Is Online Grocery Shopping Worth the Fee?

Two things hitting my pocketbook hard these days are gas and food. So I thought getting my groceries delivered could help cut down on my daily gas binges. I recently explored the food delivery services offered by Giant and Safeway. I also looked at Harris Teeter's drive-up food service, which doesn't solve my gas problem (no pun intended here), but does free up some time I would otherwise spend navigating the store. Here's what I learned:

-- The more you order and the more flexible you are about when the food gets delivered, the more you'll save on delivery fees. With Giant's Peapod service, you pay $6.95 for orders more than $100 and a dollar more than that if you spend between $75 and $100. If you dip below $75, you'll be paying nearly $10. You'll get a whole $1 knocked off if you schedule your delivery during a time when Peapod is in your neighborhood. With Safeway.com, you pay $12.95 in delivery fees for orders less than $150. But you'll get $3 knocked off if you choose a 4-hour delivery window or you buy at least $150 worth of groceries. But it's one or the other. You can't get a $6 discount if you order $150 worth of food and select a 4-hour delivery window.

-- Harris Teeter's Express Lane service allows you to place your order online and then four hours later it's ready to be picked up at your nearest store. The service, which runs about $5, lets you pull up to the curb and wait as a Harris Teeter employee loads up your trunk with your order. The prices online are the same as in the store and they're updated every Tuesday to match the store's weekly circular.

-- Peapod's prices are different than Giant's. First of all, you won't get the sale prices listed in Giant's weekly circular when you shop Peapod. Peapod offers the disclaimer: "The prices of Giant groceries purchased through Peapod may be different from the prices in Giant retail stores." I found that the prices do vary. A 14-ounce box of Cheerios cost $4.19 on Peapod and $3.39 in the store. A jar of Smucker's strawberry jelly was $3.39 on Peapod but $3.19 in the store. The online store does, however, have its own sales.

-- Plan on spending at least $50 at Safeway.com and Peapod. Otherwise you can't get them delivered. Harris Teeter's service has no limit.

-- Expect to pay a fuel surcharge if you're using Safeway.com and Peapod. The fee, which is calculated based on the average cost of gas each week, is currently $1.58. So if either store is close to your home, you likely won't be burning that much gas.

-- Safeway.com requires someone to be at home when the food is delivered. Peapod does offer unattended delivery, which means an insulated cooler with your food will be left wherever you want them to leave it. Just make sure you return the container or you'll be charged for it.

-- Both sites sell alcohol and tobacco but someone who's old enough to buy these products will have to be at home to sign for it.

-- Safeway.com drivers and Harris Teeter Express Lane employees do not accept tips but Peapod's will.

Have you ever gotten your groceries delivered? Have you ever used Harris Teeter's pull-up service? Is it worth the money? Speaking of money, how is your pocketbook being squeezed these days? Post a comment below.

Fiscal Fast Update: As many of you know, I'm right in the middle of a fiscal fast, which means I'm not spending any money for seven days. It's day three and I just ran out of milk and I have only a few diapers left. Plus I'm starving for a Target run. This is hard! How is it going for you? Let me know by sending me an e-mail at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com. Words of encouragement are welcome.

By Tania Anderson |  July 9, 2008; 1:51 PM ET Grocery Deals
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Comments

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The hardest part about the fiscal fast is food/drink! I want Starbucks!

Posted by: Dionne V. | July 10, 2008 11:33 AM

I do love peapod. Their customer service is great; if you have any complaints at all about any item in your order, they credit your account for the cost of the item, no questions asked.

Posted by: Rebecca | July 10, 2008 12:13 PM

I am partially disabled so home delivery is a God send for me. I have used both Safeway and Peapod. The delivery guys are
courteous. They have never been late.

The produce I order is always well selected and I have had no problems with
either delivery service.

It is worth it to me to pay the fees as
it saves me making a trip to the store and walking the ailes.

Posted by: Daphne Harper | July 11, 2008 6:54 AM

I haven't lived the DC area for about two years now, but when we did we used Peapod every week. And boy do I miss it! I had small children and peapod made it possible for me to not drag them through the grocery store every week. I loved it and would start using it again if only I lived somewhere that offered it.

Fiscal fast? I've never heard of that and I love the idea. But for the poor person missing starbucks, that must suck. Next time stock up on starbucks ground coffee at home and brew it yourself at home. I know its not quite as good, but its not bad.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 11, 2008 8:49 AM

Dionne V, I couldn't agree with you more. I did miss my green tea latte this week. Anyone doing the fast, please tell us how the rest of the week went on July 17. For those of you unaware of the fiscal fast...it's a whole seven days of not spending any money. It started last Sunday and ends this Sunday. You can read about my experience next week.

Posted by: Tania Anderson | July 11, 2008 10:13 AM

I hate going to the grocery store. I have a full time job, which means going during the most crowded times. It's even worse lugging 3 small children with me. Peapod's service has been great (I've used it numerous times), but I do have two minor issues. First, I often find that ordering on line often takes just a long as going to the store. Second, by the time I finally get around to placing my order, I find that my most desirable delivery times are full. So, I am thinking about using the Harris Teeter service b/c I can place my order in the morning or on my lunch break and then pick it up on my way home. The soonest Peapod deliveries are available is the day after you place your order and that's if you place your order by 6 p.m. I want to add that often the fresh foods I order from Peapod are better than what I have found available in the store. Interesting.

Posted by: Kim in Arlington | July 11, 2008 10:18 AM

I use Safeway about once a month. I can usually get free delivery by looking for coupons on the internet. I try to stock up on the things that are on sale. There isn't a Safeway that close to me and I like some of their products & specials. It is nice not to have to carry a lot of heavy groceries to the car and then into the house. The drivers are always very polite.

The one problem I have had is that I'm not always happy by how close the expiration dates are to the delivery date. I also haven't been thrilled with the fruits I have received.

There is an option to write comments next to the items so I have been meaning to try that next time and tell them I only want really fresh looking strawberries or milk that won't expire for at least a week or to just leave it out of my order.

I also like the fact that I can enter my order over a period of several days. Even once I submit it, if I remember something I need the night before I can still add it to my order.

It doesn't eliminate going to other stores for me but it makes things a lot easier on weeks I am busy.

The biggest problem recently is that I haven't been home for long periods of time (telecommuting or slow Sunday morning).

Posted by: Jessica | July 11, 2008 10:29 AM

I find that on-line shopping makes it easier for me to avoid buying anything off my list.

Posted by: sylviaburkina | July 11, 2008 1:21 PM

I have used Peapod for 6 years and I really am happy with them. Yes, you do pay more, but if you watch the specials and order accordingly, you can still save money.

I have used Safeway twice and am not real happy with them. Their website is very confusing and if you aren't very careful, you will end up paying more than you should.

The drivers for both Peapod and Safeway have always been courteous. Even though Safeway says that no tipping is allowed, the drivers will accept tips, as well they should.

Posted by: Bev Stephans | July 11, 2008 2:25 PM

I've used all 3 services quite a few times. I get better produce from Peapod vs. Safeway. Peapod also accepts coupons and deducts them from your current order before they bill your credit card. Safeway hasn't yet figured out how to accept coupons (unless it's started that recently). I've emailed them several times about it.

I sometimes wait until I get a postcard or email for a free delivery (from Peapod or Safeway), usually for over a $150 order, but with today's prices, that's not difficult.

I've also used Harris Teeter several times, however, overall, their prices run higher, just as in the store. The produce has always been good. Their customer service is very good. Twice I've gotten my groceries home and an item was missing. I called them and they sent someone over right away with the missing item, plus a $5 coupon off next purchase. They also accept coupons at the time you pick up, but the amount comes off your next order.

It is expensive, but I HATE grocery shopping!

Posted by: Valorie | July 11, 2008 2:33 PM

I'm a mom of a 3 year old. I love PEAPOD. My strategy to keep my costs down is to stock up on sale items and always buy at least $100 - pay with a check and get a dollar off.

Safeway has better prices, but the website is more difficult to navigate, most of the time, they are out of stock on MANY items. The only way I'll order from them, if they send me a coupon for free delivery and then I'll order just sales items (not necessities.

Posted by: DMU | July 11, 2008 2:37 PM

I also have used Peapod and Safeway. I like Peapod because I've had too many problems with Safeway online store.

Interestingly though I prefer to shop at the Safeway close to my home that the Giant close my home.

But I also like the fact they take coupons, have most of the stuff I need and is just convenient.

As a matter of fact, I will have an order to this weekend!

Posted by: ckone | July 11, 2008 3:52 PM

I moved to Michigan about 2 years ago and one of the things I truly miss about the DC area is the grocery delivery. Most communities here are suburban sprawl and I hate going to the grocery store with my kids in tow. I used Peapod for over two years when in the DC area and it was a life saver with a new baby. I could get the basics and then walk to Trader Joes to get whatever I forgot or could not get on-line. I found it easy to shop using the shopping lists that Peapod saved- favorites or the last orders, so that I could shop for the basics very, very quickly. It was well worth the cost to me!

Posted by: IPMama | July 12, 2008 3:06 PM

I use Safeway online. Delivery is usually on time, if not, they usually take off the delivery charge. The produce is some of the best anywhere, even better than what I find in my local store (or I'm just bad at picking fruit). I never have an order >$100 but my delivery charges are not what was stated above. I get coupons for less than what was printed above. And I like the fact that I can create my list over several days. I want to try Peapod but I haven't ever had a problem that has made me want to switch from Safeway. Plus they have great vegetarian/vegan items that I can't get in my local store or even at WholeFoods.

Posted by: Ellen | July 12, 2008 6:20 PM

Don't forget other Internet options for nonperishables, especially Amazon, which has a lot of items in its online grocery section. I regularly order a certain kind of pasta from there that is hard to find elsewhere, in a set of 10 boxes. It works out to $2/box, about half what it would be in the supermarket.

Posted by: PQ | July 12, 2008 7:30 PM

I retired and moved out of the DC area. I'm now in a wheel chair and picked a town where one of the grocery stores delivers. They charge $12.50 and deliver in a 2 hr window. I don't consider the delivery fee unreasonable. I place a big order ($400+) once a month. You could easily spend more than an hour in the store selecting an order that large. So I consider I'm paying for someone to shop as well as deliver. Plus the delivery people are very nice. The only product I've ever had problems with is fresh tomatoes. They always arrive in bad shape. The store always credits my bill.

I ordered from Netgrocer.com once but they only ship via FedEx so it is expensive. I frequently use Drugstore.com and Amazon.com, both have free shipping.

Posted by: Shana | July 13, 2008 10:41 AM

Being retired, I gave my car to my daughter-in-law. For three years now, I've ordered online from both Peapod and Safeway, depending entirely on which has sent me a coupon in the mail or by email. Also, I check Safeway's websites, because they alone offer on site deals: you buy a certain number of designated items and get free delivery usually with $150 purchase. Being a widow, I've bought a lot of extra paper and cleaning products on sale to reach $150. Luckily, I have a basement. :-)

I'll take a bus to the store if I can't get free delivery, I'm so spoiled/cheap.

Safeway has a much better selection than Peapod, at least for me in Annandale. Peapod, however, has proved much more reliable in having items in stock. (Peapod also has a far superior website, imo.)

When ordering from Safeway, I now feel compelled to order duplicates in different brands just to be sure I get milk, eggs and the like. I no longer trust them to substitute, having received a can of Redi-Whip instead of a carton of heavy cream (needed for quiche), dried herbs for fresh, and Sugar Pops for Special K, and turnips instead of beets. No biggie, but Peapod has NEVER made a mistake in substitutions. In fact, it's never made a mistake, period. Safeway has numerous times failed to deliver the whole order, but always, they deliver or credit me ultimately. They've also given me items I didn't order. I call, and every time, customer service has told me to "keep it" though I wasn't charged. I once got 5 eggplants. Oh, well.

Peapod's produce is gorgeous. Lettuce with every leaf edible. Perfect fruit. Safeway has given me produce I wouldn't select if I'd chosen, but it's always been acceptable, and always a bit lower in price compared to Peapod.

All in all, both have been a positive experience. Drivers for each have always been very nice and helpful.

Posted by: jhbyer | July 13, 2008 8:49 PM

I would be OK with the small fee for ordering certain products, but I just can't see myself trusting certain items with short expiration dates like dairy and eggs (I want to check those for a later date); nor would I feel comfortable with someone else choosing my produce. It seems to me it would take about as much time to order everything online and drive to the store and back as it would just doing the shopping myself.

Walter
http://www.wegrowhair.com

Posted by: Walter | July 14, 2008 5:21 PM

I wish I knew about the fiscal fast, I've gone days without spending money, but never a whole week, maybe I'll try it next week, but today I have to do a Target run. Sorry Tania. I can't wait to read about how it went.

Posted by: Donna | July 15, 2008 9:57 AM

I don't know about Peapod but if you order from Safeway your food is coming from a nearby store. Probably explains why they're sometimes out of an item. I've seen the people doing the shopping in my local safeway and they're shopping for about 6 people at once which explains why you sometimes get food you didn't order - those 5 eggplants were probably for someone else and went into the wrong basket.

Posted by: J | July 15, 2008 10:06 AM

The fresh veggies and fruits are never... fresh. So, unless you just want packaged food or root veggies like potatoes or onions etc., you are taking a real gamble.

Also, you can not use coupons with the online stores. I find with the fuel surcharge, the delivery charge, the higher prices on basics, and no being able to use coupons really adds up -- It's not worth it!

Posted by: Kirstenlf | July 15, 2008 10:09 AM

I have used all 3 stores. One thing good about all three is that all sites maintain previous on-line purchases. Time is saved if you purchase the same items.

Also, all 3 sites are good if you are having a party and don't have time to shop.

I am disabled and ordering heavier items (soda, laundry detergent, kitty litter, etc.) makes my life a lot easier when someone else is doing the lifting and carrying.

I do find it does save time and my energy.

My suggestion is to check circulars on all 3 to get the best bargins. All 3 stores have great customer service.

Posted by: mmgreen | July 15, 2008 12:00 PM

Once I ordered from Safeway only to find that one of my items was "out of stock." I had ordered online because that item was particularly heavy and didn't want to carry it home from the store. Since I didn't get it delivered, I walked to my nearest Safeway and, lo and behold, there was the item on the shelf.

Posted by: AB | July 15, 2008 12:29 PM

I've used Peapod a few times, twice when I was recovering from surgery and twice in the first few weeks after the birth of my daughter, and for those occasions, it was completely worth it. I found that they did a great job picking meat and produce. I also found that the prices are a tad higher than Giant's brick-and-mortar stores, which can really add up when you're placing a large order, and the sales are not quite as good online either. (Although, frankly, Giant's sale prices aren't what they used to be anyway. They've dropped a lot of regular sales in exchange for "everyday low prices", which are never as good as the occasional sales were.) Basically, the service from Peapod is great, but it's a bit more expensive than I care to pay on a regular basis. It's a wonderful option when you really can't get out.

Posted by: tcain | July 15, 2008 3:13 PM

Overall, Peapod's service is very good. I don't own a car so it is particularly useful to me for ordering heavy items like cat litter, beverages, and detergent. Lugging 40 pounds of cat litter from a taxi to my apartment door is quite a chore!

Posted by: Maria | July 15, 2008 4:12 PM

I took a group camping this past weekend in an area that had no fresh water. Using Peapod's service I was able to order 32 gallon size jugs along with other 30 apples, 15 oranges, and 10 lbs of chicken along with other camping necessities.

It would've taken multiple trips to get all those supplies, but having Peapod's service available made preparing for the trip very manageable. I thought the fruit delivered was good quality, better than if I had gone to Shopper's and tried to pick out the 30 best apples.

Posted by: Justin S | July 20, 2008 6:41 PM

Peapod was out of the gate first with home delivery. Many elderly in the area rely on these grocery home delivery services.

They are very popular to the north of us as well. A&P serves a wide area in Northern NJ, NYC, Westchester Co and Long Island.

When you can't get yourself to the store, these delivery services are a blessing.

Posted by: apteafan | July 22, 2008 9:31 AM

Thanks, this is great information.

http://www.realfreestuffforall.com

Posted by: sunnee | October 9, 2008 11:01 AM

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