Here's How Much Grocery Delivery Costs vs. Shopping In-Store
We compared grocery prices from Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect with a major national supermarket. The final tally was a shocker.
David WatskySenior Editor / Home and Kitchen
David lives in Brooklyn where he's logged more than a decade writing about all things edible, including meal kits and meal delivery subscriptions, cooking, kitchen gear and commerce. Since earning a BA in English from Northeastern in Boston, he's toiled in nearly every aspect of the eats business from slicing and dicing as a sous-chef in Rhode Island to leading complex marketing campaigns for major food brands in Manhattan. These days, he's likely somewhere trying the latest this or tasting the latest that - and reporting back, of course. Anything with sesame is his all-time favorite food this week.
ExpertiseKitchen tech, cookware, small appliances, food innovation, meal delivery and meal kits.
Grocery delivery is a clear time saver versus roaming the aisles and buying your eats online offers convenience aplenty. So all of this ease of use must come at a big fat cost to the shopper, right? Could buying your weekly provisions online actually be a money-saver, too?
As a fan of having more time and less hassle -- a perfect candidate for grocery delivery -- I was curious and pulled out my calculator to find out. I priced out a typical grocery list from Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect (Northeast only) to see how they compared in total cost to a brick-and-mortar supermarket chain. It turns out, grocery delivery isn't much more expensive than doing the shopping yourself.
New online grocery delivery services are popping up every year, from big national operations to more niche services with a curated inventory. You can have your entire weekly food order delivered, and operations such as Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect will send everything from fresh produce and seafood to pantry items and paper goods, often on the same day. Because of membership and delivery fees, you might think having groceries delivered is more expensive, but the final tallies were remarkably close. In fact, buying groceries online is probably cheaper when you factor in gas money.
I used average-priced supermarket Stop & Shop to compare
There are dozens of grocery chains around the country that vary greatly in overall cost. For the sake of this exercise, I chose Stop & Shop, which is right in the middle; not known for being overly pricey like Wegman's or Acme, but also not in the budget or wholesale category with Costco and Walmart.
Before looking at any prices, I generated a list of 39 popular groceries items -- some name brands, some generic -- in every category from eggs and dairy to bread and snacks, produce, meat, fish and pantry staples. I mostly avoided organic foods and specialty items and chose the cheapest available option from all three retailers: Stop & Shop, FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh.
If something wasn't available at one retailer, I selected the next closest item, since that's what an average shopper might do. Amazon Fresh doesn't stock boneless chicken thighs, for instance, so I chose chicken breast and added the same price-per-pound cost. This issue didn't come up more than twice.
FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh also have either a membership or delivery fee to consider along with (optional) tipping (more on that later), so I included those figures in the final tally.
I did not include the fuel cost required to travel to and from a brick-and-mortar grocery store, since there is no one-size-fits-all formula. There is also the consideration of time and hassle required to shop in person. But, again, this is not something one can easily quantify in monetary terms.
So is buying groceries online cheaper than in person?
After tallying the grocery cost for my order with all three retailers, the results were remarkably similar. See below for a breakdown of the differences in cost including membership and delivery fees for both.
Is Fresh Direct cheaper than a grocery store?
The FreshDirect total amounted to $198.27, just $1.63 more than Stop & Shop (but with no trip to the store, time spent shopping or money spent on gas). If you subscribe to FreshDirect's DeliveryPass, the total would be more like $194 and a few bucks cheaper than Stop & Shop. FreshDirect was the cheapest before fees and only slightly more than Stop & Shop with the $10 tip and $6 delivery charge added.
Amazon Fresh was the priciest, clocking in at $208.63 for the same 39 items including the $15 monthly Prime membership fee and a $10 driver tip. If you already have Prime and don't consider that an "extra" cost, Amazon Fresh would fall to the cheapest at $193.63.
Amazon Fresh is available only to those with a Prime membership which costs $15 a month or $139 per year. Prime members used to get free delivery on grocery orders over $35 but no longer. Orders under $50 cost $10 for delivery while orders between $50 and $100 cost $7, and orders between $100 and $150 cost $4. Orders over $150 qualify for free delivery.
Amazon Prime will also get you a subscription to Prime Video along with free two-day shipping on Amazon proper, plus other secret perks. Amazon Fresh also offers free pickup at Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh locations, depending on your proximity to those stores.
FreshDirect has two delivery fee options: You can pay $6 per individual delivery, or sign up for DeliveryPass, which gets you unlimited free deliveries. A year of DeliveryPass is $129. There are also two six-month DeliveryPass options: One allows for deliveries seven days a week for $79, while the other limits deliveries to Tuesday through Thursday but costs just $39.
If you were to order groceries every week and choose the cheapest delivery plan (Tuesday to Thursday only) you would pay just $1.50 per week, or $1.50 per delivery depending on how you look at it.
Is it easy to shop for groceries online?
Shopping for groceries online was incredibly simple and intuitive. I liked being able to peruse the items carefully and research anything I was curious about. I also appreciated being able to see my entire order and total cost before making a final purchase, a luxury that in-person grocery shopping doesn't afford.
For the most part, I found every item I was looking for. Stop & Shop, FreshDirect and Amazon Prime stock a lot of the same brands, but not all of the same brands, and so I wasn't always able to find the exact same item at all three. Amazon also has its own proprietary brand Amazon Fresh alongside Whole Foods' 365 brands, since it acquired the upscale supermarket chain in 2017.
Surprisingly, Amazon Fresh was the only grocery retailer that didn't have some of the items on my list including boneless chicken thighs, and so I had to find a like alternative. Amazon also didn't have a few popular brands like Thomas' English muffins, so I opted for a lesser-known muffin brand called Bay's.
For me, personally, FreshDirect had the best overall selection of items, beating out both Amazon Fresh and Stop & Shop. But slight differences aside, you should be able to find just about anything you're looking for on a regular basis at all three retailers.
One small annoyance I've had with FreshDirect is the accumulation of reusable bags since the service won't pick them up. A spokesperson for the company alerted me to a donation program they've set up with local charities and nonprofits that need them.
You can't squeeze a peach online
The biggest downside of buying groceries online is that you can't judge produce, meats and other fresh foods with your eyes (or hands). In my experience, what I've received from FreshDirect in the dozens of orders I've placed have been up to snuff with no spoiled, bruised or overripe foods. The same can be said for my experience with Amazon Fresh, although I've used this service less.
Buying groceries online is still my pick for value and convenience
That said, it's hard to deny the convenience of getting all your groceries ordered in minutes and delivered in a day -- sometimes hours. For those looking to grab some time back during the week, ordering groceries online is a major convenience and by my calculations, won't cost you any more than making a trip to the supermarket.
Other options for buying groceries online
Instacart is a popular national delivery service and functions as a third-party shopper and delivery outfit that allows you to order groceries from a selection of local supermarkets. You'll essentially be paying the same prices as if you visited the store yourself, plus a $4 delivery fee and tip.
I've used Instacart and like it fine, but there is a process by which you must respond to your shopper in real-time through the app while they're filling your order and consent to replacements for items that aren't in stock (and there are always items not in stock). It can be distracting, time-consuming and even stressful -- although it's still a time-saver over shopping yourself.
Hungryroot is another grocery delivery operation, but it functions a bit differently than the others. With this subscription service, you'll get weekly deliveries of curated groceries based on your preferences and eating habits. Hungryroot gives meal kit suggestions and will send you the ingredients to make them if you so choose. You can always ditch the meal kits or any other items you don't want and swap them for groceries you do want using a credit system. The service ultimately is designed to inspire new recipes and introduce new grocery items to your weekly routine.
Hungryroot doesn't have nearly as many grocery item options as the three stores I compared above, but it does have a full stock of meat, dairy, fish, produce, pantry goods and just about anything else you'd typically get from a supermarket.
I tested the hybrid grocery service and meal kit company in June and liked it a lot. Below is the cost for my week of groceries versus buying them from a local supermarket. You can read more in my full review of Hungryroot.
Hungryroot total: $120
Groceries if purchased separately: $107
Even more online grocery options: Thrive Market, Boxed.com
There are other smaller online grocery services available including Thrive Market and Boxed.com. I found both the retailers to be quite limited and not a full substitution for your typical grocery run.
Thrive Market, for instance, has lots of high-quality and organic meats but no produce or dairy products. Membership-only Boxed.com is a good place to find dry goods, pantry items and paper products at low prices but it also lacks the fresh foods you generally buy at a market.