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Should you buy your Christmas groceries online or instore?

Do you brave the crowds at your local supermarket, or is online shopping the key to nailing the big Christmas grocery shop?

should you buy your christmas groceries online or in store
Last updated: 29 November 2019

It's that time of year again, when specialty items like fruit-filled pastries and whole legs of ham suddenly become hot commodities.

We all want to save time and money without sacrificing the quality of our Christmas feast, but these days it's not just a matter of choosing the right shops for your various items, there's the question of whether it might be worth buying online.

Almost a third (31%) of Australian grocery buyers say they'd consider buying groceries online in the next year, but in an average month, very few (4%) actually follow through.

If you're on the fence about online grocery shopping, is Christmas the best time to jump onboard? We break down the pros and cons of doing the big Christmas grocery shop online versus instore.

fresh produce in store

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

Pros of shopping instore

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.

It may also be wise to buy meat and seafood instore to ensure they stay adequately chilled – nobody wants to give their guests food poisoning on Christmas day. Our reviews found both Coles and Woolies delivered chicken breasts that weren't adequately chilled.

More options

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. 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.

Cons of shopping instore

The crowds

For many of us, the heaving crowds at shopping centres and supermarkets around Christmas time are the stuff of nightmares. If you're heading instore, try to avoid the last weekend before Christmas (21 and 22 December), which is notoriously busy.

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.

Pros of shopping online

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 Woolworths 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.

Cons of shopping online

Risk of missing out

Coles and Woolworths both made headlines in 2015 when customers took to social media to complain about key Christmas items missing from their online orders. 

According to Woolworths director of ecommerce, Annette Karantoni, "online shoppers are given the choice to opt in for a substitution should an item in their grocery order not be available therefore they will never receive an unexpected substitution."

This means there's no danger of receiving a leg of lamb instead of a leg of ham, but if an item is out of stock, you'll simply miss out.

Karantoni says although Woolworths has a good supply of popular seasonal products like Christmas ham, customers should try to get in early as stock of Christmas essentials is based on availability in the local area.

Ordering in advance

If you love leaving things until the very last minute, online probably isn't the best option for you. 

According to Karantoni, last orders for Woolworths online must be in by 6pm AEDT, 23 December for pick up on Christmas Eve. For home delivery, you can order by 6pm for next-day delivery and 11am for same-day delivery in selected areas. 

Coles online general manager Karen Donaldson says customers need to make sure their Coles online orders for Christmas hams and turkeys are in by 16 December.

food store at christmas

Shopping instore offers better choice, but beware of giving into 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.