Online Grocery Delivery

An overview of online grocery delivery options, including home delivery, mail order and same day services, with the advantages and disadvantages of each!

We've all seen the ads, and even the little trucks delivering groceries to our neighbors. Have you ever wondered, though, how these online grocers work? How expensive are they, how reliable, and how long does it take to get your order?

The first thing to understand is that there is no one single type of online grocer. Some take days to weeks to deliver your food while others offer 30-minute door-to-door service. Some have hot sandwiches and frozen foods, others offer only dried and canned goods. Obviously, the types of products that can be offered by a personal delivery service differ from those that can be mailed! Let's look at some of the different kinds of online grocers, and compare their offerings.

* Mail Order: The first type of online grocer is the mail-order delivery. Offering dried goods, canned goods, and general sundries, these generally involve placing an order over the Internet. Products are delivered via the mail, generally in 3-10 days. Time to delivery varies depending on the specific service, the company's order processing time and the distance the food needs to travel. Often you can find coupons to get discounts on specific products, or a percentage off. No fresh fruits, vegetables or any perishable foods are available (no bread, dairy, meats, etc.).

Watch out for: misleading offers ($XX of free groceries, but these turn out to be specific products that you don't use or need, but still have to pay shipping on), as well as high shipping charges. Shipping is usually based on the weight of the package - and those canned goods can add up quickly! Prices are typically close to standard grocery store non-sale prices. Should you tip? No.

* Scheduled Home Delivery: A second type of online grocer is the scheduled home delivery. You choose your products online, and a specific time is scheduled for the delivery. Typically this is 2-5 days from your time of order, and you are given a small window in which to expect your delivery (e.g., 2-4 pm on Tuesday). Fresh fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and a full range of groceries and sundries are offered, at prices that are typically comparable to non-sale grocery store prices.

Very convenient, the groceries are hand delivered by a delivery person who usually will even carry them into your home for you, if you wish. Introductory offers may give you a free bag of produce, discount or free delivery on your first order. Watch out for: Add-on delivery charges (these vary by company), higher prices on some items. Should you tip? Yes, similar to a pizza delivery, based upon the value of the items ordered and the service level provided.

* Same Day Delivery: The third type of online grocer is the same day delivery. Similar to ordering out for pizza, you simply call/fax or email your order in, and it is delivered to your door within 30 minutes. Offerings include a full selection of fresh, frozen and standard groceries, including alcohol and sundries plus bakery goods like hot sandwiches, deli items and hot entrees.

Prices of entrees and deli items are good (and vary by store chain and as well); groceries are generally priced just higher than the supermarket. Coupons can usually be found for free delivery or free items. Watch out for: Delivery charges (vary by company) and high prices on some items. Should you tip? Yes, similar to a pizza delivery, based upon the value of the items ordered and the service level provided.

The bottom line is that in our busy world, online groceries can take some of the hassle out of our day. Same day delivery, especially, is fabulous for those days when you need "just one thing" to finish dinner (although it might be more cost effective to order your other items as well, sharing the delivery fee and saving a future trip to the market).

One mom told us of how an online grocer saved the day when her child was far too sick to take to the store "¦ but her cupboards were bare! She had planned to shop that day, but instead had her groceries delivered, including some flu-friendly foods and medicine for her little one, all in an hour. "A true lifesaver," she proclaimed.

Of course, if you're a bargain hunter, enjoy the shopping experience, or like buying generic brands (often not offered at these sites), online grocers may not be for you. Hopefully, though, you'll know now the differences between some of those available and be better prepared if you decide to try one!

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