There are many reasons why shopping online for groceries is attractive. It’s convenient, you don’t have to carry tons of shopping bags and it might help you budget better.
And you’re not alone.
Almost half the country, 150 million shoppers, grocery shop online according to Statista. By 2024, the number of online shoppers of grocery products might reach 163 million in the United States, a huge jump since pre-pandemic 2019, which saw only 87 million Americans do so.
“Online shopping can translate to significant time savings, eliminating the need to traverse crowded aisles and wait in long checkout lines. This efficiency not only saves on gas but also reduces wear and tear on your vehicle, translating to potential long-term savings,” said Andrew Latham, a certified financial planner and Director of Content of SuperMoney.com.
Yet, Latham and other experts argue that for all the convenience this provides, there are some instances in which you might not get the best bang for your buck, as there are some grocery items you should never buy online.
The Nuclear Savings Rule: 10 Frugal Living Tips from the 1950s Era
Fresh fruits and vegetables are prime examples of items you might reconsider buying online, according to Latham.
“The primary disadvantage here is the lack of tactile examination. When you pick a ripe avocado or a juicy tomato in person, you’re leveraging years of experience in selecting the best piece,” he said.
Conversely, online, you’re reliant on someone else’s discretion, for instance, you might end up with bruised apples or overripe bananas.
Instead, Latham said to consider supporting local farmers’ markets or community-supported agriculture.
And there is another reason: If you buy fruits and vegetables online weekly and end up discarding 10% due to poor quality, you might be wasting approximately $3 to $5 each week.
“That amounts to $156 to $260 yearly. By shopping in person, you could reduce waste and spend your money more effectively on produce you actually consume,” he said.
Ordering frozen items like ice cream or frozen dinners can be dicey due to potential thawing during transit.
As Latham noted, even if they’re packed in dry ice, there’s the risk of the item partially defrosting and then refreezing, which can compromise quality and safety.
In addition to the health concerns, economically, there’s often a premium on frozen goods online because of the specialized packaging and shipping requirements, he said.
“A better alternative is to buy frozen goods in-store, ensuring they’ve been kept at the right temperature and are safe to consume,” he added. “If you order $15 worth of frozen items online each week and face a 15% premium due to specialized shipping, you’re looking at an extra cost of $2.25 weekly. This totals an additional $117 annually. Buying in-store can help avoid this premium.”
Milk can also be a tricky item to buy online, so you’d better off buying it in stores.
“Since milk expires quickly, the shipping time associated with online orders means you’ll have less time to use it before it goes bad,” said Lindsey Chastain, founder of The Waddle and Cluck. “The exception would be if you can order online and pick up in-store on the same day.”
Meat and Seafood
These items are also better bought in person. “You can’t tell if a cut of meat or fish looks fresh and properly butchered yourself when ordering remotely,” said Chastain. And poor quality or improper packaging can lead to spoilage and wasted money.
“Your best bet is to carefully vet the retailer if you do choose to order meat/seafood online,” she added. The bottom line, she added, is that while online grocery ordering has its perks, freshness and quality control for certain items are best verified in person. “With a combination of strategic in-store and online purchasing, you can maximize both convenience and cost savings,” added Chastain.
Specialized or Artisanal Goods
While shopping online can offer more options for specialized items such as artisanal cheeses, gourmet sausages, or handcrafted chocolates–these are best purchased at specialty stores, according to Latham.
“Here, you can often sample before buying, ensuring you’re getting a product you truly enjoy,” he said. “Even if you only spend $10 weekly on specialized goods online and could save just 10% by buying in-store, through sampling, deals, or avoiding unsatisfactory purchases, you’d save about $52 annually.”
More From GOBankingRates