Online grocery delivery services buying guide

Traipsing around the supermarket can be tiring, but online shopping carries its own risks and challenges. We help you get the best out of your shop.

Buying groceries online can cut time out of a busy schedule or enable people who don't have a car or who have limited mobility to do large weekly shops without worrying about getting the groceries back to their house. While the vast majority of Australians still prefer to pick their produce themselves almost one in three of us are considering trying online grocery shopping in the next 12 months. If you're thinking about trying it for the first time, or simply looking to get more out of your shop, read on.

Finding your items

While all three retailers offer the option to browse products by category (like you would in-store), if you know what you want, it’s much quicker to simply type each item directly into the search bar. For example, typing  ‘Dairy Farmers 1L Milk’ will yield relevant results straight away without you having  to trawl through pages of kid’s chocolate milks and meal replacement drinks. If your search isn’t yielding any results, try removing one of the words to make the search simpler.  Once you’ve done your first shop, you can save your shopping list to save time on future shops. 

Choosing a time slot

Currently, none of the grocery retailers have a centralised warehouse for dispatching orders, so this means your delivery is packed and delivered by whichever store is closest to you. Available delivery slots will vary greatly depending on where you’re ordering and as a result, the next day delivery offered by retailers is often booked out, so make sure you order well in advance.  We also found that although all three retailers consistently delivered their goods within the allocated time slot, some provide more convenient options than others. Notably, Harris Farm doesn’t deliver before 10am, which might be inconvenient for anyone hoping to get their groceries delivered before heading out for the day.

Ordering produce

When ordering fresh produce, the retailer provides an estimate of how much an ‘average’ piece of that fruit or vegetable weighs which you then use to choose the number of pieces you want. For example if a broccoli floret is estimated to weigh 330 grams and you need one kilogram, you might order three florets. The problem with this system is the pieces you receive may actually be significantly smaller or larger than average, meaning you could feasibly end up with anywhere between 600g to 1.4kgs. There’s really no way around this, so if you need a specific amount of produce (e.g. for a recipe) it’s safer to buy in store or order a couple of extras in case they are small. 

Another thing to note is that Woolworths and Harris Farm charge based on the estimated weight, not actual weight so it is possible to be slightly overcharged. However we found that you are equally likely to be undercharged and overall these estimations actually left us around a dollar better off per order.  

 We were also impressed to find that all three retailers delivered produce that was in good condition and appropriate ripeness, not dissimilar to what we would select ourselves in a supermarket.

Ordering meat

If food safety is important to you, you may want to avoid ordering fresh meat from Coles and Woolworths. On separate occasions, Coles and Woolworths delivered chicken breasts that were 12.6°C and 11.5°C respectively. These temperatures raised concerns that the chicken may have been at a temperature higher than 5°C for a period of more than two hours, in which case it would need to be cooked immediately or thrown away, rather than being re-refrigerated as most people would do when receiving their order. Harris Farm on the other hand delivered meat and dairy in a cool bag with an ice pack and their chicken breasts recorded temperatures of 4.2°C and 6.9°C over two deliveries. 

Dealing with substitutions 

If you order a product that your local store doesn’t have in stock, they will either leave the item off your order completely (which can be annoying), or substitute it for a similar product of equal or higher value, while only charging you the price of the product you ordered. Woolworths and Coles almost always delivered every item on our list, but Harris Farm made multiple substitutions and omissions per order. While some of these were essentially free upgrades (e.g. organic butter instead of regular butter) some of the substitutions were unsatisfactory (e.g. corn chips instead of potato chips) and on one occasion an omitted item was not removed from the bill, meaning we paid for something we didn’t receive. Once we raised these issues with Harris Farm we received a speedy refund, but if we hadn’t checked the invoice against the goods received, this might have gone unnoticed. 

Make sure you always check your order thoroughly when it arrives as you will be eligible for a refund on any products that were accidentally left off your order (but you were still charged for) or unsatisfactorily substituted. For those items that are left off your order and removed from your bill, there is nothing you can do but hope they have it in stock next time or pop out to the shop yourself. When this happens you should receive advance notice, so you know it won’t be included in your order, however Harris Farm sometimes failed to provide this. 

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