Buying groceries online can save time and help you get a large weekly shop done without leaving the house (or worrying about how you'll get the groceries back home).
In our grocery delivery services review, we put in online orders with Coles, Woolworths, IGA and Harris Farm Markets. Here's what we learnt to help you get the best out of your order.
While all four supermarkets give you the option to browse products by category (like the aisles in a 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 so you won't have to trawl through pages of kids' chocolate milk and meal replacement drinks in the milk category.
If your search isn't giving you the results you're after, 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 make future shops quicker.
Coles and Woolworths also have apps for Android and iOS devices. These are optimised for mobile and typically easier to use than the web browser when shopping on your smartphone.
Currently, most grocery retailers don't use a centralised warehouse for dispatching orders which means your delivery is packed and delivered by whichever store is closest to you.
Available delivery slots will therefore vary greatly depending on where you're ordering. Next-day delivery is often booked out, so if you need your delivery at a specific time you might need to order a few days in advance.
Delays due to driver shortages can occur from time to time, and the supermarket should notify you, but that may not happen until after your delivery window has closed.
All of the supermarkets in our test have moved to an order-by-item count system for most fruit and vegetables. This means you buy a specific number of things rather than a specific weight – so six potatoes instead of 500g of spuds. But there are some exceptions, such as pre-packaged produce in a bag that's already been weighed out.
The amount you buy is then charged based on weight. Weight estimates and cost per gram or kilogram are provided by Coles, IGA and Harris Farm, but not Woolworths.
The problem with this system is you may receive pieces that are smaller or larger than average. In our case, the discrepancy was around 200g above and below. There's really no way around this, so it's safer to buy instore if you need a specific amount of produce. Alternatively, you could order extra just to be safe and freeze anything you can't get through to cut down on food waste.
Food Standards Australia says potentially hazardous food must be stored at 5°C or colder. The longer cold food is above this, the greater the risk of it becoming unsafe to eat. The problem is, there's no way to tell how long the food was at these potentially unsafe temperatures, as this determines whether you can still eat it.
For example, if chicken was at a temperature higher than 5°C for a period of more than two hours, it would need to be cooked immediately or thrown away rather than being re-refrigerated. Cheese and ice cream can fare a bit better, but no one wants to slurp dairy soup instead of a tasty frozen treat.
You may be eligible for a refund or return if this happens, though it could come down to your word against the supermarket's.
In our 2023 test, almost all Coles and most Woolworths and IGA items were above the 5°C limit. Meanwhile, all items from Harris Farm fell within the Food Standards safety guidelines. However, most food was only slightly elevated on arrival with nothing reaching limits that we considered dangerous. The worst offender was a block of cheese from Coles that recorded 7.7°C on arrival.
Use-by and best-before dates
Supermarkets cannot deliver food that's spoiled or past the use-by or best-before dates. You're immediately entitled to a refund if something like this ends up in your order.
You may receive perishable goods closer to their use-by or best-before dates than you'd prefer, and that's something to keep in mind if you want groceries to last as long as possible.
If you order a product that your local store doesn't have in stock they'll 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.
Coles and Woolworths substitute out of stock products if you tick the approval box at checkout. Harris Farm and IGA will do this by default, unless you tick the 'no replacements' box at checkout.
This isn't really an issue if it's the same product made by a different company, and substitutions made by Coles, Woolworths and Harris Farm in our 2023 test, were acceptable. But IGA replacements didn't always reflect the original product.
Cage-free eggs were substituted with caged eggs, which may go against your ethical shopping decisions. Brand name products such as CSR sugar were also substituted with generics like Black & Gold. In another instance, IGA omitted a jar of jam without notice and failed to reply when we submitted an online form to get the item replaced or refunded.
It's also worth noting that Coles omitted a few items, albeit with notice. Some were also damaged on delivery.
Coles, Harris Farm and Woolworths have an option to leave your delivery outside so you don't need to be home to collect it, but they won't leave the below items unattended.
- Coles: Alcohol, tobacco and non-bagged items.
- Harris Farm: Alcohol.
- Woolworths: Alcohol, tobacco and sharp objects.
This puts the onus on you to be home in time to collect perishable goods. IGA doesn't allow for unattended deliveries.
You may be charged a fee if the driver expects you to be home and you miss the delivery.
- Coles: $30 fee may be charged for an order cancelled after cutoff.
- Harris Farm: $20 fee plus the cost of any perishables.
- IGA: $20 fee plus the cost of any perishables.
- Woolworths: Delivery fee plus the cost of any perishables.
Most locations offer free delivery if you spend enough money, but some stores factor in delivery times which makes things a little more complicated. Supermarket membership services also offer delivery discounts which we've covered below.
Coles keeps things simple with free delivery on all orders over $250 regardless of the day and window. Delivery information is covered here.
All delivery options are free for orders over $250, while orders between $200 and $249.99 are only free if you select Milk Run or Economy (specific delivery windows). You can also get free deliveries on Wednesdays for all orders over $175.
Gold Customers also get free deliveries for all orders over $150, regardless of the day, type and frequency. To become a Gold Customer you need to have spent $1000 in the last 30 days, $2500 in the last 90 days or $7500 in the last 12 months.
Head to the Harris Farm delivery page for options in your area.
IGA will cover delivery costs on a case-by-case basis, but the minimum spend and delivery fees are determined by the store. According to the terms and conditions, free delivery is a limited-time offer that can be withdrawn at any time.
The website will tell you whether you qualify for free delivery and are ordering from a participating store. You can also check the list of stores under delivery information at the bottom of the page.
Orders of $250 of more are eligible for free next-day delivery within three and five-hour windows. Other delivery fees are outlined here.
Everybody wants a piece of the subscription service pie these days and supermarkets are no exception. Coles and Woolworths each offer a handful of benefits for a monthly fee and these can actually help you save money on deliveries depending on the size and frequency of your orders. Take some time to crunch the numbers before signing up.
Cost: $19 per month.
What is it? Free delivery (including same day) on orders over $50, plus double Flybuys points at Coles supermarkets, 10x Flybuys points on liquor purchases, free access to Click and Collect Rapid for orders over $30, one free Liquorland delivery per month for an order over $50 and priority customer support.
More info: Coles Plus.
Harris Farm Delivery Pass
Cost: $20 per month, $50 for three months, $90 for six months or $120 for a year.
What is it? Free delivery for all orders over $120.
More info: Harris Farm Delivery Pass.
Woolworths Delivery Unlimited
Cost: $15 per month or $119 per year ($9.92 per month).
What is it? Free same or next-day delivery on orders over $75 plus double Woolworths Rewards points, free delivery on Everyday Market orders over $50 and priority customer support.
More info: Woolworths Delivery Unlimited.
Grocers don't just want to get your business, they want to keep it. Coles, Harris Farm and Woolworths offer loyalty programs that reward repeat customers.
- Coles: Flybuys bonus points.
- Harris Farm: $5 delivery discounts for return weekly shoppers on orders over $150 and free delivery on orders over $150 for Gold Customers. To be eligible for Gold status, a customer must have spent $1000 in the last 30 days, $2500 in the last 90 days or $7500 in the last 12 months.
- Woolworths: Everyday Rewards points.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.