Grocery Delivery vs. In Store Shopping Footprint

Groceries in paper shopping bags

Have you ever considered grocery shopping online instead of in store?  Here are our reflections on the good and the bad of home grocery delivery and how it affects our family footprint.

How We Got Started with Online Grocery Shopping

When we relocated to our new home and new town, I tried online grocery shopping. I was time poor coordinating activities at the new house and I had a coupon for free grocery delivery, so decided to give it a try.  I’m fine with online shopping, but I’d always been leery of having someone else select my groceries. Would I be frustrated with product expiry? Smallish per item goods? Sad wilted and dinged produce?  What will the packaging be like? Is it actually more efficient? I took the plunge into grocery delivery and haven’t looked back. 

Grocery Delivery Pros and Cons in a Nutshell

 Online Grocery Shopping and the Family Footprint

  • The footprint benefits: Less individual travel, lower vehicle emissions, reduced home food waste.
  • The footprint disadvantages: Potential for increased packaging/bagging, may increase shopping frequency with unlimited delivery (although unlikely given minimum spends).

 Online Grocery Shopping Personal Considerations

  • The personal benefits: Convenience, shopping for unit value, less impulse shopping, healthier product selection.
  • The personal disadvantages: Missing exploring the aisles, less likely to visit other stores due to subscription loyalty.

 Online Grocery Shopping Broader Considerations

  • The broader benefits: Still shopping at a local business, extra work supports increased local in-store employment (may not be the case in all areas).
  • The broader disadvantages: Less interaction in store/community, may risk centralisation, less likely to support to other local shops when shopping from home. 

This post was written years before the COVID-19 pandemic skyrocketed interest in online shopping, click-and-collect, and home delivery. Suddenly shopping safely outweighs all other factors for many households. If you have access to a reliable home shopping service, shop safer. Include a note on your order thanking essential workers for everything they continue to do for the community. If carefully shopping in store, be safe, be kind, and say thank you. You can find New Zealand’s COVID-19 Safe Shopping guidance on the government’s Unite against COVID-19 website. 

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Quality and Convenience

Product Quality

Quality has always been great. I think this is essential for suppliers looking to maintain happy customers, but even more so when they are selecting your food items. Trust is key. Quality was my number one concern about trying grocery delivery.  My experience has always been positive.

Order Completeness

Unless an item has been omitted due to availability (in which case, it isn’t charged), completeness has been great. Occasionally, an item is unavailable during picking. The local shop is exceptional about making quality/quantity substitutions (an option with buyer permission). Substitutions have actually helped us discover some great new products. Win win!

Convenience of Ordering and Scheduling

The obvious advantage is that it is incredibly convenient. Our household rises early. I often order groceries in the early morning (pyjamas on and coffee in hand) for same day delivery. Drop-off is always within the scheduled window and straight to the door. Receipt of delivery is faster than I could unload my own shopping from the car. There is no driving, hunting for parking, crowds, line-ups, or other hassles of in-person shopping. 
 
Shopping online makes it easy compare costs. It’s also easy to label shop for avoiding certain ingredients and/or comparing nutritional breakdowns. In some cases, this information is included in the store’s online product description (which I love!). If not, it is usually just a quick search away before deciding what to put in the cart. Yes, you can read labels in store, but I find the online approach quick and easy for comparisons.

Efficiency and Environmental Considerations

Transport vs. Delivery

Our old home was within easy walking distance of several grocery stores. It was quick and convenient to stroll down regularly for a few items, punctuated by occasional full shopping trips.  Delivery can’t beat walking, but in our new location (as it is for many folks) walking isn’t a reasonable option.

Delivery is the public transit of grocery shopping. It can be much more efficient than everyone making their own trip. In reality, that’s only true if your delivery is moving locally along with deliveries for a large volume of other customers in the same local area. Different grocery delivery models have different travel distances, times, and packaging constructs.

Bags and Other Packaging

Our personal grocery shopping was carried in reusable packaging, like fabric shopping bags and mesh produce bags, or skipped all together. I no longer have control over the packaging; however, the store has made significant headway in reducing their packaging since I first started shopping online.  

Local delivery allows quick movement in chilled trucks with minimal packaging and transit time.  The driver delivers to the door in heavy-duty crates which stay with the truck for return and reuse. Our groceries come in large paper bags, and any big or bulky items are left loose. Very decent. Way better than many other types of online shopping at present, unfortunately.  

I save the paper bags, unless they are damaged (or stolen by one of the dogs) in which case they’re completely recyclable or can be shredded into compost. I reuse the bags to deliver garden produce and other goodies to friends and neighbours. 

Economic and Community Considerations

Employment and Local Business Considerations

Unlike a lot of e-commerce offerings, our grocery orders are fulfilled from the local shop shelves. From an employment perspective, this means online shopping still leverages all the usual in-store logistics (less checkout, although these are increasingly automated).  It also comes with the added costs of website support, in-store order fulfilment personnel (pick and pack), and delivery staff.  I can feel good about that!  The fear is, of course, that this may change. Stores like the local grocery shop that supplies my orders risk becoming centralised depending on servicing volume and in-store traffic.

The Wider Community

With fewer in-person visits to town, other markets and shops may suffer from reduced traffic. Additionally. brand loyal subscription shopping makes it more likely to do a single consolidated shop rather than shop around for price or selection.

The Price of Convenience

All of this convenience usually comes at a cost premium for home delivery. Depending on the store, click-and-collect services may be free. Additionally, if you’re a a subscription delivery shopper, you’re likely to be a loyal shopper to get max value for your fees. Loyalty is another gain for the store. 

Shopping Smarter for Value and Savings

For savvy shoppers, deep diving into the math can more than offset the expense of delivery subscription fees (at least for now!). Depending on your shopping frequency and distance of travel, it might balance out on the basis of fuel/time alone.  It’s also been great for savings by easily shopping the sales.  The online format also makes it super easy to compare the unit costs for similar items for best value.  If you’re shopping on a budget, the cart system can also help you stay within target and cut excess if needed. I’ve found the online system extremely useful for list shopping, which means less waste from excess, fewer quick shopping runs for missing supplies, and fewer impulse buys.
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A Footnote About How and Where We Shop

I currently buy my groceries from a large national chain. Groceries are supplemented with speciality goods from local markets, shops, and online. The latter has been particularly helpful for buying bulk goods like dried pulses and speciality flours. Many of these are either not readily available from our local grocery store or are better from elsewhere due to packaging, quality, and/or cost.

When this post was written, being vegetarian had deterred me from experimenting with meal planned subscription food delivery programs.  Vegetarian options in most of the programs operating in our area were limited. I also wasn’t sure that following a scripted dinner plan would work well for us, but thought it could be neat to help bust occasional food rut boredom. Since then, vegetarian options have started to trickle into mainstream programs.  Stay tuned for updates and perhaps even a few coupons!

Grocery Delivery vs. In Store Shopping Footprint

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