The Pros and Cons of Buying Groceries Online and Tips to Save Money

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Is it better to have your groceries delivered? Can you save money? Here are the pros and cons of buying groceries online and tips on saving money.

pros and cons of buying groceries online

It wasn’t that long ago when everyone was doing it.

The milkman was doing it.

The baker too. 

And the iceman always rang twice on Thursdays. 

There’s nothing revolutionary about home-delivered groceries. 

My mum tells a story that as a young girl came across her neighbour’s loaf of bread, waiting warm and fresh in the sun on the porch. When the neighbours got home, they found their bread hollowed out, only the crust remaining after my mum ate it. 

A friend, who isn’t that much older than me, reminisced about the milk being delivered by horse and cart. Waaay back in the 70s…which I guess was fifty years ago. Now I’m feeling slightly old.

Online shopping hasn’t revolutionised grocery buying; it’s brought back a centuries-old service. 

The Pros of Buying Your Groceries Online

1. Save Time

Who would have imagined you could buy groceries in your undies before you’ve even gotten out of bed in the morning?!

Or on your commute on the way home from work?

Grocery shopping online can save you hours every year. No more navigating traffic. Or waiting in queues at the checkout. Or waiting for behind people blocking the aisle with their trolley (shopping cart). Spend five minutes shopping online in comfort instead and have your groceries arrive at the front door.

To make it even easier, you can save shopping lists and favourite items in your online account, which means orders can be done in a couple of clicks. You can even use artificial intelligence to suggest groceries based on your most popular selections. Grocery shopping has never been easier.

2. Shop Within Your Budget

No more keeping a running tab on your calculator while you shop or putting things back at the checkout because you’ve gone over budget.

When you shop online, you can see how much your total shop adds up to before you buy.

Check out the catalogue specials as you menu plan to see if there’s anything that will save you money. Just be sure to check it’s a real bargain (see comparison shopping tips below).

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Grocery shopping on a tight budget

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3. Save Your Sanity

“Muuumm, can I have…”

I’m a big fan of shopping with kids. It teaches them important life skills. But every second can be sheer torture. It’s hard enough to do the shopping with young kids, but getting out of the house with newborn babies can be near impossible.

For millennia, we had support systems for mums with new babies. Extended family or the community would help out so that mum wasn’t doing everything alone.

And a lot of groceries were delivered.

While the support systems are, unfortunately, not there for many of us anymore, we do have online grocery shopping.

4. Comparison Shop with Ease

Here’s a trick a friend showed me when using online shopping.

Search for the item you need and then sort the list by unit price from low to high, as pictured below. It’s easier to see which item is the best price.

compare unit price online
I have no idea why I picked saffron for the example; I’ve never bought it in my life.

Last week there was a half-price catalogue special for extra virgin olive oil. Great buy, right?!

But a quick search shows there are 4 other brands that are cheaper than the half-price special. If you are shopping on cost alone, it pays to double-check the unit price, compare and save.

You might also like: Tips for Comparison Shopping to Get the Absolute Best Deals.

5. Reduce Impulse Buys

Shopping online reduces browsing, which reduces the temptation to impulse buy. Not only do impulse buys increase your grocery bill, but they can also go to waste because you don’t have a plan to use them.

Or impulse buys can go to ‘waist’ if it’s junk you’re buying.

 (Putting Tim Tams at half-price on the end caps should be banned – I have no impulse control!)

6. Save On Petrol

I can walk to the supermarket with my nanna trolley, but if you have to drive any distance, or driving means city traffic, then delivery can save you money on petrol, especially if you get free delivery.

You might also like: Meal Box Delivery Review – Four Boxes Compared.

7. No crowd, No Queues

I have a confession to make: I get trolley rage. Nothing aggressive; I internalise it until I can feel the blood alchemize in my veins.

Inside my head: Do you really think the middle of the supermarket aisle is the best place to have a phone conversation?! At least move your trolley so that the six of us behind you can get past!

Reality: “Excuse me, please” [tight smile].

Deep breaths.

Then there’s the anxiety the supermarket environment can bring on.

A big cement cavern without natural light.

A dodging mess of people and trolleys and little kid trolleys up the back of your ankles.

Loud noises. Radio advertising. Bright lights.

An overstimulating visual cacophony of stuff to filter out in order to find your favourite brand of tea!

Deep breaths.

If you can relate, then you know it’s better for your health to buy online while you’re sitting in the back garden, listening to the bees in the marigolds and sipping your tea.

The Cons of Buying Your Groceries Online

1. Delivery Costs Money

Just say you get your groceries delivered once a fortnight. Woolworths Online uses a sliding scale delivery cost, depending on how much you spend, so if you’re in the $6 bracket, that adds $156 a year to your grocery bill. If you’re on a tight budget, that’s $156 too much.

There are ways to reduce or eliminate the delivery costs:

  • Check the minimum shop amount to qualify for free delivery. Shopping less frequently and taking advantage of bulk specials can mean you benefit from free delivery.
  • Take advantage of special free delivery offers.
  • You can use a delivery saver if you want to shop every week and spend over $100 per week.
  • Opt for click and collect, which gives you nearly all the benefits of delivery.

2. You Don’t Get to Browse the In-store Reduced to Clear Items

Some of the best supermarket bargains are the markdowns that are close to their use-by date. Buying reduced to clear meat, bread, dairy, vegetables, and other items that you need can save you money. But you don’t see those markdowns when shopping online.

3. You Can’t Pay Cash

I’m a big fan of using cash to buy groceries.

[Update: used to be. Not much cash is being used these days. I have opted for a prepaid card to help compartmentalise spending].

Budgeting and shopping with cash can save you money because you’re not able to go overboard with spending when you only have a limited amount of cash in your wallet. Unfortunately, cash is not an option when shopping online.

4. You Can’t Read the Nutritional Panel/Ingredients List

[Update: this issue has been resolved for the majority of products. Not all products have complete information, but most now do.]

I’d like to say I make everything from scratch, but I don’t, so the next best thing is to check the ingredients and nutritional panel on packaged food. This is particularly important if you have allergies.

5. Not All Store Offers an Online Service

Aldi, I’m talking to you here.

If you save money on groceries by shopping at Aldi, then the convenience of home delivery is not going to work for you…until Aldi jumps onboard (or is that online?).

And if you prefer to shop at your local farmer’s markets, for example, you don’t get the same convenience.

6. You Don’t Get as Much Exercise

This downside came from my son. When I announced we were trialling home-delivered groceries, my 7-year-old’s first reaction was: “you need the exercise.

Thanks, son.

I get in nearly 5,000 steps walking to our local supermarket, walking around the store, and then walking home again. That’s half a daily allowance if you’re aiming for 10,000 steps.

If you’re trying to increase your physical activity, it’s better to walk to and around the store than get home delivery.

7. Everything Comes in Plastic Bags

When I shop in person, I take my little grandma shopping trolley and canvas shopping bags and throw everything in without plastic bags.

Home-delivered groceries all come in plastic. And if you get produce, all that comes in plastic too. So home delivery might not be for those who are trying to reduce their plastic consumption.

8. You Can’t Check the Quality

Do you like to pick through the tomatoes for the best one, feel your avocados and examine every meat tray before making a selection?

With home delivery, you get what you’re given. Sometimes the picker does a great job; other times, their idea of fresh and yours might differ.

For a long time, I resisted home delivery for groceries, figuring it wasn’t worth the delivery costs for us. Then I trialled it because the first delivery is free and while I was happy with the service, it’s not something we need at the moment. If life got busier, maybe I will change my mind. I know that service is available if I need it.

[Fast forward to 2022 and the (kinda) post-Covid world, and I’m working a lot more hours, and we use online grocery shopping every week.] 

If you’re thinking about home-delivered groceries, but you’re not sure if it’s right for you, take advantage of the free delivery on your first purchase (there are conditions, check them out) and see if it works for you. 

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  1. Great list of pros and cons. At certain times in my life online shopping has been a lifesaver. It is great if you have newborn babies! I don’t use it at the moment – my youngest is now 4 – for many of the reasons you list. The advantages and disadvantages need to be weighted against your stage of life.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Senga. Yes, it makes life easier when you have a newborn. I wish I taken advantage of it then.

  2. I have never bought groceries online, but I know people who do that and find it convenient. For me, going grocery shopping is like taking a break from work and going for a walk, so I don’t mind it at all.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      I can relate. When I’m in the checkout, and the server apologises because I have to wait I say ‘please take as long as you like, I’m enjoying the break and just being able to stand here!’ :)

  3. I have used groceries on line but would like to add another “con” to the list. You are not allowed by the delivery driver to check your order. They won’t wait around while you check off items on a list to make sure you have everything. And not infrequently there are several items not available but you don’t know until they are not delivered (money is adjusted ok). So it’s a mixed bag, you have to take the good with the bad. Older people would benefit from this and not having to lug bags around.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Kathy, thanks. Good to know and keep in mind!

  4. i use online shopping but do not use it for purchasing fruit & veg..meats…etc…i get either a delivery or click and collect depending on the spend…i prefer choosing those things myself to ensure freshness and long shelf i prefer harris farm markets…butchers etc for fresh produce…i save time and money by doing it this way…it might only be minimal but it really does help…

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Tracy, Thanks for sharing how you do it. Every little bit helps! I prefer our local fruit and veg grocer too.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Juliet, thanks for the tip – great service. I think it is only in cities at the moment. Not where I live, but I think they are expanding.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Thanks Pamela. Hope you found it useful.

  5. Hello Melissa, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think buying groceries online could be a very good idea. Nowadays everyone has a busy schedule so it’s a very good idea for buying groceries online. It could make their life easier. Keep Sharing..:)

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Buying groceries online can be an awesome time saver :)

  6. Maureen Fisk says:

    I am thinking of trying on line. As I have trouble walking and use a walking stick and get a trolley to hold onto, but I feel I need to keep trying as it gives me a reason to get out but I am Eighty this year and will have to try it and see.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      It makes things so much easier. And more time to go out to do other things :)

  7. Georgia Wood says:

    I love grocery shopping in person, but I am 82 yo and mostly disabled. Online shopping and delivery has been a godsend to me.

  8. Vincent Meccariello says:

    I’m disabled and literally live in the middle of nowhere. The town only has 400 people. The closest grocery is 45 minutes away. One big grocery shopping per month was an all-day event and totally wore me out. Kroger will deliver to my door for $9.95. I would be stupid not to take advantage of it. I meet friends for lunch every Tuesday and stop on my way home to pick up meats and fresh vegetables. I also stock up on those mark-down items and freeze them until needed. A quick in and out in the express lane or self-checkout.

  9. When my local Walmart started their delivery service I couldn’t use it since I live outside their area to deliver. But they also started the order/pickup at the store and since I’m retired/disabled I decided to try it since I needed help due to having back injuries and heart disease. The first few times I was satisfied for the most part with my orders. But I found out later why that changed. The first few orders were picked by mostly older women in their late 30s up to 50 something and they knew how to pick out fresh produce and took their time picking the best they had. But after those few times that stopped due to Walmart hiring more and more young people who don’t know about those things and don’t care to take the time it requires to do a good job. They also didn’t know how to bag groceries and would throw my bags into the back of my SUV. I assume Walmart does NO TRAINING of these new hires. Anyways I stopped using the service for a year and decided to try it again but it was no better. The new hires a year later were even worse than than the prior hires a year earlier. I stopped getting notifications about substitutions, or they wouldn’t even put some things I ordered in the bags and did not subtract it from my total. So I had to speak to a manager and go through a bunch of crap to get a refund. The service in my area is not good at all for the most part. The worst is the Walmart closest to my home which is necessary for me since I can’t afford gas now since it is over 3 dollars a gallon. I started ordering on Amazon thinking that might be better since I had used them for other things like Christmas presents. But it isn’t any better with them. This is becoming a serious problem for the elderly and disabled who need help and don’t have resources they can depend on. I wish there were someone we could file a formal complaint with about the USPS and other delivery services who have unreliable employees who don’t care about doing a good job. Why don’t they get reliable past employee reports for everyone they consider hiring? This used to be something all businesses did but no more. No one cares about the customer anymore

  10. Have you not figure it out yet? Buying online you pay a premium for food and house hold items. This is no an economical approach. I have looked at the cost of items online vs items in store and the consumer is always paying more.