Whether you love or loathe doing the grocery shopping, there's no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we do this common household chore forever.
The days of strolling the supermarket aisles perusing products without a mask, social distancing or checking in seem like a distant memory, and many of us have switched to shopping online. The online grocery industry has experienced rapid growth, and the appeal of a contactless delivery of essentials to our door (or contactless Click and Collect pick up) is greater than ever before.
The days of strolling the supermarket aisles perusing products without a mask, social distancing or checking in seem like a distant memory
CHOICE has compared online grocery delivery services in pre-pandemic times but with lockdowns, shopping restrictions and demand for the services increasing, we've looked at how people's current experiences of online shopping has changed.
And if you're choosing between using Woolworths Online and Coles Online, perhaps for the first time (or considering another online grocery provider), we give you some hints and tips to help you get the most from your shop.
We asked our CHOICE Community and CHOICE Staff how the pandemic and recent lockdown in their area (primarily in metro NSW) has affected their shopping habits. We noted a strong shift from shopping every couple of days instore to doing an online weekly shop, or a weekly shop for perishable items and then a larger monthly shop for other household items, such as detergent or toilet paper.
"I went from doing a larger shop weekly supplemented by too many smaller impulsive shops on the way home from work, to weekly Click and Collect most weeks," says one CHOICE Community Member.
"I have converted to exclusively shopping online at Woolies over the past year," says another. "I used to do an in-person shop weekly at Aldi, fortnightly at local greengrocer and monthly at Woolworths."
I started using Coles online delivery last year during lockdown to minimise interactions with others. I love that someone else goes around collecting and checking out all your groceries for you!CHOICE Community member
A CHOICE Staff member says: "I usually do all my grocery shopping instore. Even during last year's lockdown I was doing all my shopping instore. But since this variant of coronavirus is more contagious and I live on the border of a few LGAs of concern, I've switched to shopping online. I get a delivery every five or six days."
Supporting small businesses
There is also acknowledgement of the effect lockdowns have had on small businesses, and some noted that they are trying to support small businesses and local suppliers more than before, or buying their fresh produce directly from greengrocers because they were unhappy with the quality from major supermarkets.
"We've been using a farm-to-door service for our meat and fresh produce, as well as another local meat supplier," says CHOICE Staff member Ashley.
"We've definitely noticed it's harder to get a delivery slot at the major supermarkets. Since the [COVID-19] numbers got so high we're trying to shop for two weeks at a time, and just run into the local supermarket if we need to top up on something.
"We won't do Woolies or Coles delivery unless there's no other option because the quality of their fruit and veg is so poor."
In May 2021, when we surveyed 3100 supermarket shoppers and asked them about their online shopping habits, 32% said they had bought their groceries online, and 14% said they grocery shop online at least once a month, most of them at Coles and/or Woolworths.
Shoppers rated their supermarket(s) on 20 different criteria and, while Coles and Woolworths were fairly evenly matched, Woolworths scored higher than Coles on nine criteria, most markedly on the level of detail about products (e.g. pack images, pack size, stock availability, regular price if on special, country of origin information, ingredients list, nutrition information) and the helpfulness of online customer service. Read the full survey results here.
Woolworths Online grocery delivery service lets you select paper or plastic for your shopping while Coles only has plastic bags available. Both charge a fee.
Both Coles and Woolworths online shopping apps and websites currently state that due to COVID-19 restrictions, some delivery windows and products may be unavailable, which means cheaper delivery windows may be harder to come by right now. In our online grocery delivery review, we specify delivery costs as follows:
- Woolworths Online: $0 to $15 (with free delivery for orders over $300)
- Coles Online: from $0 to $14 (with free delivery for orders over $250)
However, securing the cheaper delivery slots depends on those being available when you check out with your basket, a factor that can prove difficult during a lockdown when many people are using online delivery services.
When we recently asked CHOICE Community members and a selection of CHOICE Staff to check online delivery options at their local store, same day and next day delivery services were virtually unavailable in states with lockdowns in place.
Same day and next day delivery services were virtually unavailable in states with lockdowns in place
On average, the earliest delivery slot available was in around three-to-four days, with delivery costing anywhere from $2-$11 at Coles and mostly ranging from $10-$15 at Woolworths (with fewer slots available for $4).
A member on the CHOICE forum says, "I order online every 1.5 weeks. I have noticed instead of delivery being available the next day, I need to order three days in advance. Fees are still the same and availability of items is improving as lockdown extends. With Woolies, I got a $4 delivery time slot this week."
Coles and Woolworths both also have subscription options that may save you money if you place large orders or you're now doing most of your shopping online.
- Coles Delivery Plus: $19 per month. Unlimited free deliveries for orders over $100.
- Woolworths Delivery Unlimited: $15 per month/$119 per year. Unlimited free deliveries for orders over $50.
Click and Collect services – where you order online and nominate a store to pick up your pre-packed groceries or have them placed directly in your boot – are also becoming more popular as we look for more ways to avoid going instore for our groceries.
Both major supermarkets offer various contactless pick up services such as Pick Up (where you order online then go into a store to a service desk to collect your shopping), or Direct to Boot/Click and Collect Concierge (where you order online, visit the store and someone will bring your shopping and place it in the boot of your car).
Click and Collect lockers
In some areas, Coles also offers Click and Collect Lockers where your groceries can be picked up from a climate-controlled locker, and through some Woolworths stores you can arrange to pick up your parcel from a 24/7 Australia Post lockers (not climate controlled).
While you still have to reserve a window for these services, the advantage over delivery is that it's almost always free (Woolworths has a minimum spend of $30 for Click and Collect and Coles has a minimum spend of $50 or $80 plus a $3 fee if you're picking up from a Coles Express).
What do CHOICE community members and staff say?
Reviews from our Community and Staff were mixed on these services – some finding it a convenient option that helped them limit contact with other people while doing their groceries. Others say they do not use it because they've either had a negative experience or didn't find it very useful.
"My Click and Collect experience with Coles Online has been good," says one CHOICE staff member. "Just a 5-10 minute wait and food delivered straight into the car boot." Another says: "If I am going to the effort to go to the supermarket I'd rather just do it myself, especially when it comes to selecting fresh produce."
If I am going to the effort to go to the supermarket I'd rather just do it myself, especially when it comes to selecting fresh produceCHOICE staff member
If you want to try the 'Direct to Boot' service, first locate where the designated car spots are at your nearest supermarket. At some stores, they may be right outside the service desk, which means the process may be quicker – the staff member just has to pop outside with your groceries. For other stores, they may be in a parking lot much further away, which may make the wait time longer or communication with the store more difficult if you have an issue.
'They never answered the phone'
A Community member, Jo, said: "I tried the Click and Collect service at the store near me a few times to avoid the delivery charge, but it was rubbish. They never answered the phone (number provided specially for Click and Collect).
"The last time, when they didn't answer I had to unload the kids, walk around to the front of the store, wait, talk to someone, go back to the car, wait, unload the kids AGAIN and go back to the front of the store, talk to someone, go back to the car… Never again."
Having your groceries delivered is undoubtedly convenient for those of us wanting to avoid going into busy supermarkets right now, for people with limited mobility, people who are time-poor or with small children who protest being dragged around aisles, or for those who don't have access to a vehicle but need to buy bulky or heavy items.
Whether you think online shopping may be the best thing to come out of the pandemic or just something you'll never get on board with, here a few pros and cons to consider:
- Someone else does your shopping! No more queues, self-scanning or trolley-troubles!
- Contactless delivery – no need to lug heavy, bulky items back to the car yourself.
- Shop anywhere at anytime from multiple devices (your phone, laptop, etc).
- May be faster than going into store and walking the aisles. Not sure if you have any toilet paper left? You're at home, so just go check!
- Handy prompts will use your previous purchases to remind you of products you may have forgotten to add to cart.
- It's easy to search products on special and there are often 'online-only specials'.
- Easy to stick to a budget as your shopping total accumulates as you shop.
- You can opt for substitutions for products that may not be available at the time of your shop.
- The user experience and accessibility of each of the supermarket's apps and/or websites can vary and can take a while to familiarise yourself with (we rate the ease of use of Coles and Woolies apps in our Supermarket Satisfaction Survey).
- You usually won't know that a product is not available until your delivery arrives, or you receive an email (you can select 'No Substitutions' if you do not want your shopper to substitute an alternative product).
- You can't use your own reusable bags and you have to pay to get new ones each time you do a delivery or Click and Collect (Coles will collect your old plastic bags if you leave them out for your delivery drivers. Woolworths has both paper and plastic available to choose from.)
- You don't have access to instore clearance shelves.
- Unless you qualify for free delivery, you need to plan in advance to secure a cheaper delivery slot.
- It may be more difficult to find new products you want to try – or up-to-date information/back of pack information for some products, which may be particularly frustrating if you have allergies or food sensitivities.
- You can't select your own fresh produce, or choose packaged food with best before/use-by dates that suit your purposes.
- You may live in an apartment block or a complex where contactless delivery is not simple or possible.
- A relatively high minimum spend for each of the major supermarkets means this method of shopping may not be suitable if you only need a couple of things.
If you've never done your grocery shopping online before, it may be overwhelming. How often should you do it? How on earth do you meal plan two weeks in advance? Our online grocery shopping experts, and members of the CHOICE community, have come up with some great tips to help you on your way.
- Check the specials before you shop to find out what's on sale from your usual shopping list.
- When you're looking for a specific item, sort it by 'Price low to high' if you want to shop on a budget.
- Doing a larger monthly or fortnightly shop as opposed to a weekly shop will mean you're more likely to qualify for free delivery.
- Take note of unit prices to make sure you're buying the cheapest products.
- As soon as your delivery arrives, order your next one – then you have more chance of securing a cheaper delivery slot that suits you.
- If you received the wrong item or something is damaged or missing, don't be afraid to contact customer services and ask for a refund.
- Create and save grocery shopping lists on the supermarket's platform. Then you can simply add it to your cart instead of browsing the whole platform. It also stops you from giving into temptations.
- From a CHOICE staff member: "Have a clear list of what you want to buy and try to stick to it. I don't allow substitutions, usually but if I was trying to avoid going out I probably would."
Planning and maximising convenience
- Do a quick stocktake of items you have in your fridge, freezer and cupboards before you start. What are you out of or what do you anticipate running out of soon? Do you have storage space to stock up?
- How many meals will you be cooking at home for the next week or fortnight? Remember, if you don't buy all the ingredients in your shop now, it's a guaranteed trip to the store (spend some time writing a meal plan for the week before you shop, or browsing the recipes available on the supermarket shopping apps – if you like the look of the recipes you can click to add the ingredients to your basket).
- From a CHOICE staff member: "I've started buying a lot of prepackaged Woolies salads so I know there's always a healthy and quick option for lunch when I don't have the same energy as I normally do."
Other clever ideas
- Use the notes feature (available on the Woolworths shopping app but not Coles'). For example, if you're concerned about use-by dates for dairy or meat products, add "please choose the longest use-by date available" against the item. If you have opted for substitutions to be allowed for a product, state the item you would be comfortable for it to be replaced with. If you want green bananas instead of yellow because you won't be eating them for a few days, add a note.
- If you opt for paper bags from a Woolworths delivery, shred the paper bags and add them to the home compost.
- If you opt for Coles' reusable plastic bags, leave them out for the delivery driver on your next delivery.
- From a CHOICE Community member: "Leave a small trolley outside for the delivery driver to place your groceries on so you just can wheel it inside and unpack."