The best places to buy groceries online
- Shopping for groceries online can be a convenient way to save time and ensure you can get the food you need.
- Our top pick is Instacart because it allows you to "visit" your local grocery store, is available in most of the country, and doesn't require a membership fee to shop, though there are delivery and service fees to consider.
- Due to the novel coronavirus, many online grocery delivery services were previously experiencing delays fulfilling and shipping orders, as well as low inventory for household essentials, cleaning supplies, and shelf-stable pantry items. Some operations are back to normal, but be sure to keep those factors in mind if you're putting in an order.
- Many online grocery delivery services have also updated their policies to reduce social interactions, support the shopper community, and more.
Online grocery shopping is an incredibly convenient way to get the food you need while avoiding crowded aisles and rogue shopping carts dinging your car in the parking lot. Though it's not for those who want to pick the perfect tomato or get the double coupon discount on their pasta purchase, if you're willing to relinquish that control, shopping for your groceries online is a great way to go.
Of course, you should expect to pay a bit extra for the convenience. Most online grocery stores and delivery programs come with subscription costs, delivery fees, and the option to tip your shopper or driver — which we suggest you do. Some services have steeper fees than others.
In our guide to the best online grocery stores, we'll break down all the additional costs, how the service works, and more, to ensure the sustenance you need arrives unharmed and in a timely manner.
Here are the best places to buy groceries online:
- Best for shopping local: Instacart
- Best for bulk items: Boxed
- Best on a budget: Walmart
- Best for Amazon Prime members: Amazon Fresh
- Best for organic groceries: Thrive Market
Prices and links are accurate as of 12/14/20. We updated this post with any news related to how each service is responding to increased demand due to COVID-19. We also added information about the newly-launched Walmart+.
The best for shopping local
Note: As of 12/14/20, Instacart has added thousands of shoppers to its community as well as "Fast & Flexible" & "Order Ahead" options to ensure more delivery windows amid fluctuating delivery slot availability and stock shortages. It recommends authorizing replacement products if your item is out of stock and staying by the phone while your order is being fulfilled to answer any questions your shopper may have. It has also introduced a Senior Support Service to provide seniors with extra help setting up an account, navigating the site, and placing an order. Instacart also has a contactless delivery option to allow your shopper to leave your order outside your door.
Pros: Shop via your local grocery store, no membership required, most widely available grocery delivery service
Cons: 5% service fee, delivery fees go up at more popular times
Instacart is the industry leader in grocery delivery, serving 85% of households in the United States and 70% in Canada. Its far reach is due to its strategy of partnering with local grocery stores for distribution, so you can shop local and get the food you need from the stores you already trust and patronize.
To start shopping, you simply enter your zip code and your email address. From there, you select the store you want to shop from — I had a whopping 29 options to shop from in my Brooklyn neighborhood including Fairway, Shop Rite, and even non-grocery stores like Petco, CVS, and Target.
You can browse through the store's offerings based on categories like produce, snacks, drinks, etc., or you can search for the item you want using the search bar at the top of the page. If an item is low in stock, Instacart will prompt you with the opportunity to authorize a replacement product if your shopper can't get their hands on the original item. You can also opt to not replace it, and the cost of the missing item will be deducted from your bill.
With Instacart, your order will be handled by one of their shoppers who goes to the store, shops for your items, and then delivers them to you rather than being fulfilled at a warehouse and then shipped to you via a postal service, so you can expect a bit more care to be taken with your fruits and vegetables.
The service fees are where the Instacart prices start to mount. There's a baseline $3.99 delivery fee on each order, but if you choose a more popular delivery slot, the fee can jump up to either $5.99 or $9.99. You can get your groceries delivered in as little as an hour or you can schedule them to be delivered to you up to a week in advance. The more immediate slots often have higher delivery fees, so it might behoove you to plan ahead to save a couple of bucks.
On top of the delivery fee, you'll see a 5% service fee added to your order, and it's highly suggested that you tip your shopper for their service. If you're putting in a big order and you pick a slot with a low delivery fee, the additional cost will likely be worth it, but it can be hard to justify the extra dollars on small orders.
If you want to eliminate delivery fees, you can sign up for Instacart Express for either $9.99 a month or $99 a year and you'll receive unlimited free delivery for all orders over $35. If you shop frequently, this fee will pay for itself in no time, but unfortunately, you're still on the hook for a service fee — but it will be a cheaper one, starting at 1.9% — and any gratuity you add to the order.
Read our full review of Instacart here.
The best for bulk items
Note: As of 12/14/20, standard Boxed orders are no longer experiencing shipping delays. However, Boxed Express time slots are filling up quickly and some items may be out of stock and all deliveries of Express orders will be left on your doorstep for contactless delivery. Boxed Express has also paused its bag return program for the time being.
Pros: No membership required, prices match or beat big-box bulk stores like Costco
Cons: Bulk items and perishable items are delivered separately
When you think of bulk grocery shopping, big-box membership-oriented stores like Costco or Sam's Club probably come to mind. But if you're looking to buy in bulk, save while doing it, and avoid membership fees, Boxed is here to make that a reality. You'll find all your favorite brands in oversized quantities at wholesale prices.
Insider Reviews freelancer Holly Johnson used Boxed to order staples for her family, and she was thrilled to find such low prices. She wrote, "Using Boxed for bulk supplies lets me keep my grocery orders to a minimum while getting good prices on the staples my family loves. I know because I have taken the time to compare pricing for bulk purchases at Costco and Amazon, and Boxed is comparable or better most of the time."
Standard Boxed orders — featuring only non-perishables — are packed at the Boxed warehouse and shipped to you, and you'll get free shipping on all orders over $49. If you're looking to add perishable items to your grocery order, you can opt to buy through Boxed Express in certain locations — enter your zip code to see if you're eligible.
With Boxed Express, your order will be hand-delivered in reusable tote bags at a delivery time you choose upon checkout. Boxed Express has a $20 minimum order, and there's a $6.99 delivery fee for orders costing less than $65. Orders of $65 or more are eligible for free delivery. Unfortunately, there's no way to combine the deliveries of your perishable and non-perishable goods because they're supplied through different streams. You can order them at the same time though.
Read our full Boxed review.
The best on a budget
Note: As of 12/14/20, Walmart's online grocery delivery service appears to be back to normal. There's no longer a disclaimer on Walmart's site that says to "please check back later, or change locations," when all time slots are full. The newly-launched Walmart+ offers the perk of free grocery delivery.
Pros: Prices are the same as in-store, no service fees beyond the $9.95 delivery, free pick-up option, free delivery for Walmart+ members
Cons: Can only schedule for same-day or next-day delivery, can't see delivery availability until after you fill your cart
While many grocery delivery services charge a premium on products, Walmart's prices remain consistent whether you're buying in-store or online for delivery or pick-up, making it the most budget-friendly choice for grocery delivery.
Through Walmart Grocery's online portal or mobile app, you can search for and select groceries from all aisles of the supermarket, from dry goods to frozen pizza to milk, eggs, and produce. A Walmart employee will go through the store and put your order together for you, scanning each item as they go to ensure you get everything you paid for.
Upon checking out, you'll select whether you want to pick up your order from a local store or have it delivered to your home. If you select pick-up, you'll head to the Walmart location you select and pick up your order at whatever time you choose. There's no additional fee to pick up your groceries, so you'll just pay for the items themselves.
Delivery will cost a flat $9.95 with no other service or delivery fees added in, so you don't have to worry about hidden costs stacking up. To eliminate those fees entirely, you can sign up for Walmart+ for $12.95 a month or $98 a year — well worth it if you order groceries from Walmart more than once a month. You do have to meet a $35 order minimum, whether you're a Walmart+ member or not, but a weekly grocery haul should take you over that limit easily. It's also encouraged to tip your delivery person, but it is not required.
You can select one-hour time slots for delivery either the day you place the order or the next day. If the delivery slots fill up, you'll have to wait until the next day when new ones open up to place your order. It can be a bit frustrating to fill your whole cart only to find that there are no delivery slots remaining, but you can just leave your cart stocked until new ones open up.
The best for Amazon Prime members
Note: As of 12/14/20, AmazonFresh appears to be back to normal operations. There is an option to select "unattended delivery" upon checkout, which allows your delivery person to leave your groceries outside your door or in a location you specify for contactless drop-off.
Pros: Free access with Amazon Prime membership, free delivery over $50, Whole Foods 365 products available
Cons: Must be a Prime member to order
Not to be confused with Prime Pantry where you can bundle non-perishables and household goods in order to qualify for Prime shipping, AmazonFresh is a standalone service and Amazon's answer to the digital grocery stores like Walmart Grocery and Instacart. Unlike Prime Pantry, AmazonFresh allows you to order produce, dairy, meats, and other perishable items on top of pantry staples and dry goods.
You'll have to be a Prime member to access AmazonFresh, so if you're not already paying the $119 annual fee for Prime, you might be better off checking out one of the other grocery delivery services in our guide. You can also sign up for a free 30-day trial to take advantage of AmazonFresh as well as more than 20 other benefits.
If you're a current Prime member, AmazonFresh is by far the most affordable way to get groceries delivered. Orders over $50 ship free while orders under that threshold incur a $9.99 delivery fee, so you're best off meeting the minimum in order to save yourself some extra money.
The interface looks exactly like you're shopping on Amazon — because you are. Scroll through carousels of categories like produce, meat, and snacks or use the search bar at the top of the page to find exactly what you're looking for. Each item has a quick-add button that places the item right in your card. Because Amazon owns Whole Foods, you'll also be able to order Whole Foods' 365 brand from AmazonFresh.
When you're ready to check out, you can select either unattended delivery, which allows your delivery person to leave your groceries outside your door, or attended delivery, which lets you receive your items directly from your delivery person. If you order any alcohol, you'll have to select attended delivery so they can verify your age with an ID. If you select unattended delivery, you'll pick a two-hour time slot as soon as two hours from the time you place your order. If you select attended delivery, time slot selections will be in one-hour increments.
The best for organic groceries
Note: As of 7/2/20, Thrive Market doesn't appear to be experiencing shipping delays due to increased demand.
Pros: Makes it easy to shop according to diet, makes natural and organic foods more accessible
Cons: Membership required, no perishable foods available
Thrive Market is the only grocery delivery service in our guide that requires a membership to shop — $60 a year or $9.95 a month — but the service guarantee you'll save enough to make up the cost of your membership. If you don't save $60 in a year, they'll credit the difference towards your next year of membership. Shipping is free on orders over $49, but orders under that will have to pay $5.95 for shipping.
Thrive Market is so confident because it sells natural and organic products at wholesale prices — an average of 25-50% cheaper than what you'd find in stores. When you sign up for a membership, you'll take a short quiz that helps Thrive Market determine your shopping preferences, and from there it will begin to curate a selection of products it thinks you'll enjoy. They can be found in the "My Aisle" section of the site, or you can search and shop for the things you usually enjoy, though you won't find brands like Doritos or Coca-Cola on these virtual shelves.
Thrive Market is great for those with dietary restrictions. You can sort and shop according to diets like keto, paleo, and vegan, so you don't have to worry about looking up the ingredients of every new product you might want to try.
Senior reporter Mara Leighton tried Thrive Market and was impressed by its mission to close the gap between organic foods and their traditionally high costs. She wrote, "If you spend a lot of time researching/want to eat healthy foods, have a dedicated diet or food restrictions, or consistently buy organic or non-GMO foods online, you'll likely find at least a few compelling benefits to Thrive Market."
One major downside is the inability to shop for fresh produce and other perishables. Your grocery box is packed and shipped through the mail, unlike other grocery delivery services that hand-deliver your goods. The exception here is that you can buy boxes of meat for shipment, but only in large quantities, selecting six cuts of beef, chicken, or seafood. You can also buy whole turkeys or hams. If you do buy meat, it'll ship frozen and separately from your nonperishables.
If you're looking for healthy snacks and pantry staples, want to discover new brands you haven't tried before, or want to shop according to a diet without having to worry about accidentally buying foods you can't actually eat, Thrive Market is a great way to do that.
If you're a lover of natural and organic foods, Thrive Market helps your dollar stretch further, especially considering these products tend to have a higher markup at normal grocery stores.
Read our full review of Thrive Market here.
What else we considered
FreshDirect: I've used FreshDirect on and off for the past few years, and I've always been happy with their user interface, product selection, and customer service. For next-day delivery, you'll have to order by either 6 p.m. or 11 p.m. the night before, depending on the time slot you select, but you can also schedule a delivery up to a week out. There's a flat $5.99 delivery fee on all orders unless you sign up for DeliveryPass which entitles you to unlimited free delivery. A 6-month DeliveryPass, which costs $79, gets you free delivery and allows you to reserve delivery timeslots in advance. There's also a $39 option to access free delivery and reserved timeslots from Tuesday to Thursday.
FreshDirect didn't make our top picks because of how geographically limited the service is. It's only available in certain areas of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Washington, DC.
Here's our full review of FreshDirect.
Peapod: Peapod operates similarly to many of the delivery services on this list. You can either shop for delivery or for pickup at your local Stop and Shop grocery store. It has a wide selection of both perishable and non-perishable food and its delivery fees are tiered based on how large your order is. Orders from $35-$70 will incur a $9.95 delivery fee, orders from $75-$100 will cost $7.95, and you'll pay a $6.95 delivery fee on orders of $100 or more.
It was once again geographic limitations that kept Peapod out of our top picks, as it's only available only in the Northeast. It was previously available in the Midwest, but as of last month, Peapod is no longer operating in Illinois, Wisconsin, or Indiana.
Shipt: Shipt and Instacart are very similar. Both services are widely available geographically and allow you to shop from local stores with the help of a personal shopper who will pick up and deliver your goods. Unlike Instacart, Shipt requires a membership to shop — $99 annually, or $14 a month. It also partners with fewer grocery stores than Instacart, which is why it loses out to Instacart for the best place to buy groceries online from your local stores.
Costco: Costco has long been the go-to store for bulk shopping, and you don't have to be a member to shop its offerings online. Non-members are subject to some fees that members can avoid like a $3 delivery fee for orders over $75 and up to $15 on orders under $75. There's also a 5% non-member surcharge on all orders.
One major downside to shopping at Costco online is that they really only sell non-perishables and household goods like paper and cleaning products. Boxed is similar to Costco in that it offers bulk items at prices comparable to Costco — no membership required and no surcharges. Boxed also offers perishable items, so it's a better one-stop shop than Costco.
Meal kit delivery services: If you're not finding the groceries you want and need, or open delivery windows, we'd suggest considering meal kit delivery services for fresh produce. Having a regular shipment of produce could be a good alternative to shopping online amid food shortages, though the quantity will be much smaller than you might usually buy. The services also come with recipes so you can either follow through and make a delicious and new-to-you meal, or use the produce however you'd normally like. Here are the best meal kit delivery services we've tested.
Subscribe to our newsletter.
You can purchase syndication rights to this story here.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at email@example.com.
Source: Read Full Article