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When COVID-19 pressed pause on the world in 2020, many Americans embraced the beauty that is online grocery shopping.
Personally, I'd been doing grocery pickups at Walmart regularly since 2017, but 2020 gave me the push to use grocery delivery, which I still use weekly today. However, there are extra costs associated with online grocery shopping, like delivery fees and driver tips, that can add to the financial pressure many of us are under right now.
As a budget-conscious shopper, I saw savings on our groceries of an average of $50-$100 a week since switching to ordering online. Walmart, for example, doesn't charge extra fees for grocery pickups, so it was my top choice when looking for the most cost-conscious option.
According to Intuit, a suggested monthly grocery budget for a family of five people averages right around $1060, which is roughly $245 a week. This can be pretty accurate for my family of five, though we do stay under this budget by about $40 each week even with grocery delivery compared to shopping in-store, and save about $60 with pickups.
Benefits of grocery shopping online
Little to no impulse buys: Though they are small purchases individually, the candy bars or an energy drink for the road at checkout, the cookies or donuts from the bakery, and the taquitos in the freezer aisle just because all add up on your grocery bill. These impulse purchases are more easily avoided when shopping online since the items aren't right in front of you.
No leaving the house (or the car): Another benefit to ordering your groceries online is that you can do this anytime, from anywhere, no pants required.
Ability to sort prices low to high: Ever wished there was a filter or sort button at a brick and mortar store? When you search for a product online, you can sort the results by low to high prices to choose the best price for you.
Saving on membership fees: It seems counterintuitive to pay for a membership when you're trying to save money, right? However, if you're considering using grocery deliveries and looking to save, a membership can achieve that by reducing the delivery fees and/or service fees. Because I search for low-price items and avoid impulse buys when shopping online, I can still save money even after adding the cost of an Instacart+ membership.
Easily stick to your list: Shopping for groceries online makes it easier to add items to my cart as I go about my days throughout the week since my phone is always with me. If I decide to meal plan, which I'll admit isn't often, I'll make a list and add each item to my cart when I sit down to finish my shopping.
Pickups can save the most: Because many retailers offer pickups for free, online shopping combined with the benefits above can help you save the most money while shopping online and still bypass delivery fees and driver tips. Shop around your local retailers to see if they have pickup fees.
How to save on groceries by shopping online
There are several things you can do to save the most money by grocery shopping online, like making a budget to stick to, making a list of the items you need, and avoiding impulse purchases. But the most important one is by choosing the best online grocery service for your area.
When you're searching through the many services for online grocery shopping, look into what fees they add to each order, how much the membership is a month or per year, and if they charge higher prices for groceries (unfortunately some do).
If you choose Walmart+ at $98 a year, for example, and order once a week, that's about $1.89 on each order plus a tip. Walmart doesn't charge more for their products when shopping online, so if you save $29 on one order by looking for low prices, shopping sale items, and avoiding impulse purchases, remove the cost of the membership and maybe a $15 tip for the driver, you'd still save $12.11, which adds up to saving almost $630 a year.
Online grocery shopping, either pickup or delivery, gives you the power to choose your items carefully. You can search for the lowest-priced items, sales, coupons, and clearance items on the store's app or site to cut your grocery bill, but using the wrong grocery pickup or delivery service can hike up that price in fees.
Use the best grocery delivery service for your area
Choosing the best service in your area involves some trial and error. Shop around and try different services to find the right one for you instead of sticking with the first one you try. Shipt, Walmart+, and Amazon Fresh through Prime all offer either a free trial period or free first delivery.
In some areas, Walmart pickup and deliveries run like a well-oiled machine, while in others, you may find your order canceled and rescheduled several times over. Some areas have Instacart, while others are limited to online ordering from local stores only.
Using grocery pickup is one of the best ways to save money grocery shopping online, since many stores offer the service for free, effectively bypassing the delivery fees and driver tips. But with gas prices the way they are, it's no surprise that 29% of shoppers right now are less likely to drive to stores due to high fuel costs.
When you choose your preferred online grocery store, also look at what its delivery and pickup fees are like and decide whether or not you're willing or prepared to pay those instead of going to the store. Do consider how the potential savings you incur from avoiding impulse buys and the ability to shop sale and low-price items easily online can offset the cost of fees associated with pickup or delivery.
Have you ever been told to pick one thing and stick to it? Instacart has nailed that with its business model. Instacart lets customers select and pay for their groceries online and then Instacart shoppers go to the store and buy and deliver them to customers.
Instacart offers one-hour and same-day service at hundreds of stores, depending on the area. Aldi, Safeway, Costco, Sam's Club, Petco, RiteAid, Walgreens, and CVS are just a few of the stores that deliver with Instacart.
The best way to save money with Instacart is by shopping its deals, especially when using the app. Instacart frequently features deals and coupons for items, letting you save more than you would at the store. When you choose the store you want to shop, choose Deals in the category on the menu to view the featured discounts.
Is a membership required?
Membership isn't required to shop through Instacart, though it does offer a membership plan. You can sign up for Instacart+, a service that costs $9.99 a month or $99 for a year when paid in full, and it offers free delivery on orders over $35 and lower service fees.
What about the extra fees?
If you choose Instacart, know that you'll have to pay delivery fees, service fees, plus a driver tip at checkout. While a tip is not required, tips are a significant part of Instacart drivers' income, so it's a good idea to tip on these delivery services.
The delivery fee starts at $3.99 and varies in accordance to one-hour deliveries, club store deliveries, and orders under $35. It is waived for Instacart+ members on orders exceeding $35. The service fee is not paid to the driver. The amount of the service fee also varies, depending on location and the number of items in your cart.
You may find some new customer offers from Instacart, like getting free delivery on your first three orders, for example. Instacart also accepts promo codes, so if you come across one, save it for your next online grocery order.
However, some people have found that Instacart prices are higher than prices in the stores, noting that some items are marked up when shopped on Instacart.
According to Instacart, retailers are the ones that set the item prices on their platforms, so some retailers may mark up prices on some items. If you're familiar with your store's prices on your favorite items, do some comparing to see if they are higher or not, and whether it makes more sense to shop online rather than in-store.
If you shop online for an Instacart pickup, you'll only be charged a pickup fee equivalent to a delivery fee.
Walmart also offers both pickup and delivery on its grocery department. Pickups are free, and I haven't noticed an upcharge in Walmart's online pricing compared to in-store prices. So scheduling a pickup with Walmart has been my go-to for saving money on my grocery bill.
Using Walmart's sort feature when you're doing a search is an easy way to find the best prices. Sort the prices from low to high so you can choose the lowest-priced item you need and save the most money.
What is Walmart+?
Without a membership, Walmart's delivery fee ranges from $7.95 to $9.95, with an option for Express delivery within two hours for an extra $10. This charge doesn't include the driver tip. Walmart uses DoorDash to make its deliveries, so the tip goes to your DoorDash driver.
Walmart+ is the company's membership program aimed at grocery delivery customers. It costs $12.95 a month or $98 a year and it lets members get free grocery deliveries as soon as same-day delivery, where available.
This means that when you order a delivery as a Walmart+ member you only have to pay for the groceries and the driver's tip.
This membership also offers free delivery, savings of up to 10 cents per gallon of fuel, access to member prices at Sam's Club gas stations, contactless checkout with Scan&go through the app, and early access to special events like Black Friday deals and product releases.
You can get a 30-day free trial to try Walmart+ and see if it's a good fit for you.
Shipt is similar to Instacart. You make your order online and one of its shoppers gets it at the store, then delivers it to you.
You can use Shipt for many brands like Walgreens, Meijer, CVS, Office Depot, Costco, Petco, Publix, even BuyBuy Baby, Sur la Table, and Sephora, among many more, depending on your area.
The most experience I've had with Shipt is shopping from Target for same-day delivery, which you can do for $9.99 per order or with a membership.
When you use a membership for Shipt, you can pay $10.99 a month or $99 a year. Though memberships are an extra cost, they could still save you money if you find that the online savings outweigh the membership costs. Do consider that you are expected to tip the driver who delivers.
Target offers delivery through Shipt, but it also has free order pickup in two hours or less. When you do a pickup at Target, you have the option of shopping through most of their inventory online and can look through the Sale category to find the best prices on products.
Because it's Target, you also can buy much more than groceries, like clothes and household items.
Saving the most at Target
Sorting price by low to high at Target lets you find the lowest prices, but you can find the best coupons and offers under Wallet, for Target Circle.
Though you don't need a membership for order pickups, if you sign up for a free account, you can save Target Circle offers to use on orders, kind of like clipping coupons. These offers are applied at checkout and include a percentage of the price off or a free gift card with purchase.
Target Circle Earnings is a program that gives you rewards to be applied to future purchases as a discount. So you can earn money that is only redeemable at Target when in-store or at checkout online.
If you have an Amazon Prime membership, then you also have access to same-day grocery delivery online through Amazon Fresh.
Amazon Fresh includes products from Whole Foods and has free delivery on orders over $35. Though it doesn't accept traditional coupons, some products on Amazon Fresh do give you the option to clip an online coupon for a discount with just the tap of a button. You can also shop Fresh Deals to see what the current discounts are.
The absolute best part of Amazon Fresh is that it already is included in your Prime membership, so you don't have to pay for an extra membership.
Amazon Fresh deliveries aren't the same as Whole Foods deliveries. Whole Foods deliveries cost about $10 for every order, while Amazon Fresh offers free 2-hour delivery for Prime members, depending on the area.
Though you may not have considered Walgreens an option for doing your grocery shopping, it can work in a pinch. Walgreens offers free curbside pickup in as little as 30 minutes on orders made online.
If you're running low on milk and bread and know you'll have to stop on the way home, just sending your order some time before you leave work will ensure it's ready by the time you arrive, saving you the hassle of hunting down what you need to buy.
Free delivery is available on orders over $35 that are placed by 7 p.m., seven days a week. No membership is required to use free delivery and pickup through Walgreens, though you should tip your driver for delivery.
Many local grocery stores also offer delivery through their own drivers or a designated shopper. So you don't have to go with one of the options above. Check your local store's website or ask at the checkout to find out if it has pickup or delivery options.
Doordash, UberEats, and others
Companies like DoorDash, UberEats, and others also offer the option of shopping for you at convenience stores, and grocery stores in some areas. Though these options won't let you save as much as you would with Walmart, Walgreens, or Instacart, they may be an option when you can't get to the store for some reason.
These options are subject to their individual delivery and service fees, plus driver tips.
The most important part of this process is to shop around and try different services before settling on one. There is the potential to save a lot by using online grocery shopping services, but there is also the risk of overspending, so comparing each service in your area is key to determining which offers the best savings opportunity for you.