How to Save When Ordering Groceries Online

PHOTO: A man delivering groceries to a home is pictured in this stock image.Getty Images
A man delivering groceries to a home is pictured in this stock image.

Buying your groceries online, rather than in the store, is becoming super popular, with sales expected to top $13 billion this past year, according to IBISWorld, a market research organization.

Big companies like Amazon are joining the online grocery game. ABC News wanted to know how the prices stacked up online so we ordered breakfast food, had it delivered and did a price check.

We placed orders for the exact same items from four different companies at the exact time to see how they compared.

We ordered from the market leaders -- Peapod, FreshDirect and AmazonFresh -- and from a startup company, Instacart.

Consumer savings expert Lisa Lee Freeman was with us to break down our buys and compare prices across the sites.

“You can really easily find out who’s got the best deals,” Freeman told ABC News.

On the day we ordered, we found four different prices for the same box of Cheerios. On AmazonFresh the price was $3.54; on Peapod it was $4.79; on Instacart it was $5.49; on FreshDirect it was $5.99. The difference between the lowest and highest prices was more than $2.

And for the same Bounty paper towels, the price on AmazonFresh was $12.79; on Instacart it was $14.99; on Peapod it was $15.29; on FreshDirect it was $16.49. There was a difference of nearly $4 between the lowest and highest prices.

On our particular shopping day, AmazonFresh prices were generally the lowest and FreshDirect’s were generally the highest.

But with online grocery shopping, you need to compare more than just the cost of the items.

“With Amazon, you’re going to pay a $299 annual membership fee. That includes your Prime [membership], but you really have to think about whether you’re going to use the service to make it worthwhile,” Freeman told us.

While the other services don’t require a membership like Amazon, they do charge delivery fees. ABC News paid $5.99 for FreshDirect, $9.95 for Peapod and $11.98 for Instacart.

FreshDirect issued a statement in response to the findings.

“Our focus is on high-quality fresh food and solutions…we also offer the convenience of brand-name staple items, priced competitively with local grocery stores. Our price advantage for consumers is in the fresh category where we source directly from hundreds of farms, ranches and fisheries around the world…and we offer approximately 500 grocery deals a week," the statement read.

Freeman also pointed out that with online services, you may not be able to get the in-store sale price.

“There are markups,” she said.

For ABC’s order, Instacart charged $4.49 for a loaf of bread, but when we checked in the store, the same loaf was on sale for $2.99.

Instacart told ABC News, “Whenever possible, we work with retailers to bring customers the same prices as in the retail store. Retailers may choose to offer some promotions only in store and other promotions only on Instacart.”

Prices and delivery fees vary around the country so you need to do your homework to make sure it’s worth it for you.

“It’s going to be different for everyone’s shopping list", Freeman said.

To try to save money, she advised comparing online prices to the prices at your local grocery store.

Also, figure out how many times a year you plan on using the online delivery service to see if the membership and delivery fees are worth it. You can also try a free trial of the service before signing up. That’s what ABC News did with AmazonFresh.

ABC News couldn’t include store brands in our comparison survey but that’s another way you can potentially save money with services like Peapod and Instacart. And online shopping may help you save because you won’t be picking up impulse buys like you could while shopping in the store.