Is It Cheaper to Get Groceries Delivered Than to Shop in the Store? I Did the Math – CNET - eComEmpireStore + Brought to You By: Robert Villapane Ramos

Is It Cheaper to Get Groceries Delivered Than to Shop in the Store? I Did the Math – CNET

Your guide to a better futureWe find out if buying groceries from an online delivery service like Amazon Fresh or FreshDirect can save you money.David WatskySenior Editor / Home and KitchenDavid lives in Brooklyn where he’s logged more than a decade writing about all things edible, including meal kits and meal delivery subscriptions, cooking, kitchen […]

Your guide to a better future
We find out if buying groceries from an online delivery service like Amazon Fresh or FreshDirect can save you money.
David Watsky
Senior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he’s logged more than a decade writing about all things edible, including meal kits and meal delivery subscriptions, cooking, kitchen tech and commerce. Since nabbing a BA in English from Northeastern in Boston (an underrated food town), he’s toiled in nearly every aspect of the eats business from slicing and dicing as a sous-chef in Rhode Island to leading complex marketing campaigns for major food brands in Manhattan. These days, he’s likely somewhere trying the latest this or tasting the latest that – and reporting back, of course. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
Grocery delivery services have become prevalent and the category got a major boon as our buying habits changed these past few years. You can have anything delivered these days — booze, coffee, fishsnacks — and services such as Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect will send an entire grocery order in one fell swoop and often within hours of ordering. But are online grocery delivery services actually cheaper than going to the supermarket?
Most grocery delivery services have membership or delivery fees, so I always assumed these operations were a more costly way to get your weekly food list into the home. It turns out that even with extra fees, buying groceries online costs about the same as going to the store — possibly less if you consider the gas needed to get there. 
I priced out a typical grocery list from two popular services, Amazon Fresh (national) and FreshDirect (currently available in the Northeast only) to see how they compared in total cost to a brick-and-mortar supermarket chain.
There are dozens of grocery chains around the country that vary greatly in overall cost. For the sake of this exercise, I chose Stop & Shop, which is right in the middle; not known for being overly pricey like Wegman’s or Acme, but also not in the budget or wholesale category with Costco and Walmart. 
Shopping in a supermarket costs you time and gas money. Is there a better way without breaking the budget?
Before looking at any prices, I generated a list of 39 popular groceries items — some name brands, some generic — in every category from eggs and dairy to bread and snacks, produce, meat, fish and pantry staples. I mostly avoided organic foods and specialty items and chose the cheapest available option from all three retailers: Stop & Shop, FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh. 
If something wasn’t available at one retailer, I selected the next closest item, since that’s what an average shopper might do. Amazon Fresh doesn’t stock boneless chicken thighs, for instance, so I chose chicken breast and added the same price-per-pound cost. This issue didn’t come up more than twice. 
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FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh also have either a membership or delivery fee to consider along with (optional) tipping (more on that later), so I included those figures in the final tally. 
I did not include the fuel cost required to travel to and from a brick-and-mortar grocery store, since there is no one-size-fits-all formula. There is also the consideration of time and hassle required to shop in person. But, again, this is not something one can easily quantify in monetary terms. 
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After tallying the grocery cost for my order with all three retailers, the results were remarkably similar. See below for a breakdown of the differences in cost including membership and delivery fees for both. 
The FreshDirect total amounted to $198.27, just $1.63 more than Stop & Shop (but with no trip to the store, time spent shopping or money spent on gas). If you subscribe to FreshDirect’s DeliveryPass, the total would be more like $194 and a few bucks cheaper than Stop & Shop. FreshDirect was the cheapest before fees and only slightly more than Stop & Shop with the $10 tip and $6 delivery charge added. 
Amazon Fresh was the priciest, clocking in at $208.63 for the same 39 items including the $15 monthly Prime membership fee and a $10 driver tip. If you already have Prime and don’t consider that an “extra” cost, Amazon Fresh would fall to the cheapest at $193.63. 
Amazon Fresh is available only to those with a Prime membership which costs $15 a month or $139 per year and includes free delivery on all grocery orders over $35. Amazon Prime will also get you a subscription to Prime Video along with free two-day shipping on Amazon proper, plus other secret perks
Amazon Fresh also offers free pickup at Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh locations, depending on your proximity to those stores. 
Read more: Prime Day 2022: Don’t Miss 9 Amazon Prime Perks Hiding in Plain Sight
Unlike FreshDirect, Amazon Fresh offers both delivery and in-store pickup for select zip codes. 
FreshDirect has two delivery fee options: You can pay $6 per individual delivery, or sign up for DeliveryPass, which gets you unlimited free deliveries. A year of DeliveryPass is $129. There are also two six-month DeliveryPass options: One allows for deliveries seven days a week for $79, while the other limits deliveries to Tuesday through Thursday but costs just $39. 
If you were to order groceries every week and choose the cheapest delivery plan (Tuesday to Thursday only) you would pay just $1.50 per week, or $1.50 per delivery depending on how you look at it. 
If you don’t want to pay the delivery each time, FreshDirect offers three membership tiers for unlimited deliveries.
Shopping for groceries online was incredibly simple and intuitive. I liked being able to peruse the items carefully and research anything I was curious about. I also appreciated being able to see my entire order and total cost before making a final purchase, a luxury that in-person grocery shopping doesn’t afford.
For the most part, I found every item I was looking for. Stop & Shop, FreshDirect and Amazon Prime stock a lot of the same brands, but not all of the same brands, and so I wasn’t always able to find the exact same item at all three. Amazon also has its own proprietary brand Amazon Fresh alongside Whole Foods’ 365 brands, since it acquired the upscale supermarket chain in 2017.
For me, FreshDirect had the best options in most grocery categories and at competitive prices.
Surprisingly, Amazon Fresh was the only grocery retailer that didn’t have some of the items on my list including boneless chicken thighs, and so I had to find a like alternative. Amazon also didn’t have a few popular brands like Thomas’ English muffins, so I opted for a lesser-known muffin brand called Bay’s. 
For me, personally, FreshDirect had the best overall selection of items, beating out both Amazon Fresh and Stop & Shop. But slight differences aside, you should be able to find just about anything you’re looking for on a regular basis at all three retailers.
One small annoyance I’ve had with FreshDirect is the accumulation of reusable bags since the service won’t pick them up. A spokesperson for the company alerted me to a donation program they’ve set up with local charities and nonprofits that need them.
The biggest downside of buying groceries online is that you can’t judge produce, meats and other fresh foods with your eyes (or hands). In my experience, what I’ve received from FreshDirect in the dozens of orders I’ve placed have been up to snuff with no spoiled, bruised or overripe foods. The same can be said for my experience with Amazon Fresh, although I’ve used this service less. 
That said, it’s hard to deny the convenience of getting all your groceries ordered in minutes and delivered in a day — sometimes hours. For those looking to grab some time back during the week, ordering groceries online is a major convenience and by my calculations, won’t cost you any more than making a trip to the supermarket. 
Instacart assigns a shopper to buy all your groceries from a local market. It has its pitfalls but is still a time-saver versus going yourself.
Instacart is a popular national delivery service and functions as a third-party shopper and delivery outfit that allows you to order groceries from a selection of local supermarkets. You’ll essentially be paying the same prices as if you visited the store yourself, plus a $4 delivery fee and tip. 
I’ve used Instacart and like it fine, but there is a process by which you must respond to your shopper in real-time through the app while they’re filling your order and consent to replacements for items that aren’t in stock (and there are always items not in stock). It can be distracting, time-consuming and even stressful — although it’s still a time-saver over shopping yourself. 
Hungryroot is an excellent subscription service that sends a curated order of groceries designed to make meals and snacks all week. You can always make swaps for things you don’t want. 
Hungryroot is another grocery delivery operation, but it functions a bit differently than the others. With this subscription service, you’ll get weekly deliveries of curated groceries based on your preferences and eating habits. Hungryroot gives meal kit suggestions and will send you the ingredients to make them if you so choose. You can always ditch the meal kits or any other items you don’t want and swap them for groceries you do want using a credit system. The service ultimately is designed to inspire new recipes and introduce new grocery items to your weekly routine.
Hungryroot doesn’t have nearly as many grocery item options as the three stores I compared above, but it does have a full stock of meat, dairy, fish, produce, pantry goods and just about anything else you’d typically get from a supermarket. 
Read moreHungryroot Review: Can This Quirky Grocery Service Save You Money?
I tested the hybrid grocery service and meal kit company in June and liked it a lot. Below is the cost for my week of groceries versus buying them from a local supermarket. You can read more in my full review of Hungryroot.
There are other smaller online grocery services available including Thrive Market and I found both the retailers to be quite limited and not a full substitution for your typical grocery run. 
Thrive Market, for instance, has lots of high-quality and organic meats but no produce or dairy products. Membership-only is a good place to find dry goods, pantry items and paper products at low prices but it also lacks the fresh foods you generally buy at a market. 
If you don’t mind getting your various groceries from different vendors, we’ve tested to find the best produce delivery services, best meat delivery services and even the best online fish and seafood markets for 2022.