Is it cheaper to buy groceries online?

What if you didn't have to go to the supermarket all the time?
What if you didn't have to go to the supermarket all the time?
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You're all set for the weekly trip to the supermarket, but you're just not feeling up to making the drive and walking the aisles in search of bargains -- and the less said about all that loading and unloading, the better. What if you could sit in front of your computer and take care of the weekly shopping with a few mouse clicks? It sounds great, but all of that convenience has to come at a price, right?

Well ... not necessarily. In fact, if you shop carefully, you can actually save money buying groceries online.

Before we explain how, let's break down the two basic types of online grocery shopping. You can order online from a site such as Amazon.com or Alice.com and have groceries shipped to your house, usually within a few days. Or you can order online with a local supermarket, either for delivery to your home -- sometimes on the same day, if you order early enough -- or for curbside pickup.

If you're having the groceries delivered, you're saving the money you'd spend on gas to get to the store. If you pay a delivery fee, you can easily figure whether that costs more than your gas would have. Alice.com and some other online sites offer free shipping. In 2011, Wal-Mart promised to deliver your purchases for free if you spend at least $45. Others have graduated fees depending upon the size of the order. Many waive the expense the first time you shop.

There are also usually fees -- at least after your first purchase -- for ordering for curbside pickup. If you're a smart shopper, your savings probably more than make up for the fee.

On the next page, we'll tell you how you can save money shopping online.

How to Save Money on Online Groceries

Here are some ways buying groceries online can be cheaper:

  • Organization. Keep a list, plan exactly what you'll need and buy just those items. Many sites have menu-planning and recipe tools with ingredient lists. Some keep track of what you buy frequently, so it's easy to check whether you need more.
  • Impulse control. If you're not in the store, you're not tempted by things you don't need. This lack of temptation especially saves money if children accompany you.
  • Bulk purchasing. Sites such as Amazon.com offer discounts for large quantities of certain staples, like grain and coffee.
  • Sales. Browse the Internet for promotions, sales and coupons. (Some stores, such as supermarket chain Harris Teeter, offer online shopping with curbside service that will scan regular coupons when you pick up and pay.)
  • Custom shopping. If you're looking for pricier gluten-free, organic or "green" products, online shopping can help you get the best deals for them.

If time equals money, buying online will definitely help you save. You browse by searching the store's Web site -- no more wandering the aisles or tracking down a store employee for help. You comparison shop without driving from store to store. Checkout takes a click or two, which means no more standing in line. Nor do you have to carry your bags and load them into your car. They'll be shipped to your home, or someone will meet you at the curb.

The downsides? You can't get everything you need from an online grocery site where shipping takes a few days. Most of those sites don't sell fresh produce or dairy items, so you'll have to go elsewhere. Some insist that you buy in fairly large quantities, so storage can be a problem. Lastly, with online local shopping and curbside pickup, you may be able to get everything on your list, but your personal shopper might not be as picky as you would be when selecting, say, fresh produce.

The consolation is the time and money you can save.

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Sources

  • MSN Money. "Online groceries: Wal-Mart vs. Amazon." (Accessed Oct. 9, 2011) http://money.msn.com/saving-money-tips/post.aspx?post=4eaea6f0-14ec-4257-8237-00f2963a1c97
  • Pro Bargain Hunter. "Alice, you broke my heart!" (Accessed Oct. 7, 2011) http://probargainhunter.com/2009/06/26/alice-you-broke-my-heart/
  • Rox, Mikey. "3 Reasons Why Buying Groceries Online Is Great." Wisebread. (Accessed Oct. 8, 2011) http://www.wisebread.com/3-reasons-why-buying-groceries-online-is-great
  • Safeway. "Shopping Online." (Accessed Oct. 5, 2011) http://www.safeway.com/IFL/Grocery/Shopping-Help
  • Smartlife. "100 Places to Buy Your Groceries Online." (Accessed Oct. 7, 2011) http://smartlifeblog.com/100-places-to-buy-your-groceries-online/
  • Wahm.com. "How to Save Money with Online Grocery Shopping." (Accessed Oct. 7, 2011) http://www.wahm.com/articles/how-to-save-money-with-online-grocery-shopping.html
  • We Are Living on a Budget. "Buy Groceries Online: My Online Shopping Review." (Accessed Oct. 6, 2011) http://wearelivingonabudget.com/buy-groceries-online-my-online-grocery-shopping-review/