Attention Online Shoppers: How to Shop for Groceries

Make Smarter Choices When Grocery Shopping Online

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The best and worst thing about shopping for groceries online is that you’re not in the store. There are no long lines, schlepping bags, or broken check-out stations. But there’s also no taste testing, talking to the butcher, or picking out your own perfect tomatoes. To online shop or not to online shop seems to be a very polarizing issue.

A report by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation explores the habits of online grocery shoppers and may also help shine a light on whether or not buying your weekly foodstuffs online is a good away to go.

Online Grocery Shopping Options

More and more grocery stores are offering online shopping services and delivery of groceries to your front door. From Amazon to Stop & Shop and Walmart to Fresh Direct, there are stores willing to deliver to you or arrange for easy parking lot pick up at the store.

Companies like Instacart even allow you to peruse and purchase from several shops with one delivery and one delivery fee. Online accounts allow users to create profiles, select from lists of frequently purchased items, shop sales, and read product reviews.

Most sites charge a delivery fee with discounts available for regular usage. Users select a delivery day and time (usually a 2-hour window). When the food arrives can vary depending on the service. Same and next day delivery is often available but can vary, especially during high traffic times.

Online Grocery Report Highlights

The IFIC report was based on interviews conducted with 1,000 people in early 2018. According to the analysis, shopping for groceries online was second in popularity to shopping for clothes. Participants reported that cost and the time it takes for food to be delivered were the biggest deterrents to online purchases.

The most popular foods purchased online included snack foods, cereals, and canned goods. Perishable items like meat, seafood, dairy, and eggs were the bottom of the list of preferences.

Despite the functionality of clickable nutrition labels for online groceries, only 42 percent of online shoppers are checking the nutrition information before buying those foods. In contrast, when shoppers are in a store, 66 percent of them are reading the labels, checking nutrition facts, and making product comparisons.

“Online shoppers are less likely to look at nutrition information. I think it’s a mix of factors – sometimes it’s not readily available, it may take an extra 'click' to get to the information, and perhaps consumers are shopping online for previously purchased and/or familiar items” says Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, Vice President, Research and Partnerships for IFIC Foundation. “Down the road, it would be great to explore whether consumers are shopping online primarily for previously purchased items and/or new items they’ve never tried before. My hunch is that consumers may be more likely to try new products— and read the labels of those products—while browsing in a brick and mortar store.”

How to Make the Most of Online Grocery Shopping

If you are a loyal online shopper or simply interested in online shopping more often, it would never hurt to sharpen your skills. Here are five tips to make online shopping for foods easier, healthier and more cost-effective.

Check Unit Pricing

The online format makes it very easy to compare pricing on everything from ounces of olive oil to square feet of paper towels. Use the unit pricing and save money on each shopping trip.

Avoid Impulse Buys

It’s a lot easier to resist those potato chips and cookies when you aren’t able to reach out and grab them. Online grocers allow you to plan out meals and stay organized with just a few clicks.

Check Profiles

Just like online dating, every food has a profile page where you can check nutrition facts, allergy information, suggested substitutions (for when it's out of stock) and customer reviews.

Use Customer Service

Use the website contact page to reach customer service reps by phone, email or live chat. If you aren’t happy with an item in your order, let them know.

Most companies are very attentive to customer needs and will refund you if there was a mistake, a food safety issue, or if you simply weren’t satisfied with item quality.

Buy Fresh Produce

Order produce items that can stand up to delivery such as pineapples, oranges, apples, bananas. If the quality doesn’t meet your standards or are not in line with what you would have selected in the store, tell someone and get your money back (see #4).


2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. International Food Information Council. New Research: Evaluating Online Grocery Shopping Trends.

  2. International Food Information Council Foundation. National voter poll. Evaluating online grocery shopping habits.

By Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is an author, registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer, and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc.