The takeaway from an experiment in comparison shopping for groceries is that consumers could save a significant amount of money, as well as time, by never setting foot in the store. The latest Consumer Reports study pits various online grocery retailers versus a couple of standard brick-and-mortar supermarkets. In terms of price (and obviously convenience), online shopping won—specifically, online shopping at Walmart.com.
Purchasing the items on a shopping list of 10 standard grocery items came to $121 at Walmart’s website, which was the same total at a physical Walmart store—and 22% less than the tally at a traditional supermarket, A&P ($154). Ordering the same items cost even more from Amazon ($172), and Walmart also beat the prices of Alice.com ($146), which specializes in shipping items directly from manufacturers to consumers. (Shipping costs, if applicable, are included in all prices mentioned.)
So, is it time to switch to online shopping for groceries? For many items—canned and packaged goods especially—why the heck not?
Online shopping doesn’t work for all foods, though. For many reasons, shoppers probably wouldn’t want to order fresh produce, baked goods, and meat online and have them shipped—especially not if the shipping takes “4 to 7 days.” The other arguments against online grocery shopping include:
- Advanced planning is required. The added costs of overnight shipping would probably negate any savings from online shopping. Typically, orders arrive three or more days after the purchase is made. Obviously, there’s no faster way to retrieve groceries than swinging by the supermarket. Then again, many personal finance experts swear by the wisdom of carefully budgeting and planning food-shopping lists—and it’s easier to keep track of this stuff while shopping at a computer.
- Many coupons are for in-store use only. Walmart, for instance, doesn’t accept coupons for online grocery orders. So if you’re accustomed to getting significant discounts via coupons, you’ll be missing out by turning strictly to online shopping.
- No quirky in-store deals. Shoppers who like to save by picking over specially discounted merchandise—day-old baked goods, dented cans of veggies, marked-down seasonal items—aren’t going to find these kinds of deals online. Then again, online shoppers aren’t going to face the temptation of impulse buys peeking out of the ends of store aisles either.