Shopping from your home computer isn't just a smart way to save money on gasoline, it can also provide you access to stores that haven't set up shop in your neighborhood. When it comes to buying groceries and other foodstuffs, however, the internet has a unique approach towards ordering and fulfillment. Is this method of buying effective? How can you be sure to get the most for your milk money? (For related reading, also see 5 Pitfalls Of Online Shopping.)

TUTORIAL: Budgeting Basics

There are essentially two kinds of grocery services provided via the internet. One involves stores you would typically already shop at (like a big box retailer or pharmacy) who arrange to have your groceries picked out and waiting for you, or to have them delivered. The other is a drop-ship website where products may come from various locations and arrive at your door with a shipping service like FedEx or UPS. Both may charge a fee for these services in addition to shipping and handling costs.

Avoiding the Shopping "Experience"
When it comes to traditional shopping, you may not find the half hour or more spent cruising up and down store aisles to be a good use of your time. Online ordering eliminates some of this, assuming you are familiar with the website and its offerings. Shoppers are encouraged to do their research on the variety of items offered at any online grocery site before buying, however. Many sites don't have a full range of the most popular products, or their sizing may not be compatible with your needs.

If you are spending more time trying to navigate a new site, looking for just the right size of item or going through the checkout process, it may be easier to drive to that store you've shopped at forever. At least you'll have no surprises!

Getting the Best Bargain
There are times when an online shopping service could offer the best price on a particular product. As an overall rule, however, online grocery services aren't the most aggressively-priced option. While they do have items on special that can be at or below the average cost of a local grocer, many products can be marked up to prices similar to a convenience store. Most online stores (which the exception of a few, like Soap.com) don't take manufacturer's coupons, limiting your ability to cut more than pennies from your monthly budget. They also rarely practice the price matching that a brick-and-mortar store generally does. Be aware of what makes a good price for your favorite products online.

TUTORIAL: How To Manage Credit And Debt

Who is Online Grocery Shopping Best Suited for?
In theory, anyone with a busy schedule or who wants to stay on budget can benefit from the practice. Those who will find it the best choice for buying regular staples include:

  • College students who find the college "corner store" to be poorly stocked or who would appreciate a care package from family members
  • Military families who are not located near a standard-sized store or who crave products found only in their home regions
  • The elderly, disabled or those who find getting out of the house to be a hardship

The Bottom Line
As with most shopping trends, there is a demographic that will benefit most from the unique offerings that an online grocery service can provide. Make sure, however, that you will save either time, money or both before jumping on the bandwagon. (For additional reading, also see Coupon Shopping: Clip Your Way To Savings.)

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