The Cost of Convenience: The Pros and Cons of Having Groceries Delivered

Sometimes you just don't have time to go to the grocery store, or you aren't in the mood to deal with the crowds. Or maybe you find grocery shopping to be unpleasant no matter what--stores have gotten enormous, and they're set up to intentionally lead you on a wild goose chase for the items on your list, in the hopes that you'll pick up lots of impulse purchases on the way.

Having groceries delivered is a option in many major cities, but it can carry a hefty premium. After my most recent delivery purchase, where I ended up with three small bags of food for $70 (without buying organic), I had to wonder how much money my aversion to grocery stores might be costing me, and whether the convenience was really worth it. If you've been wondering the same thing, the following list of pros and cons may help you make an informed decision.

Delivery Pros:
-Saving time that could be spent on more productive activities.
-Avoiding impulse purchases. While it's just as easy to come across items not on your list when shopping online, it can be easier to resist something when it's a mere image on a screen as opposed to something you can actually pick up. Some delivery services don't even sell impulse items like gum and mints that people toss into their carts in the checkout line. It's also easier to remove unwanted items from an online cart than from a physical cart. Few people want to deal with the hassle of returning items to different locations around the store, or the embarrassment of handing the cashier several items that they've changed their minds about, especially when it comes to perishables like ice cream or meat.
-Knowing your subtotal as you go along. Few people add up the cost of their groceries as they are shopping--there are simply too many other things to think about. As a result, it's all too easy to spend more than you intended. When you can watch your subtotal online as you shop, it's easy to stay within your budget.
-Avoiding the possible stress that comes from leaving the comfort of your home. Whether grocery shopping is stressful, of course, depends on factors like traffic, time of day, familiarity with the store you're shopping at, and your personality.

Delivery cons:
-Paying higher everyday prices and missing out on in-store sales.
-Inability to use coupons.
-Decreased selection.
-Having to be home in the specific timeframe when the groceries are scheduled for delivery.
-The security risks involved in letting a stranger into your home to deliver the groceries.
-Grocery delivery services charge delivery fees. On top of that, you are also often expected to tip, which can easily add a premium of $10 or more to even a modest purchase.
-Online inventories are not always accurate, which means that you sometimes unexpectedly won't receive an item you've ordered, whereas if you were at the store, you could have substituted it. Smaller grocery delivery services often don't have the resources to offer any substitutions. Larger services may offer to substitute items for you according to your preferences (same size, different brand or same brand, different size). However, automatic substitutions can't take into account things like if they're out of brownies, you'd prefer cupcakes. Incorrect online inventory is probably the most frequent problem I encounter when having groceries delivered.

Overall, I think I would have saved about $20 by actually going to the store for my last purchase instead of having it delivered. However, I might have used some of that money to make impulse purchases, which would have reduced my savings (but would have given me more food for the same amount of money).

$20 is a significant amount of money to waste, but there are a few situations where I think it's not such a bad thing, assuming you have the disposable income:

-You are home sick and don't have the energy to go to the store.
-You're on a strict diet and need to avoid the temptations of the junk food aisles at the store.
-Getting groceries delivered frees up your weekend, allowing you a rare errand-free weekend in which to relax.
-Time is money, and the time you would have spent going to the store could be put to another use that is worth the extra cost of delivery. This one is especially applicable to those who bill by the hour for their work.
-You just had a bad day and want to make your life a little less stressful.

As you can see from the pros and cons, grocery deliveries will make more sense for some than for others. Hopefully, these lists will help you make an informed decision about whether this service is a good deal for you or not. For me, is usually makes more sense to go to the store, but when I'm feeling particularly busy or stressed out, I don't mind paying a premium to save time, avoid the chaos of the grocery store, and have someone else lug the groceries to my doorstep. What's your take? Have you ever had groceries delivered? Do you have a favorite delivery service? Is it worth the extra cost?

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