Supermarket shopping will probably never go away. However, buying your groceries over the internet could make it less of a hassle. While it's hard to assess the quality of fresh produce online, if you find a retailer you like, the convenience of internet grocery shopping may make it worthwhile and the process is much the same as buying CDs and books online. You may even be surprised at what's on offer.
In Australia, online food and grocery stores range from very large supermarkets to small, specialist shops like organic grocers, butchers and kosher-food stockists. All offer the ease and convenience of shopping from your computer so you don't have to battle supermarket aisles or queues.
We looked at the websites for five online supermarkets to get an idea of what it's like to do grocery shopping online:
Most deliveries are restricted to metropolitan areas and many sites offer a postcode search function so you can check that your area is serviced.
Is it for me?
If you're housebound, or work but have limited time for grocery shopping, using an online grocer is an easy way to ensure your fridge remains stocked.
Finding specialist ingredients, such as kosher foods or Asian spices, is sometimes difficult and may require you to travel long distances. An online grocer can save you travel time as well as petrol costs.
If you like to buy particular brands and products, an online grocer may not suit you. Depending on the store and what's in stock, your favourite brands may not be available.
Comparing products by price and weight is easy enough online, but making comparisons based on the ingredients and nutritional information provided on the packaging is more difficult. Stores usually describe items by brand, product, size or weight. Pictures aren't always available and nutritional information is exceptionally rare. Of the sites we looked at, only GreenGrocer appeared to provide the ability to read ingredient lists and this feature was limited to selected products.
Things to look out for
- Allow ample time for ordering on your first visit to an online grocer. You'll need to register, find your way around the site and sort through the items available. Most sites let you save a master list of standard items so that the process shouldn't be as time-consuming the next time around.
- Most online grocers provide a substitution service to help deal with products that may be out of stock. In many cases it's optional and you may even be able to choose to substitute on a per item basis. However, watch out for grocers that automatically substitute items - a different product isn't always suitable. In most cases, items are substituted with either a product of the same brand but different size, or a different brand. If you're unhappy with the substitution, you should be eligible for a refund or credit.
- Some online grocers only sell items such as meat, fruit and vegetables by weight rather than unit - instead of buying four apples, you can only choose a one kilogram bag. This may take some getting used to if you're not in the habit of selecting your fresh produce this way.
- The price you pay may not be what was listed on the website at the time of ordering. For most of the stores we looked at, the terms and conditions say the price you're charged matches what it scans at when your order is processed.
- Some sites, such as FoodDirect and HomeShop, have a minimum order amount. Check before starting out.
If you're short on time, consider using some of the shopping tools on offer, such as express services, recommended lists or Top 100 products. For example, the Express Shops at ColesOnline and Homeshop allow you to search for multiple items at once; ShopFast has several established lists including one for a two-person household and one for a family of four - you can use these as a starting point for a customised list.
Some sites only deliver to a limited number of customers in each allotted timeslot. To ensure you don't miss out on your preferred delivery time, select a few items and go straight to the checkout to reserve your spot - in most cases, you should be able to return to the shopping section to finalise your purchase.
If you don't shop regularly, a store that sells some fruit and vegetables that aren't ready to eat straight away may be useful. Look for tags such as 'eat later' and 'eat now'.