The Ultimate Guide to Online Grocery Shopping

A lot of things have changed in the past year. One that’s changed for the better is online grocery shopping. Gone are the days of nonexistent time slots or orders filled with all kinds of crazy substitutions. Today, online food shopping is way more accurate and efficient. And its popularity is soaring. Since 2019, online grocery sales have jumped nearly four-fold, and by 2025 they’re projected to make up 22 percent of all grocery sales.

Yet, as convenient as online ordering may be, it’s hardly foolproof. And it can be expensive. For maximum efficiency—and minimum stress—try these tips.

Get the app. Nutritionists swear by keeping a grocery list for an organized, well-stocked kitchen. The beauty of online grocery shopping is you can skip the pen and paper part and fast forward directly to the shopping. Simply download your favorite store’s app. Then load items directly into your online cart as you meal plan or whenever you’re running low on an ingredient.

Have a substitution strategy. Nothing is more frustrating than getting garlic when you ordered ginger (hello food waste!). “Each online outlet handles substitutions a bit differently and there may be more than one option,” says Shari Steinbach, MS, RDN, a nutrition and culinary communications consultant. “Some stores recommend pre-selecting substitutions while others let you leave notes for each product.” Either way, take advantage of these features so you won’t find the wrong ingredients in your order.

Keep your phone close. Don’t be surprised if you get a call or a text from your shopper. “If you hear from your shopper, respond quickly so they know you’re ready to answer any questions they may have,” says Steinbach. “The faster you can respond, the faster you’ll get your food!” 

Think food safety. In a perfect world your groceries would be selected and packed with care, then stored and delivered quickly so they stay fresh. Sometimes that’s not the case. When you unpack your groceries, do a quick check to make sure everything’s shipshape, suggests Rahaf Al Bochi, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Make sure your produce doesn’t have any bruises, cuts, or mold, inspect food packages to ensure there are no tears or holes, and that cans aren’t dented or rusted,” she says. If you’re experiencing these or other issues, reach out to customer service for a credit.

Consider curbside pickup. Curbside can be a lifesaver during peak times (when delivery slots are scarce) or when you don’t want to fork over a delivery fee. No wonder its popularity has exploded. “Stores are converting entire sections of their parking lots to handle traffic from pickup orders more effectively,” says Steinbach. “Some have actually created ‘dark stores’ designed just for picking up or delivering orders placed online.”

Think beyond the supermarket. Many big box stores and warehouse clubs offer same-day or 2-day delivery. Not only are they frequently less expensive than supermarkets, they also stock lots of other staples. That means fewer shopping runs overall.

Finally, treat your online shoppers well. “Leave them a good rating, a generous tip, and a big thank you,” says Steinbach. 

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