There’s a growing number of online services that make buying groceries easy and convenient. But the real question is whether these services actually save us money.
We’ve researched several of the most popular online food services and the answer we’ve come up with is this: it depends. As you’ll see below, there are a lot of different factors that determine how much you can save by buying groceries online.
First, a few factors to consider
It may be weird to think about your time in terms of dollars and cents, but for those who really do value their time, the convenience of online food services may be worth much more the potential added costs.
If you find yourself buying more than expected at the grocery store, shopping online is a good way to stick to your list and avoid impulse buying.
It’s also a good way to be more methodical while price shopping or comparing prices based on weight.
Some delivery services cost extra, but they may actually amount to less than the cost of gas to drive to and from the grocery store (depending where you live, of course).
Best online food services overview
Best online food services
- Best for: Time-strapped grocery shoppers
How it works
HelloFresh is just one of many food delivery services that delivers meal kits right to your door. Rather than buying a bunch of groceries and cooking food throughout the week, they deliver recipes for each meal as well as all the ingredients, pre-cut and pre-measured so that all you have to do is cook it.
Starts at $6.99 per serving, plus $5.99 for delivery.
- Prevent food waste—A lot of us end up buying more groceries than we need. You may actually save money if you find yourself regularly throwing out food that’s gone bad.
- Save time—For many of us, time really does equal money. So paying a bit more to avoid the onerous meal prep could actually help us save.
- More expensive—Each meal costs a minimum of $6.99. If we purchase the ingredients ourselves, the cost per meal can be much lower.
- Best for: Quick and easy meals
How it works
Plated works just like Hello Fresh. They delivery meal kits right to your door, with fresh, pre-measured ingredients that you can quickly prepare.
You can choose between a variety of food options, and decide how many times a week you would like your box delivered.
Starts at $47.80/week for two nights a week and two servings up tp $159.20/week for four nights a week and four servings.
- Save time—Plated offers meals that typically take less than 30 minutes to make, so they can save any busy person time.
- Fresh ingredients—Plated has very fresh ingredients that vary, so you always have something exciting to try.
- Cost: Plated is an expensive alternative to grocery shopping and you can’t order a full week’s meals.
Amazon Prime Pantry
- Best for: Bulk purchasing
How it works
All Amazon Prime members can shop from Amazon’s massive online inventory of groceries, including household goods and non-perishable items.
Free shipping on orders of $35+ for Prime members with an $119 annual Amazon Prime subscription.
- Easier to buy in bulk—Prime Pantry has a massive online inventory, which includes many bulk items that help you save in terms of cost per unit.
- Save up to 15 percent with Subscribe and Save—You can get 15 percent off and free delivery on household items you would have bought anyways through their automatic scheduled purchasing program.
- Online deals and coupons—More brands are partnering with Amazon to offer great deals online. You can find some seriously good deals on Amazon if you browse their product listings or coupons page.
- Less impulse buying—Buying online allows you to stick to your shopping list more meticulously and avoid getting swayed by impulse buys.
- No coupons—The coupons that you use in traditional grocery stores aren’t accepted by Amazon.
- Inventory can be pricier—Many Amazon Primers have reported that some items may even cost more than in grocery stores. This can be partly attributed to having fewer available options to buy affordable generic brands.
- Need to buy produce elsewhere—Prime Pantry only delivers non-perishables, so you would need to get your produce somewhere else.
- Best for: Comparison shopping
How it works
Instacart partners with more than 190 retailers including local stores and national chains, offering same-day grocery delivery of both perishable and non-perishable items.
$14.99/month for free unlimited same-day delivery or $5.99 fee for orders of $35+ and $9.99 for orders under $35.
- Easy comparison shopping—With a huge inventory from multiple retailers, it’s super easy to compare prices and find the best deal.
- Easier budget-conscious shopping—Having an overview of your bill as you’re shopping makes it easy to remove items that don’t fit your budget and be conscious of your total.
- Online savings—Instacart often has great promos and sales for extra grocery savings. Instacart also partners with great savings apps like Drop, which rewards users with cash back when they make purchases at participating retailers.
- Can’t use coupons—Unfortunately, Instacart doesn’t allow you to use traditional coupons that you would use at a physical grocery store.
Amazon Prime Now
- Best for: Convenience at no extra cost
How it works
With Amazon Prime Now, you can get groceries delivered to you within 1-2 hours in select cities. Amazon partners with local stores as well as larger chains like Whole Foods and Sprouts to offer a wide selection of both perishable and non-perishable items.
Two-hour delivery is free with $119 annual Amazon Prime membership; $7.99 for one-hour deliver.
- Free delivery—Existing prime members get the convenience of grocery delivery completely free of charge.
- Great savings opportunities—Amazon partners with specific brands to offer sales online. You can also use apps like swagbucks.com, which gives you rewards for shopping on Amazon, or a number of other online retailers.
- Get an overview of your bill—Seeing your bill update as you shop helps you stick to your budget more consciously.
- Can’t use coupons—Like Instacart, Amazon doesn’t allow you to use the traditional coupons that are offered at grocery stores.
Other ways to save on groceries
If you’re looking to lower your monthly grocery spending, there are ways you can do so without moving over to online shopping.
Use rewards credit cards
If you want to earn rewards for groceries specifically, check out the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card, which offers 3% cash back in your choice category, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs (up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases), and unlimited 1% on all other purchases.
Or, if you’re a person who dines out more often, we definitely recommend the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card. It’s one of the best cash back credit cards on the market right now, offering a whopping 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, plus 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases.
Coupons have been around for ages, and now there are a ton of new apps to help you save big on groceries.
SwagBucks and Drop are examples of a few savings apps. All you have to do is take a few surveys here and there to earn points towards gift cards. You can redeem those gift cards at places like Amazon and Walmart.
Avoid food waste
Americans are throwing out billions of dollars of food every year. Avoid buying more than you need by making a shopping list and sticking to it.
This also means avoiding the classic grocery store meander that leads to impulse buying.
Pay attention to sales. Load up on your favorite on-sale essentials if you know you’ll have to buy them eventually.
Just try not to be too caught up in the sale mentality. You may just end up buying something you’ll never use because the sale was good.
As the online food delivery competition continues to grow, it’s becoming easier to have you cake (delivered) and eat it too.
Having the control to make online purchases at your leisure can definitely have its financial advantages. But online delivery by no means guarantees a cheaper grocery bill than its brick and mortar counterpart. The verdict really depends on how you shop, live and eat.