How to Make the Most of Your Online Grocery Delivery

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If you’re like so many of us (myself included), you’re probably ordering your groceries online and having them delivered a lot more now — and maybe for the first time ever.

Online grocery delivery has always been really, really convenient. But now? Well, I’ve never been more grateful for my Instacart shopper.

But there is an art to ordering groceries online — and planning a whole week or two of meals out when you’re not entirely certain what’s going to actually be in stock.

Plus, there are other things to consider. Like: what’s appropriate for a tip right now (spoiler: it’s likely more than you were tipping before the pandemic), and should you allow your shopper to pick a replacement item for you?

To answer all of those questions and more, we hit up Consumer Analyst Julie Ramhold with DealNews.com. Whether you’ve been doing online grocery delivery for years or just started, we bet you’ll learn something!

FBG: What are your best tips for making sure you order everything you need?

Julie Ramhold: Make your grocery list ahead of time, and don’t do any last minute shopping. Plan ahead so that you spend a few days making a list of everything you want and need, and then place your order online to lessen the chance you’ll forget about something. If it helps, consider meal planning as well as that’ll help build your list, but also make sure you have plenty of “real” food to eat and you don’t end up with just a bunch of junk food.

Take your time shopping. It can feel daunting right now, and you might be afraid of losing your delivery time because of how popular online grocery shopping is, but it should be easier in most places to get a delivery now. Many delivery companies have hired extra shoppers to handle the demand, so someone should be available. Even though you might feel a little frantic, taking your time to fill your cart will ensure you don’t forget anything.

Don’t assume if you can’t see it, it’s not there. Often the online grocery portals only have so many options available, but if you’re looking for something in particular, many of them (if not all) offer you the chance to put in a special request. So if you don’t initially see what you need, you absolutely can put in a special request for your shopper to look for the item. For instance, we recently ordered a birthday cake from Costco by asking our shopper to check the bakery area.

What are some common mistakes that people make when ordering groceries online?

Stocking up on comfort food. Things are weird right now, and a jumbo pack of Oreos sounds like a great idea, but you need to remember to eat healthy stuff, too. Even if you don’t like having someone else choose produce for you, try to go for something that is a little more forgiving, like broccoli or bananas to make sure you’re not just subsisting off junk food.

Not making it worthwhile. Right now, shoppers are less likely to be running to the store for a quick stop, so even if you only need a few things, it’s worth checking your pantry to see if there are other things you can stock up on. Maybe you don’t really need more dried pasta, but it lasts so long and can be made into many other dishes that it might be worth picking up some extra, just in case.

Not picking replacements. Inventories are still low in some places, and some things are still selling out super fast even when they are restocked, so it’s important to choose replacement options when you online shop. You might not want anything different, and it’s fine to say not to replace everything, but be careful so that you don’t find yourself receiving a very tiny order because you didn’t look for alternatives.

What are some healthy and budget-friendly items that are readily available that you recommend people buy?

Produce is still fairly available, especially things like broccoli, bananas, and summer squash. These can all be used to up your intake of fruits and veggies right now when they might be lacking.

Dried whole-wheat or veggie pasta are both good picks, and seem to be readily available in most major stores. Not only can you hold on to it for long periods of time, but it can be a healthier alternative to regular dried pasta.

Do you have any national grocery delivery services or apps you recommend or like best?

I’ve personally been using Instacart a lot, but Shipt is also a popular option. I enjoy being able to watch my shopper go through my list and chat with them right from the app to add something last minute or make a replacement.

Any tips for snagging bleach wipes or disinfectant spray?

Check with office supply stores. When toilet paper was selling out faster than it could be stocked, office supply stores were some of the few that still had stock. Even though some grocery stores are able to keep those items in stock now, if you’re having trouble definitely look to Office Depot Office Max and Staples to see if they have any on the shelves.

What’s appropriate for tipping for grocery delivery?

I would lean towards tipping higher, especially right now. I tend to tip 20 percent no matter what I’m having delivered, so I would think that’s a healthy tip, but at least try to go no lower than 10 percent.

Anything else we should know?

Don’t shop hungry. Even though you’re online and the food isn’t readily in front of you, it’ll still be appealing and you can easily overspend.

Have you been ordering groceries online more? How has it been for you? I’ve had a couple of experiences that were far from ideal (once they literally lost more than half of our order and it took three phone calls to sort it out), but mostly it’s been great. The last time I ordered Aldi via Instacart our shopper even sorted our food into frozen, fridge, and pantry items. Talk about going above and beyond! (And, yep, we tipped extra well for that!) –Jenn

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