Sunday, April 24, 2011

For and Against: Online Grocery Shopping

Online grocery shopping seems to be one of those things that divides people radically. I have friends who swear by it - who never, or rarely, shop any other way. I have other friends who loathe the very idea or are gun-shy of the concept to the point of unwillingness to even try it.

I fall somewhere in the middle of these two camps, having used online grocery shopping pretty extensively for the three months either side of the birth of each baby, but much more sporadically thereafter, and recently not at all, until I placed an order earlier today, my first one for almost a year. I find myself ambivalent about the whole business, which is why I don't use it regularly and tend to fall back on it in exigent circumstances only, but at the same time, I have found it invaluable at those hibernating stages of parenting where the very notion of trekking to the grocery shop with one, two or three small children in tow seems akin to climbing Mount Everest in January. In bare feet. And board shorts ;-)

The advantages (the "for" case) of online grocery shopping mostly relate to time-and-motion efficiencies for me, although I know some people also avert that there is a cost advantage (this might be true for extremely organised people like the Planning Queen, but I haven't found it consistently true for me). I see the advantages as follows:

1. No physical shopping trips with small children / in evenings by tired parents
Depending on the age and stage of children, the general busyness of your weekly schedule, and everyone's state of health and energy, this can be a blissful boon of online grocery shopping. For those weeks when the very thought of a possible supermarket toddler meltdown makes you sob in advance ... teh InterWebz is your friend.

2. Overall, the time expended is less (although not as dramatically less as you might suppose at first).
I grocery shop once a fortnight, buying fresh fruit & veg and meat weekly at the greengrocer / butcher. (I count groceries as everything else - packaged food, frozen & dairy, breakfast foods, bread & baked goods, pasta, rice, legumes, dried foods, canned foods, cleaning & household products etc).

A grocery shop at the supermarket takes my toddler and I approximately 45-50 minutes in-store, plus 10 minutes to load the car, 10 minutes total travel time, 25 minutes unloading and putting away - a total of 1.5 hours. An online shop takes me about 35-40 minutes to enter, and the unloading / putting away time is the same, but I do save the 20 minutes travel and loading.

3. The timing of delivery can be chosen to suit you.
One of the things I like least about physical grocery shopping is the unloading part, which has to be accomplished by me alone with a usually tired and mischievous toddler in tow. With an online shop I always select a delivery time when my husband will be home from work, so one of us can put away the groceries while the other kid-wrangles uninterrupted.

4. It is somewhat easier to control costs
Because you can see the total mounting up as you go, it is easier to take out discretionary items if your budget starts getting blown. I set myself a $250 budget for a fortnightly grocery shop (bearing in mind that this doesn't include f&v and meat) and I can usually stick to it online. My in-store buying varies a lot more, sometimes as low as $180 but often as high as $300.

However, there are some disadvantages to online shopping that mean I don't see it becoming my default / always mechanism. The against case for me is:

1. Losing the opportunity to model and share public behaviour with my kids.
The thing about kids and shopping is that, in my experience, each of my kids has become noticeably more pleasant to shop with the more times we practiced and invested the time into learning about shopping behaviours. In a nutshell, if they never get a chance to do it, they'll never learn how to do it. (I fully realise this argument is bollocks if you have kids with sensory issues or who are neurodiverse).

2. Quality of products / out of stocks and substitutions
I have often found the quality of any fresh produce disappointingly poor with online shopping (hence, I never order fruit & veg online now, although if pushed I will order meat sometimes, such as this week when I know I won't get to the butcher). The amount of times that an item I've ordered has been out of stock, and substituted with an item I wouldn't have chosen, is also annoying if you've based a menu plan around specific items.

3. Missing out on specials
I know they do have online specials but frankly, the better bargains are always in-store. I've often switched laundry detergent brands, for example, based on a price cut, or stocked up on loo paper or crackers because they are super-duper cheap. Overall I think I spend more intelligently in-store when I can see what's on offer and make decisions based on that.

What do you think? Do you like or loathe online shopping (or neither)?


  1. I love online shopping. I started it 20mths ago when my second child was born and have never stopped! I love the convenience and the time I save. I buy everything online, but still go to the hot bread shop twice a week to buy bread.

  2. I have tried online shopping, which makes sense for us since we live a fair way from any supermarkets. Only Woollies delivers out here. I find I spend less if I order online (because I don't get suckered into impulse buying) but there is a wider range of, say, health foods in store, and you're not as likely to learn about new products. Also I actually quite like noodling around the supermarket and now my older kids are at school, shopping isn't such a nightmare. I think it's good for me to get out of the house.

    I have an organic F&V box delivered weekly now instead. It's not cheap ($70 a week but it will easily feed the five of us when the bub starts on solids) and since I meal plan around the box, I spend $80-120 a week on all other groceries including meat, so overall I am spending much less.

  3. Dannii, I know what you mean about convenience. I also like that aspect a whole lot.

    Penni, wow, I am *dead* impressed with $150ish per week for 5 people! I have a household of 5 here and budget for two nights with extra mouths to feed due to various things, and my total weekly spend is never less than $225 and usually closer to $250. You are a champion ;-)

  4. I do love online grocery shopping but do acknowledge some of the drawbacks. There is nothing quite like cruising the physical aisles to make some choices. I will do a shop every so often to make sure I know what's new etc.

    And I think kids need to learn to go shopping, make price comparisons, look at quality and read labels. I find I still have enough ad hoc trips over the year to expose the kids to this. For example this week I will shop exclusively for the groceries for the launch. They will also like this shop because it will have lots of nice things!

    Great wrap up of the pros and cons Kathy!

  5. I've had mixed results with online shopping - when Coles Online started in Adelaide (last year? year before?) I tried them out and wasn't impressed with the meat - just didn't look as fresh as what I like and had I seen that in the store I wouldn't have chosen those packages, that sort of thing. And the stirfry strips were cut so thickly they might as well have been steaks.

    Was told of a F&V delivery family business here in Adelaide late last year and ordered $65 worth of fresh stuff - a kilo of most of our common items - to try out the quality and I was super-impressed. That $65 lasted us, 2 adults and 3 kids (the bulk of it anyway) 2+ weeks with some stray veggies still being crisp and fresh up to the 3 week mark. Supermarket veggies have NEVER lasted me that long. Makes you wonder exactly how long those tomatoes sit in a Woolies warehouse, huh? Would easily shop online for veg for this reason alone...$30-$35 a week for fruit and veg (and the really GOOD quality stuff too) is worth it for us.

    With meat I'm a bit funny - I like to inspect the packages (nothing turns me off faster than leaky-blood packets) and suss out quality, etc. Supermarket meat is okay, but prices can be high so I'm looking into wholesale butcher (shopfront) at first. Would love to do a quarter side of beef one time to test that method out too - luckily we live pretty close to two or three farms/processors that do just that. One day.

    Regular groceries - thing that has always bothered me about Coles (not sure if they still do it?) was their 'two for' sales. Single item sales are supported online (same as catalogue) but not their two-fers and those sales are often pretty good, at least good enough to make me want to go out of my way to get them. So it annoys me I can't have the convenience of that same deal online. And if I'm in store picking up the loss leaders then why the heck wouldn't I just shop for the whole week, rending the 'general groceries' part of the weekly online shop a moot point anyway.

  6. I love it and use it for everything except F & V. It definitely helps me stick to my budget and I think it saves time once you have done it a few times and have a list built up. I choose no substitutions which can be a pain when you don't receive something, that would be the only downside for me.

  7. We get our fruit and veg from Aussie Farmers Direct. We also get meat, bread, eggs, dairy products, soy milk from Aussie Farmers Direct on a different day. I love it, the quality is fantastic.

    Di Bella coffee online has a fantastic decaf coffee which is so good, I love getting 3kg of coffee delivered to my door :) and the price is much better than in store.

    Mostly use Coles online for the rest of our grocery needs, with the occasional trip to ALDI to stock up on certain bulk items.

    Annie helps me with our online shopping, she is pretty good at using a computer. I set her a budget to stick to and a simple list and let her go. I just have to confirm at the end before check out.

    No reason to say that online shopping can't be a learning experience like in store shopping is. Just different :)

  8. Owh I've soooo wanted to do a post about grocery shopping! You raise many good points.

    I've recently tried to totally ditch Coles and Woolies - mostly shopping at Aldi and a Super IGA near me. It's much more of a pleasant experience and I like that I'm not supporting the big guys! But it doesn't always work and is sometimes more expensive. I can't bring myself to order groceries online as the prices are more than in the store (on the regular items I buy). But with a baby on the way the convenience would be awesome!

    I have however recently started using Aussie Farmers Direct for fruit and veggies once a fortnight. It's pretty fabulous and I've done cost comparisons and found I'm getting good value for money, surprisingly! Also the products are lasting much longer than if I had have bought them at the supermarket.

    I didn't realise that with online shopping they will substitute out of stock items. What a pain, like you say if you won't use them.

  9. Online shopping is great, you can sit with a cup of tea and do all the shopping you want. I am always thinking online grocery shopping is somewhat risky. But By readind your article I feel I was wrong you have done a great work .......... its really working and important for us. so please keep sharing ....