Rating online grocers
September 23, 2017
Grocery delivery services are an absolute lifesaver when you just don’t have the time to get to the store. It is amazing what you can get delivered to your door: prepared foods that are actually good, meal kits, fresh produce, and anything you need for the pantry.
Early this year, I was living in a different city during the week, and coming home just for the weekend. I was beyond exhausted, from the driving, the working, trying to keep two places in order and living out of a suitcase. During these months, I tried all the online grocery options available to me: Amazon Fresh, Fresh Direct, and Shoprite. They all have their pros and cons, but overall, the state of online grocery shopping is not where it needs to be to make it my go-to during normal times. Not yet.
On the positive side, I no longer have to lug heavy water bottles, dog food or mega packs of paper towels and toilet paper from the grocery store. It’s Amazon Prime, all the way. I am very happy not to have had to visit a pet store in over a year.
Below are my ratings for Amazon Prime, Fresh Direct and Shoprite, across 6 key areas.
The waste factor
Amazon gets the F in this category. My last delivery came in huge insulated totes that were ridiculously under packed, and filled with excessive amounts of padding, cold packs, and dry ice (which burns if you touch it, as I found). It took me over 40 minutes to break the totes down- they are filled with hard sided padded panels to keep them sturdy, as well as bags and bags of dry ice and ice packs, all of which have to go in the sink to melt before you can empty them. When I had completely emptied the bags- my sink was full to the top with these packets. It was a ludicrous amount of waste. And worse, they’d sent an excessive number of totes. Three of them had only a product or two inside- with all that padding and cold packs on top. One had a single bag of frozen peas in it. Another had a bunch of asparagus. In another tote, they’d packed heavy 12 packs of drinks on top of cereal boxes, crushing them. When I called in about this, Amazon said that machines pack the bags, so sometimes the logic is a bit off. I’ll say. Below, a few images of the debris.
After this debacle, I actually called to ask Amazon to cancel my Fresh membership.
Fresh Direct uses cardboard boxes- bulky, but easy enough to break down and recycle. Shoprite gets the A for using regular grocery bags without any excess packaging.
Time slot availability
This is one of my pet peeves with all of them. I learned the hard way to check for delivery slots before spending the time to fill my cart. To achieve true convenience, these services need to make quicker delivery available, and more time slots available in general in the near term. The true convenience would be to realize on Friday or Saturday that I don’t have time to shop, and to be able to get a slot for the next day. In reality- the best case scenario on a Friday is to get a Sunday 8-10pm delivery slot. You really have to think ahead, which isn’t always possible- and if you’re out of food for the weekend, it doesn’t help. On the upside, if you do plan ahead- you can set a time slot by putting anything in your cart ahead of time, and then you’re given until a certain time the night before (11pm with Fresh Direct) to modify the order. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to anticipate running out of time to get to the store. If these services could do same day or next day delivery on demand, that would be the A+.
Fresh Direct was the best on this. I never had to throw anything out. Sometimes I would get something a bit unripe, but it was never too far gone. With both Amazon and Shoprite, I’d actually have to throw things away or call them to get credited for bad produce. Not terrible, most of the time, but not consistently great, either.
Aside from produce and meat, for the most part, they’re all good here. Fresh Direct is the one I’m most comfortable ordering meat from, and they have by far the best prepared food options. I wasn’t impressed with Amazon’s- and the options weren’t great- often, the meat wouldn’t be available for the delivery slot. Shoprite’s was consistently ok. I find if I ask for the organic, it’s always best, vs. leaving the choice to them.
Ease of use
Fresh Direct is the clear winner for ease of shopping. The navigation is clear and easy to use, the search is great, and best yet- I can fill my cart with the items from my last order and edit from there. Amazon’s navigation and search were good, but it always took me longer. Shoprite’s was terrible- every time I went to the site, I’d have to work at just finding my local Shoprite location to order from- it never remembered me. And they don’t deliver in my area-they shop, but you have to pick it up.
When something goes wrong- they are all responsive and customer centric- quick to credit you if something wasn’t good or right. Amazon went the extra mile, and put $ in my account as an appeasement when I called to complain about the ridiculous packaging and crushed groceries. The agents were always quick to answer, friendly, and accommodating.
So what’s next?
Ideally, online grocers will scale to accept orders on a shorter delivery window- this is what they need to do to make it a true convenience, and what’s needed to make customers like me return again and again. I don’t trust them to be there for me when I need them, because I can never get the time slot I want. This is the key reason I don’t use them except when I absolutely can’t get to the store. With Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, I’m hopeful they will find a way to deliver locally more easily, directly from Whole Foods- competing with Fresh Direct on quality, and beating them on speed to home. I would also like to see them get more efficient with the packaging. To become my go-to, it can’t be a project to unpack and break down packaging and recycling. I don’t want to create that much waste, and hopefully they don’t either. Online grocery shopping is one of the most amazing conveniences of online retail, but there’s work to be done to get it right.