Is it worth: Getting your groceries delivered.
There’s the pileup in Aisle 14B. A harried grocery clerk tries to shelve cans on one side while a couple parks their cart opposite to deeply consider the relative merits of dozens of types of pasta. There’s the fruitless search for an item that’s no longer in the same part of the store it was only last week. And then, the awkward attempt to catch the eye of the man in front of me at the checkout who seems blind to the divider I can’t reach.
Ask me what I don’t exactly love about grocery shopping. I dare you.
You can hardly walk down a street in Philadelphia without being reminded that Amazon’s now offering free two-hour grocery delivery, while those who do our own hunting and gathering increasingly share the supermarket aisles with shoppers for Instacart.
But only about 6% of us buy our groceries online more than once a month, according to a 2019 report by the management consulting firm Bain & Company.
As someone who’s picky about both produce and packaging — I’m talking reusable everything, including those mesh produce bags I hope will save at least one baby dolphin from a stomachful of plastic — I’d never seriously considered grocery delivery. But do I love the aisle-by-aisle grind of are-we-out-of-olive-oil-already? I do not.
Could I trade that for the convenience of a shopping list someone else checks off for me? Maybe I could.
Amazon. The home of free two-day shipping now offers to deliver groceries to Prime members in two hours or less. What it costs: Prime membership is $119/year or $12.99/month. Free delivery on orders of $35 or more from Amazon Fresh and Amazon-owned Whole Foods, otherwise $4.99. Best for: Those who already have Prime or who shop regularly at Whole Foods.
FreshDirect. New York-based online grocer offers next-day delivery in our area. What it costs: Minimum order is $30, delivery fee is $7.99. Skip the per-order fees with DeliveryPass ($79/six months, $129/year). FreshDirect adds fuel surcharge, tied to diesel prices. Best for: Those who don’t need same-day delivery and aren’t looking for products from a particular store.
Instacart. Founded by a former supply chain engineer for Amazon, it’s behind grocery delivery services for a range of stores. For Philadelphians, that means supermarkets like Wegmans, Acme, Aldi, and others, along with Reading Terminal Market and DiBruno Bros. What it costs: Two-hour delivery starts at $3.99 and can be higher at peak times, with a $10 minimum order. There’s also a 5% service fee (not to be confused with a tip). Instacart Express ($99/year or $9.99/month) customers don’t pay the delivery fee for orders over $35. Prices may be higher than in stores. Best for: Those who like to shop around.
Peapod. One of the earliest players in the online grocery game, it’s a corporate sibling of Giant supermarkets and offers same- or next-day delivery in the city and some suburbs, but not in any of the South Jersey zip codes I checked. What it costs: Minimum order is $60, for which delivery fee is $7.95, not counting fuel surcharge. Prices may be higher than in Giant stores. Best for: Bigger shopping trips.
Philly Foodworks. This online farm share program works with farmers and local makers. It offers both local and nonlocal produce at this time of year, and delivers one day a week to the city, suburbs, and South Jersey, with the day depending on your address. You can order à la carte, but there’s a range of subscription boxes, too. What it costs: In the city, immediate suburbs, and Jersey, $5 a delivery for orders under $75. In farther suburbs, it’s $5 for orders under $125. Best for: Those who want to be part of community-supported agriculture but need more flexibility and convenience than some CSAs offer.
Shipt. Came out on top in a Consumer Reports ranking of grocery delivery services, based on a 2018 survey. Same-day deliveries from Target, CVS, Petco, and in some parts of our area, Acme. What it costs: $99/year or $14/month, $7 delivery fee on orders under $35. Items may be priced higher than in stores. Best for: Target fans.
A real estate agent and empty-nester, she’s buying for herself and her husband, and spreads her business among several stores, with an eye to what’s on sale.
What she likes: The convenience: “I can go to the gym and stand on the treadmill and do a food order. By the time I come home, my food is there,” as well as avoiding impulse buys. “You’re not seeing a pack of cookies. You’re getting what you need and it comes to your house.”
What she doesn’t: “I don’t particularly care for the higher prices, but they’re not super-high. Some [shoppers] are better than others. Some will just make replacements that don’t even really apply without checking with me first." (But others, she said, will go out of their way to check with the store on an item that’s not on the shelf.)
Harahan lives with his wife and four children. A few years ago, he said, his wife was having surgery, and he took over the cooking (something he’s continued to do because he enjoys it).
What he liked: Using a meal-planning app to make his lists and then just ordering what was needed, and the “super-friendly” Instacart shoppers at Wegmans. “I’ll still occasionally use Instacart if we’re really busy,” he said.
What he didn’t: With FreshDirect, there were occasional missing items (for which he was credited after calling), and problems with delivery. “They started leaving the boxes of food in my driveway without knocking on the door. It might be hot or it might be raining.” He was eventually told by a driver that “‘the reason you have problems with deliveries is that you don’t tip.’"
With Instacart, “it’s more expensive.” After a while, he decided it wasn’t worth it, though he said he might reconsider when his children are older. These days, he’s back roaming the supermarket, making it a daddy-daughter experience with his 7-year-old. “Shopping for six, it’s challenging enough just to create an accurate list. But if I can walk around the store, I’m more likely to see the things I forgot to write down.”
If you’re using a service like Instacart or Shipt, you’re taking advantage of the gig economy, where everyone’s supposedly an independent contractor while having only limited control over their earnings, thanks to algorithm-driven compensation.
Recommended tip: Each service is different: Instacart’s optional tip defaults to 5%, Amazon’s to 10% or $5, whichever is greater. This doesn’t mean you can’t tip more — say, 10-20% — to the person who’s thumping (and hauling) those melons for you.
Will your shopper judge you if you don’t tip? Probably. Reddit posts by Instacart and Shipt shoppers (and former shoppers), suggest that orders that don’t include a tip in advance might be passed on by those with more experience.
Yes, if you can afford it and think not being tempted in the grocery aisle might even save you money. It’s easier to justify if you think of the added costs not as part of your food bill, but as just another service that makes your life easier.