Are Grocery Delivery Services A Good Investment?

grocery delivery services

Shopping at the grocery store can be a hassle, but it’s a necessary one. Unless you plan on growing your own massive garden or maintaining a farm, you have to buy food and other supplies from somewhere. That somewhere might not always have what you want in stock and take forever to navigate, but hey, everyone does it.

These days, however, you don’t even need to leave home to go grocery shopping. In most cities and many suburbs, you can actually have your groceries delivered to you just by choosing what you want on a website and having it trucked over to your front door. While these services cost extra in addition to the cost of your groceries, they can save you hours each year just by avoiding that dreaded trip to the supermarket.

Are these delivery services worth the extra monetary investment? That’s what we at the Money Badger office wondered after a particularly awful trip to the market. If we could avoid the lines, wasted time, and people stopped in the middle of an aisle on their phone without breaking the bank, it would certainly be a whole lot better than dealing with that nonsense…right?

We compared prices between our local store (Fairway) and three major delivery services: Amazon Fresh, Peapod, and Fresh Direct.

We created a shopping list composed of things the average person would buy on a regular grocery trip. The items were a combination of store-brand goods and common brand-name goods found in nearly every market nationwide. We tried to get the same brand, type, weight, and size for each item. We also avoided organic products, premium products, and generally tried to get the cheapest item with the most value, though we ran into some hiccups.

We did not compare prices using meal delivery services like Blue Apron or courier services like Instacart.

Blue Apron and other like services do not let you pick individual ingredients, which would not work in this test. Instacart grabs items from specific locations like Whole Foods and other fine markets, but charges extra per item and tacks on fees to each order. (Read our recent primer for more on these services.)

Once we had our list, we went to the store and on the services’ sites, researching the cost of items and timing how long it took to shop.

Item Local Grocer Amazon Peapod Fresh Direct
Milk (gallon) $3.99 $4.29 $3.99 $4.29
Cheerios (12 ox box) $4.00 $3.69 $4.59 $4.69
Boneless, skinless chicken breast (2lbs) $7.00 $7.94 $9.18 $13.98
5 oz bag of spinach $3.49 $3.49 $2.99 $2.99
bbq sauce (Sweet Baby Ray’s) $2.79 $1.99 $2.59 $2.89
8. oz cheddar cheese (store brand) $2.50 $2.99 $2.99 $4.00
loaf of wheat bread (arnold) $2.49 $3.49 $3.99 $4.49
1/2 lb sliced store brand turkey $6.50 $4.99 $4.50 $5.50
16 oz jar of jif peanut butter $3.29 $2.49 $2.99 $3.19
1 lb bag baby carrots $2.50 $1.38 $1.59 $1.99
1 package button mushrooms $2.49 $1.99 $2.08 $2.29
59 oz Florida’s Natural orange juice $4.79 $3.49 $3.50 $4.39
6 rolls toilet paper (Charmin) $5.99 $7.49 $9.79 $11.99
1 roll bounty paper towels $2.59 $6.44 $1.99 $5.99
34 oz olive oil $8.99 $11.96 $11.24 $11.99
Kosher Salt $0.99 $2.49 $1.49 $2.99
3 tomatoes $2.50 $2.78 $2.39 $3.35
3 avocado $5.00 $6.00 $4.50 $6.00
1 red onion $1.00 $1.49 $1.19 $0.89
3 cucumbers $1.75 $2.07 $3.00 $3.00
5 lb bag russet potatoes $4.00 $2.99 $4.19 $3.99
Ordering Time 35 minutes 8 minutes 10 minutes 9 minutes
Delivery charge None $23.24/month 9.95 6.99
Total without delivery 78.64 89.94 84.76 112.88
Minimum LOL $40 $60 $40
Suggested Tip None Yes Yes Yes
Total (w/o tax) + Delivery +  $5 Tip 78.64 118.18 99.71 124.87

There are a few minor things that affected the prices of some items.

Amazon Fresh only sells their comparable boneless skinless chicken breasts at .94 pounds instead of a pound. Fresh Direct didn’t have Sweet Baby Ray’s, so we went with KC Masterpiece. Fresh Direct also didn’t have Florida’s Natural, so we went with Tropicana. For toilet paper, Amazon and Fresh Direct only had 12 rolls of Charmin instead of 6, and both services only sold Bounty in a two-pack. Peapod only had slightly bigger olive oil containers. Amazon and Fresh Direct only sold 3 lb. boxes of Kosher Salt instead of the traditional canisters. When I tried to buy comparable tomatoes, Fresh Direct only let me buy 4 at a time.

We found that going to the grocery store was a whole lot cheaper, but took significantly longer. (Duh.)

Our grocery trip took 35 minutes, including going to the deli counter and waiting on line. For our efforts, however, we saved $21.07 if we went with Peapod, the cheapest delivery option. If time were a concern, Amazon would undoubtedly be the fastest way to order. As a colleague pointed out, ordering took longer at all online storefronts because it was our first time ordering. If we were ordering similar items for the second time, each shopping experience would be much shorter.

Should you buy your groceries through a delivery service? If saving money is a concern, then no. Though shopping at the grocery store takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R, you don’t have to pay a delivery fee, tip, or meet a minimum order price. You do with all other grocery delivery services (except Amazon, who charges $9.99 for any order under $40). Yet the difference between going to Fairway and ordering through Fresh Direct (a local favorite) is a whopping $46.23 for the same items.

If time is a concern, then you’ll pay a $21 premium just to save 25+ minutes by going with the cheapest option. If that’s within your price range and means you get to spend more time doing whatever, go for it. If you’re looking to save money, however, you’re going to have to leave home.

There are few things to keep in mind. First, grocery delivery services and groceries are going to vary in cost depending on where you live. We went shopping in Manhattan, and likely still paid a premium on goods from the store and from delivery services.

If you want to save money, your best bet is to go to a farm stand for your fresh produce. You’ll end up paying a lot less for things like lettuce, avocados, and cheese in these places.

Lastly, coupons always help, and some delivery services take them or have their own. While coupons are often a way for brands to push new products, you’ll likely find specials and sales in the ads for your grocer of choice, which could save you tons on items you need.