases.

She’s become a more efficient shopper, because creating the online list makes her hyper-aware of the contents of her pantry. This helps avoid “multiple trips to the store each week, which (would add) more impulse buys,” says Birken, author of “End Financial Stress Now: Immediate Steps You Can Take Now to Improve Your Financial Outlook.”

Some people are choosy about meats and produce, and would feel odd letting someone else decide which lemons or lamb chops they buy. Birken, who’s picky about apples, says she’s always gotten high-quality, unbruised fruit. What’s more, she can order a single pound of cherries from Peapod, whereas supermarkets tend to sell them in bags of 2 or 3 pounds.

Forbes likes to order her bananas “slightly green,” and generally gets her wish. If not, “a quick call to the store and they come back so they can make it right.”

Take a hybrid approach

Delivery isn’t an all-or-nothing situation. It’s possible to have staples brought to your door and also go to the store yourself for fresh stuff. Forbes uses the service for about half her shopping.

Emilie Lima Burke gets about 20 percent of her groceries via curbside pickup at a Walmart near her Fayetteville, North Carolina, home. She places the order with an app, swings by the store and waits for the groceries to be brought to the car. Bonus: No need to wait around for delivery or tip a driver.

“I started doing this (to save) time, but was pleased to find that I was better at sticking to the budget … I never added a candy bar because I never even have to go inside,” says the writer, who blogs at BurkeDoes.com.

Households without cars can almost certainly save money with delivery, since it can be hard to lug home the giant economy size or to stock up when there’s a sale on heavy products like canned goods, or even on lighter items (paper products, cereal) that take up a lot of room in the shopping bag.

Thus you could use grocery delivery or curbside pickup to fill the pantry with great deals, and walk, ride a bike or take the bus for everything else.

Know the potential downsides

Occasionally mistakes happen: You get the wrong product in your order or, worse, receive an item that’s less than fresh. Forbes ordered a certain type of crackers but was given a different brand. After she called to complain, the store sent out the correct item “and let me keep the others as an apology.”

Recently Birken ordered a Dijon chicken meal kit and found the package holding the chicken breast had been punctured. The meat smelled “off,” so she called Peapod and got a refund for that item. Since only the poultry was compromised, she used the rest of the kit along with some chicken she’d ordered separately.

(Pro tip: If something goes wrong with a grocery order – or any other purchase – your best bet is to be both specific and succinct. For tips, see “Had a Lousy Retail Experience? Complain About It!“)

Staying out of the market physically means missing “manager’s special” or closeout items, whose discounts run 50 percent or higher. Such deals are hit-and-miss, though, and consistent overall savings from shopping online might be better than occasional economies.

Until you get the hang of ordering enough food with each order, you might have to make midweek grocery stops because you ran out of milk or bread. This puts you in the position of buying other items because they looked or smelled good. Were you to buy that milk at a convenience store you’d probably overpay – and, again, possibly be tempted by a froufrou lemonade or a package of Tastykakes.

Waiting for groceries can be a challenge for those who work outside the home, although the service starts early and runs into late evening. Those without 9-to-5 shifts will find this a little easier to handle. Generally, a delivery window runs for two hours.

As with the cable guy or the appliance repair person, however, arrival times are an inexact science. A two-hour window might stretch longer due to traffic or weather issues, or an order that took longer than expected to pack.

In other words, if you have to leave for an appointment no later than 3:05 p.m., you shouldn’t choose “1 to 3 p.m.” as your window. Sure, the driver could show up promptly at 1 p.m. He or she might also roll in at quarter after 3 p.m.

Find the right coupons

Another downside to grocery delivery is that you can’t use paper coupons or virtual ones downloaded from sites like CouponMom or AFullCup.

However, companies that deliver groceries have their own digital coupons. Take a minute to search for them, and watch your savings grow.

“Shop the online sales and use the online coupons and you may beat the price of shopping sales at your local store, without the hassle of going there,” says Stephanie Nelson of CouponMom.com.

She also suggests combining free shipping provided to Amazon Prime members with that site’s sales and digital coupons, or to sign up for its Subscribe & Save service, which provides a 20 percent discount for regularly scheduled deliveries.

“You can frequently beat the cost of your local stores,” Nelson says. “We’ve seen great deals for bath tissue and paper towels, and it’s nice to get those big, bulky items delivered free.”

More tips to come out ahead

Grocery delivery could be a potential money-saver as well as a tremendous convenience. A few more tips for an optimal experience:

Plan carefully: Prepare just as you do with in-person grocery shopping — read the ads, decide on a menu, check your cupboards and make a list. (Pro tip: Each time Birken runs low on a product she adds it to her grocery order right away.)

Be flexible: Some retailers give discounts for choosing a less-popular delivery window or a broader one (e.g., four hours instead of two). Others reduce the fee for a bigger order, so you could have staples delivered once a month and produce and dairy dropped off every couple of weeks (or, as noted, you could go get those yourself).

Look for other discounts: When you join, you’ll likely get a period of free deliveries. Coupon sites like RetailMeNot and Savings.com regularly offer discount codes.

Online grocery shopping isn’t for everyone. But since you can generally get some initial deliveries for free, consider giving it a try. When you’ve finished making your shopping list, check the total and see if it’s noticeably different from what you usually spend. If so, congratulations on having skipped the add-ons that can make in-store shopping so pricy.

One use for some of the money you save: tipping the driver. No hard-and-fast rule exists, and a gratuity isn’t required, but the consensus seems to be $3 to $5, possibly more for orders that are particularly difficult. Could you really stiff a guy or gal who made three trips up and down the stairs to bring an order that included cases of bottled water and a jumbo box of cat litter?

Do you get some or all of your groceries delivered? What’s your experience with that service? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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