5 Costly Online Grocery Ordering Mistakes You’re Making

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Not surprisingly, 2020 was a breakout year for the online grocery segment. The realities of the pandemic led tens of millions of Americans to do something they had never done before — buy groceries online. And why not? That’s the way they’d been buying everything else for years. Now the virus is receding, but for many of the newly converted who discovered a supermarket in their laptops, there will be no going back. 

Buying in Bulk: What To Buy and Skip
Read: 30 Ways Shopping Will Never Be the Same After the Coronavirus

According to eMarketer, 2021 will be the year that online grocery shopping moves from the trial phase to standard operating procedure for millions who dabbled for the first time last year. Online grocery sales are expected to exceed $100 billion this year for the first time ever — that’s 12.4% of America’s total e-commerce sales. Year-over-year percentage gains will be in the high teens until sales approach $188 billion in 2024.

If you experimented for the first time in 2020 when supermarkets became places of anxiety and danger, or if you’re considering joining the growing herd for the first time right now, chances are good that you’re making or are about to make a few money-wasting rookie errors. Here are five mistakes to avoid.

Last updated: Sept. 29, 2021

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You’re Ordering During Peak Hours

Some delivery services tack on a surcharge for customers who order during their busiest times. What they charge varies by location, time and how swamped they happen to be. Instacart, for example, charges “busy pricing fees,” and that’s on top of a sliding-scale pricing system that charges more the longer it takes for professional shoppers to gather what you need. Busy pricing fees vary, but can quickly send a $4-$8 delivery charge into double-digits. Find out when your service of choice is busiest and avoid ordering during those times. That tends to be from 4-9 p.m. on weekdays, when people like to order after work, and on weekends, particularly Sunday nights.

Check Out: Your Step-by-Step Guide To Spend Less and Get More When Grocery Shopping

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You’re Not Taking Advantage of Membership Offers

You must be a Prime member to order groceries through Amazon Fresh. That’s a fee of $119 per year or $12.99 per month. Other services, however, let anyone order and offer membership as an option. Walmart Grocery, for example, charges $7.95 or $9.95 per delivery, but Walmart+ members get free delivery as part of their $98 annual or $12.95 monthly fee. Instacart Express members enjoy free delivery, too, instead of $3.99 and up for non-Express service. Also, Express members don’t pay busy pricing fees. 

Only you know if you order frequently enough to justify the cost of membership, but even if you’re close, consider that free delivery is only one of the perks no matter which service you join.

See: Is a Costco Membership Worth It? Here’s a Breakdown

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You’re Paying Extra Delivery Fees

Amazon Fresh is free with a Prime membership. That free Prime delivery you’ve gotten so used to, however, only applies to groceries if your order meets the minimum price threshold of $35. Anything less and you’ll pay a $10 fee — that’s a 40% surcharge on a $25 order. Similarly, members of Target’s Shipt service enjoy free delivery on orders over $35 but pay $7 for smaller orders.

This kind of policy is the industry rule, not the exception. Pricing structures vary from service to service, but in most cases, you can expect to pay more if you don’t make sure to order enough to satisfy the minimum price threshold.

Find Out: How Much Should You Tip Your Delivery Driver?

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You’re Not Using Coupons and Discount Codes

Just because you can’t use paper coupons when you order groceries online doesn’t mean you have to pay full price. The coupon situation varies considerably from service to service, so it’s important to know exactly what you have to do to take advantage of discounts while you shop.

Target’s grocery delivery service Shipt, for example, takes the guesswork out of it by alerting you to promo codes and other discounts as you go. Instacart automatically applies manufacturer’s coupons where eligible. Kroger lets you apply digital coupons to delivery orders. The point is, there’s a whole lot of inconsistency across the industry, but also a whole lot of money to be saved if you take the time to understand your service’s coupon protocols.

Discover: 30 Things You Should Never Buy Without a Coupon

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You’re Choosing Beauty Contest Produce

Every single day, farmers are forced to throw away a shameful amount of fresh produce because it doesn’t meet the cosmetic standards of their clients in the grocery store business. Straight bananas. Curvy carrots. Apples with dimples. These “Island of Misfit Toys” fruits and vegetables are just as fresh, flavorful and nutritious as their more photogenic siblings who make the cut for the supermarket shelves — and you can have them delivered to your door for a steep discount.

If you’re not hung up on looks, you can save as much as 40% on fresh organic produce from companies like Misfits Market and Imperfect Foods, which keep perfectly good food out of landfills while letting you keep more money in your pocket.