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Should you do your Christmas grocery shopping online or instore?

We weigh up the pros and cons of going digital vs doing the Christmas shop the old fashioned way. 

should you buy your christmas groceries online or in store
Last updated: 11 December 2023


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

While Australians have traditionally been hesitant to do their grocery shopping online, the pandemic changed all that, and it's now much more popular than it was five years ago.

But when it comes to the all-important Christmas grocery shop, deciding whether to leave your grocery selection in the hands of supermarket staff, or brave the crowds yourself can be a tough call. 

We explore the pros and cons of doing the big Christmas grocery shop online vs instore to help you decide.

fresh produce in store

Being able to select your own fresh produce is one of the pros of buying groceries instore.

Shopping instore: Pros and cons


Hand-picked produce

Our online grocery delivery reviews found that produce included in online orders is usually in good condition with an appropriate level of ripeness. But you simply can't beat instore shopping when it comes to choosing the perfect produce for your special Christmas recipes, especially if you require fruit or vegetables in very specific quantities or sizes. 

More options and possible savings

If you're looking for a one-stop grocery shop online, you'll probably have to stick to the big brands like Coles, Woolworths and Harris Farm. But if you're shopping instore, you might pick up cheaper Christmas groceries at Aldi, or you might choose to support smaller local businesses this festive season instead.

Heading into a shopping centre in-person also means you can shop around at various retailers or split your shop between a number of supermarkets to get the best prices for your groceries.


The crowds

The heaving crowds at shopping centres and supermarkets around Christmas time are the stuff of nightmares for many, and for good reason – the long lines and overflowing aisles can make your simple shop last for hours. 

If you're shopping instore, try to avoid Christmas Eve and the last weekend before Christmas (18 and 19 December), which is notoriously busy. If you're shopping at Woolworths you can also use their Q-tracker tool which shows you how busy your local store is in real time, so you can avoid busy periods.

Impulse buys

Supermarkets are cleverly designed to hijack our senses and manipulate our behaviour to encourage impulse buys and overspending. Even the most disciplined shoppers can find themselves grabbing an extra trinket or Christmas chocolate on their way to the checkout.

laptop showing online shopping website

The desire to avoid crowded shops at Christmas makes online shopping an attractive option.

Shopping online: Pros and cons


Speed and convenience 

Filling your cart online could save you time navigating the congested aisles of your local supermarket. Plus, anyone with young kids, no car or limited mobility may also find online shopping much more convenient. 

Easier to budget

Christmas spending can easily spiral out of control, but grocery shopping online is a good way to stick to your budget. Online shoppers are less likely to make impulse buys and it's easy to see your running total and tweak your basket if necessary to keep your costs down.

Plus, if you use the 'sort by lowest unit price' filter on Coles and Woolworths online, you can quickly compare products to find the cheapest option. 

If you're really dedicated to saving money you can even fill your virtual basket at both Coles and Woolies to see which is cheaper for you. Delivery costs vary but instore pick-up is free at Woolworths for orders over $30 and at Coles for orders over $50. 

If both supermarkets are easy for you to get to, you could even place two separate orders to get the best prices and specials from each retailer.


Substitutions and items missing

It's no secret that when you order your groceries online, there's a decent risk that you'll have one or more items on your list either substituted or omitted (depending on which option you've selected). This can be seriously annoying when you're cooking for specific recipes and a substitution simply won't do. 

For example, when we last reviewed online grocery delivery services in June 2023, only 57 out of 62 items in our Coles order were either delivered as specified or adequately substituted.

These issues could also become worse during the busy holiday period when lots of shoppers are trying to buy the same festive favourites.

food store at christmas

Shopping instore offers better choice, but beware of giving in to impulse purchases.

Christmas grocery shopping tips

CHOICE staff and members of CHOICE Community share their festive grocery shopping hacks.

1. Stock up well in advance

CHOICE customer service supervisor Guy Bennett buys a few non-perishables each week to help spread out the cost of a big Christmas shop. CHOICE Community member @Grahroll buys products on sale up to years in advance, freezing meat up to six months before the big day. 

2. Roll the dice on a Christmas Eve shop

"If you can afford to leave things until late on Christmas Eve you can pick up some bargains – half-price hams and puddings. But it's a high-stakes gamble!" – says Tracy Ellis, content editor.

3. Order extra household basics for home delivery

"Do an online order of all the boring (and heavy) household basics you use more of when the rellies drop in, like toilet paper and laundry detergent." – Marianna Longmire, commissioning editor.

4. Make the most of leftovers

"Think about what leftovers you'll have from the meal on Christmas Day and buy additional groceries to make it into tasty meals for the following days." – Uta Mihm, health insurance expert.

5. Bag a post-Christmas bargain 

CHOICE Community member @phb stocks up on items like wrapping paper, Christmas crackers and cards in the post-Christmas sales and stores them for the following year.

6. Free up your fridge space

CHOICE food journalist Rachel Clemons suggests freeing up plenty of fridge/freezer space to store your Christmas groceries, and even borrowing an extra fridge if necessary.

"If you plan to buy a frozen turkey, it needs to be defrosted safely in the fridge ahead of time, and this can take several days. You'll need that fridge space!"

7. Find a good fruit and veg supplier

"Order your produce directly from the supplier instead of from the grocery store. Their fruit and veg is sourced pretty much directly from the farm so you get better quality, fresher and longer lasting produce, and it's often comparable on price – if not cheaper." – Ashley Iredale, whitegoods content producer.

8. Support your local butcher

"Pre-order your turkey, ham or big roast pieces at the butcher well in advance to avoid missing out."  – Helen Raadts, digital producer.

9. Shop on the 23rd

CHOICE editorial consultant Margaret Rafferty suggests hitting the shops in the evening on 23 December.

"Your stuff is not going to be that much fresher if you wait until 24th December and that way you get it all done with virtually no crowds.

"It also means that if you get home and realise you've forgotten something you can just go for one or two things the next day, and if you live near the shops you can walk rather than drive – a life saver since parking is often the big hassle when shopping on Christmas Eve."

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.