The Pros & Cons of Online Grocery Shopping
Many of you long-time readers know that one of my biggest organization “passions” is meal planning. I’m not entirely sure why, but for years I have been on a never-ending quest to streamline our meal planning and shopping as much as possible, constantly trying new services and systems to cut time and effort wherever I can. Well…after tons of trial and error, I’m thrilled to report I might have finally found my panacea for making grocery shopping truly easy and efficient. If you can believe it, I’ve stepped into a grocery store just a dozen or so times in the last 9 months (seriously!!!), and that’s because I’ve fully converted to online grocery shopping. I’m beyond smitten with our new routine, and I don’t know if I will ever go back to conventional grocery shopping again. Today, I want to break down how I shop for our family’s groceries online and chat about the pros and cons to consider if you want to try it too!
What I Use
As I’ve mentioned multiple times, grocery shopping is pretty much my least favorite household responsibility of all. From the moment I start planning our meals and compiling our list until the groceries are shopped for, loaded, and put away, the process is just plain long, exhausting, and exasperating to me. When Greg first left on deployment last Fall and I was embarking on 9 months of being a single parent, I was looking for any way to eliminate stress and make our lives easier. A lot of families in our neighborhood used Amazon Fresh, so I decided to give it a try. After planning out our meals and building my grocery list in my normal way, I logged onto our Amazon account and filled my cart with everything we needed. The next morning I opened my door, and all my groceries were sitting on the front step waiting for me…perfectly packaged to ensure nothing spoiled or crumpled. All I had to do was bring the bags in and put my groceries away.
As much as I loved opening my front door and finding my groceries waiting for me, there were a few aspects of Amazon’s service I just couldn’t get over. For one, they often didn’t have some of my usual items available. So more often than not, I found myself going without, making substitutions I wasn’t thrilled about, or running to a store to grab the items myself. I also had a bit of a hard time with the excessive prices. I certainly loved the convenience of grocery delivery, but not at the cost of a significantly increased food bill. Finally…and this was the biggest thing of all for me…the amount of packaging and trash was excessive. Amazon does a beautiful job of packaging their groceries. The dry foods were packed just right so that nothing was crushed, and the cold foods came with cool packs and dry ice. While effective and impressive, as I broke it all down and tried to figure out what to do with everything, the amount of waste…on top of the increased prices…was hard to justify as a regular, long-term solution.
I was just about to switch back to regular ol’ grocery shopping when my girlfriend said she used Walmart Online Grocery. I’ll be honest…Walmart is not my favorite place to shop, and I was seriously skeptical of everything from the service and selection to food quality and prices. Still…she raved about it, and I was curious, so I gave it a try too. 9 months later, it’s pretty much my favorite thing ever, and now I’m raving about it too.
How It Works
There are a few differences between Amazon Fresh and Walmart Online Grocery, but the main difference (from a usability standpoint) is how you actually get your groceries. With Amazon, they are delivered to your doorstep. With Walmart, you have to go get them. But if someone else is going to get all my groceries, bag them up, and load them into the car for me…for free…I can handle going to pick them up. Here’s how it works.
I plan out our weekly meal plan and fill out our grocery list just like I would if I was going to a grocery store. Instead of getting in the car though, I sit down at the computer and bring up the Walmart Online Grocery page. (Note – I could shop from the Walmart Grocery app, but I like to do it from the computer.)
I first make sure my local store is selected, and then I choose a specific time window when I want to pick up my groceries. Time slot availability certainly changes with the seasons/holidays and how much staff Walmart has on hand; but these days, I can almost always get a same-day pickup window. I usually place my order on Sunday morning and can pick it up between 4-5pm that evening. There are 12 time slots a day, running from 8am – 8pm; and you can reserve a slot 7 days in advance (if you’re really on the ball!)
With a time slot selected, I have about an hour to fill my cart and checkout. After that time, the time slot is usually released and you have to pick another one that is available (which is why I don’t usually log on until my list is planned out). To fill the “virtual” cart, you can use the search bar to look for specific foods, or (if you’re a regular shopper), you can shop directly from Favorites to fill your cart with the things you normally/often buy. Very easily, you can compare prices, increase/decrease quantities, remove items from your cart, etc. Once I’m done shopping (which usually takes about 10 minutes), I pay via credit card and submit my order.
Once my order is filled and ready for pickup (which is almost always about 30 minutes before my scheduled time slot), I receive a text and an email saying my order is ready. I “Check In” (via the app or by calling) to let them know I am on the way. Once at Walmart, I drive to the designated pickup spots and alert them I have arrived. Typically within minutes, a Walmart employee emerges with my order. They review any substitutions (all of which I can accept or deny), and load up my car. I sign that I received the order and drive away with my grocery shopping complete and my sanity in tact!
Pros of Online Grocery Shopping
There are many, many things I like about using online grocery shopping…especially from Walmart. Here are some of the main pros!
- Ultimate convenience. I love that I can sit down anytime, anywhere and place our grocery order. I’ve fallen into a good Sunday morning routine because that works for us, but I could also do it bright and early or late at night from the couch in my PJs, or sitting on the porch while the kids are riding bikes. And just as I can place an order whenever it works for me, I can also pickup when it works best for me. For a while, we were picking up groceries on the way home from church. Now, one of us usually goes and grabs them while we’re finishing up our Sunday chores like laundry and house cleanup.
- Walmart is everywhere. Unlike other grocery stores that offer pickup, Walmart is (pretty much) everywhere. By using the zip code locator, you can find any store that has Online Grocery Pickup near you. When I was traveling over the holidays, I put in an order at my sister’s local Walmart. I selected everything and I paid for it, but she picked it up. When we arrived late at night, all of our items were waiting for us, meaning I didn’t have to travel with our favorite snacks, diapers and other essentials or run to the store the minute we arrived!
- No more dragging kids through the grocery store. Need I say more?
- Substitutions. It is inevitable that something you order isn’t in stock by the time the employees get around to picking your order. In these circumstances, they will usually substitute another product for the item you requested. It’s been my experience that they usually substitute with similar flavor (instead of brand or count); and most of the substitutions are in line with what I would choose if I were standing in the aisle myself.
- Price adjustments. Let’s say I order a gallon of milk for $4. If Walmart doesn’t have the gallon available, they will likely substitute 2 half-gallon cartons. If those cartons cost $2.50 each (for a total of $5), Walmart will honor the $4 I intended to pay for the gallon. Seriously. And they do this all the time. Just this past weekend I got a 24 oz clamshell of blueberries for the 10 oz price because that’s all they had left!
- Selection. Walmart seems to carry almost everything I normally shop for. I have yet to come across a product or brand they don’t carry. Sure, items might be out of stock from time-to-time. But in general, their selection is vast and comprehensive!
- You can reject anything. In the instance that the substitution they pick isn’t what you want or had in mind, you don’t have to take it. Likewise, if the produce they selected doesn’t live up to your standards or you simply ordered the wrong thing, you can reject any item when you pick it all up and they immediately take it off your bill.
- Produce. Speaking of produce, I’ve heard people say “I don’t trust anyone to pick out my produce!” Admittedly, I am not super picky about our produce, but everything that has been picked for us has been excellent. We’ve never gotten a bag full of bruised applies or mushy peppers. In my experience, the produce quality picked for me is just as good as what I’d pick for myself.
- Reduces duplicates in your kitchen. This just might be one of my favorite aspects of all: shopping online really allows me to make sure that I not only have everything I need for the week, but it also prevents me from buying duplicates I don’t need. “Hmmm….are we out of mustard? Let me go check! No, we have mustard, I don’t need that this time around!” Being able to walk around the house and check for staple items before I buy them has truly made our shopping more efficient and budget-friendly!
- Price comparisons. When I shop in “real life,” I don’t always take the time to compare unit prices. However, online grocery shopping makes comparison shopping so quick and easy that I find myself doing it more. At a glance, I am able to see which product is the better bargain!
- No impulse shopping. If you’re not walking past the bakery with fresh bread or cookies, it’s harder to throw those items into your cart. Likewise with any foods/items you don’t want or need to be buying. By ordering online, you aren’t exposed to fancy displays and alluring promotions; and having a single snapshot of your cart allows you to really evaluate what you’re buying before checking out. Removing items from your cart is as simple as a click, rather than having to walk items back to where you found them.
- Forgot something? If you genuinely forgot something after your order has been submitted, hope is not lost! You usually have a few hours to edit your order before it’s picked!
- Quicker. This probably goes without saying but online grocery shopping is so much faster than traditional shopping. I have found our weekends go by so much smoother and our chores get done so much faster when I am not spending precious time hauling myself (and my kids!) through the grocery store. While the Walmart staff is picking out and bagging up my groceries, I can be busy doing other (often more fun!) things!
- No more exhaustion. Think about how many times you touch each item during traditional grocery shopping: take item off the shelf and put into the cart | take item out of the cart onto the conveyor belt | (sometimes) move items into bags | move bags into your cart | move bags into the car | move bags into the home | unload each item | put each item away. It’s exhausting! With online shopping, by the time I get home to put my groceries away, I am touching/lifting the items for the very first time. Using online shopping has eliminated the exhaustion factor for me.
- It’s Free. Yup. Free. Seriously. I don’t have to physically shop for or load my groceries, and I don’t pay a single penny to have it done for me.
Cons of Online Grocery Shopping
All that said, online grocery shopping isn’t perfect. Here are some cons to think about as well!
- Not getting exactly what you want/need. On occasion, the substitution the Walmart staff chooses is not exactly what I would choose for myself…OR…sometimes a product is completely out and no substitution can be made. In these instances, I am simply left without the item(s) for the week. In the case of a snack or treat, I just forget about it and order it again the following week. But if it’s an item I need for a specific recipe or occasion, I will have to get it somehow…which usually involves another trip to another store. I hate going to more than one store to grocery shop, so unless it’s something like milk or diapers, I usually find a way to work around the missing item!
- Timeframe availability. Every now and then, I will log on and not be able to get my “usual” pickup time. While this is certainly annoying, there are usually many other time slots that will also work for me. If you like to get your grocery shopping done in a very specific window each week, you will have to learn when exactly you need to place your order in order to guarantee that time slot. Otherwise, you’ll have to be flexible in your planning!
- System glitches. In 9 months of using Walmart’s Online Grocery, I’ve experienced 2 system glitches. And as you can imagine, when an online shopping system goes down, there is no way for the staff to fulfill orders. In these cases, it has been inconvenient and annoying, but the staff has gone above and beyond to notify me and/or make things right (usually in the form of store credit).
- Hot and fresh items. At our Walmart at least, you cannot order items from the hot/deli counters, including rotisserie chickens. I personally don’t buy these types of food so it’s not something that impacts me. But it’s something to consider if you rely on these foods regularly.
- Pay attention to sizes. When you are standing in a store, you can see how big or small an item is. But when you are ordering online the pictures may not indicate size and/or the listed size may not be helpful to you. When I first started ordering my groceries online, I had a few occasions when the item I got was significantly smaller than what I thought I ordered. After a few times, I learned how to pay attention to serving size and note how many pounds/ounces of meet I require to feed our family.
- Order minimums. I am not sure about other stores and services, but Walmart has a $30 minimum order to take advantage of the free pickup. Since I only shop once/week, I can easily meet this requirement. However, if you shop more frequently or just need a few things, this option may not be available to you.
- You have to pick it up. When I first explained to Greg that I had switched from Amazon to Walmart, his response was “But now you have to go pick it up.” Yes – that’s true. But I found picking up our groceries…usually when I’m out running errands or coming home from something…far outweighs the extra cost/packaging Amazon incurred by delivering them instead. At this time, as far as I’m aware, Walmart doesn’t have a delivery option, so yes…you have to go get your groceries yourself.
- Coupons. I don’t use coupons so I can’t talk educatedly on this point, but from what I can tell (based on some minimal research), you can’t use coupons or gift cards on online grocery orders. Whomp.
Phew! I didn’t realize I had SO much to say about online grocery ordering. But honestly friends, using Walmart Online Grocery has completely changed the way I plan and shop for our groceries…all for the better. What was once one of the biggest stressors and time-sucks of my week has become something I hardly think about or dread. And I just can’t get over this easier and more-efficient way to get our kitchen stocked! I don’t think I will ever go back to conventional grocery shopping again!
So tell me….have you tried online grocery shopping? Do you love it? What were some of your pros and cons? Which store/service do you use or like the most? If you haven’t tried online grocery shopping yet, consider this your little push to try it just once. I promise…it might change your life!
P.S. Love my kitchen printables? Learn more here!