Online grocery shopping is more popular than ever, especially now that social distancing has become a part of our lives. Even if that's abolished soon, the convenience of having your groceries delivered means the service will remain popular. Here's what's on offer in the UK to help you decide which service is the best one for you.
It isn't just supermarkets that sell groceries online in the UK. Here's a quick list of the main ones including a few subscription services that have also become popular choices:
Advantages of online grocery shopping
- Convenience + time-saving
- Mobile apps for shopping at work or on the bus
- Easy to re-order commonly purchased items
If you enjoy slowly browsing the aisles looking for something to inspire your culinary imagination, then online grocery shopping might not be for you.
On the other hand, if the thought of marshalling your kids past inconveniently placed confectionery shelves, all while trying to steer a determinedly wayward shopping trolley fills you with horror, well, online grocery shopping is probably going to be the best choice. Not to mention the fact that you'll save an hour or so of your precious time.
By simply using your laptop, tablet, or smartphone, you can have your groceries picked and delivered directly to your house, at a time slot of your choosing.
The shopping process is made very easy, mainly because you can search as generally or as specifically as you like. There are iOS and Android apps, for all these services meaning you can shop at work, on the bus, or while binge-watching a Netflix boxset on your sofa.
As you add items, the running total helps you keep track of costs. Virtually all services offer a 'favourites' list, generated either by you selecting items manually or by automatically adding the items you buy regularly. Better still, they also tend to let you automatically fill your basket with the items you bought before, so it can be very quick to edit and reorder.
Which online supermarket is best?
The best for you may depend upon where you live. Availability of delivery slots will vary, and you may still find you can't get a slot for a few weeks in particularly busy areas.
Deliveries are usually booked into time slots of two hours, so you don’t have to wait in all day wondering when the chicken for your roast will arrive. The price for these slots does vary, with more popular ones sometimes costing more, but on average you should expect to pay around £4-5.
Most supermarkets have a scheme where you pay a fixed fee per month or year and can then book unlimited deliveries.
In a few cases there’s also the option of a click-and-collect service, which allows you to specific a two-hour window to visit a branch and pick up your shopping. Because of the pandemic, some - including Tesco - have even expanded collection options to warehouse locations not normally open to the public.
- No minimum spend (£4 minimum basket charge)
- Good range
- Discounts for Clubcard users
Tesco isn't the cheapest, but it's one of the most flexible online grocery options. There's no minimum spend, but there is a £4 basket charge for orders under £25.
Delivery charges vary by time of day and how precisely you want it to arrive. A one-hour slot costs £3-7 but it's £1-4 if you go for a flexi-saver slot.
There's also the Delivery Saver subscription that costs £7.99 per month and gives you unlimited 'free' deliveries as long as you spend at least £40, and it also means there's no minimum spend for Click+Collect (usually £25). Tesco will also give you a coupon if you ended up spending more on the subscription than you would have done on deliveries, so you shouldn't lose out.
Tesco’s Clubcard is a real jewel in the crown for the supermarket giant, as the points shoppers accrue for spending money online, physically in-store, or at Tesco petrol stations, all go towards rewards. These include restaurant vouchers that can be tripled in value - so a £5 Clubcard voucher becomes a £15 voucher at Pizza Express.
Tesco relatively new subscription service - Clubcard Plus - which costs £7.99 per month but offers reductions on in-store brands, two 10 percent discounts on 'big shops' in-store each month, plus benefits for Tesco Mobile and Tesco Bank customers. For more details see What is Clubcard Plus?
If you join Tesco Mobile, you can also get Clubcard Plus free for six months.
- Wide variety of groceries
- Smart Pass saves on delivery costs
You might think Ocado is the online version of Waitrose, but no more. It now delivers 5000 Marks & Spencer products to your door.
Delivery costs vary from £2.99 to £6.99 for orders under £75, but over that you might get offered free delivery. Smart Pass is like Tesco's Delivery Saver and is a subscription which costs either £8.99 per month (£89.99 per year) for anytime delivery or £3.99 per month (£39.99 annually) for a Midweek pass.
Not only can it save you money on delivery charges - if you order regularly - but it'll also give you priority for Christmas deliveries and works like a Clubcard, giving you discounts on certain products.
The choice is excellent, ranging from Snack a Jacks to Lily's Kitchen dog food. As you'd expect, you can also get M&S branded items, including bread, Rocky Road and more.
- Value for money essentials
- No minimum spend
As you'd expect, Asda's online prices are low just like they are in-store. So if you're looking for value as well as convenience, Asda could be your top pick.
The choice is very good and the app is easy to use, offering special offers and recipes.
Although there isn't a minimum spend, you'll be charged a £3 delivery fee for orders under £40. Other than that, delivery prices vary from £1 to £7 depending on the slot you choose.
- Unrivaled selection
- Well-designed website
If it's choice you're after, Waitrose is hard to beat. As well as regular groceries, there's Waitrose Florist, Pet, Garden and a dedicated WaitroseCellar website for wine plus an Entertaining section where food can be made to order for your special occasion.
It's not the the cheapest, but price isn't the primary consideration for everyone. There's a £40 minimum spend, but no picking and delivery charge. However, there is a delivery charge from certain stores, and you'll see this above the Total order cost on the confirmation screen.
- 'Green' delivery slots
- Sensible prices
With price matches, price locks and other offers, Sainsbury's can be an affordable destination for online grocery shopping. The selection is wide, and you can even have it delivered same day.
As with others here, the supermarket offers a Delivery Pass subscription, which for a set monthly fee starting at £10 for 3 months of midweek deliveries (Tuesday-Thursday) up to £20 for 3 months of Anytime, allows you to lower the amount you spend on the van turning up at your door.
There's a minimum spend of £40, but you can make lower-value orders: you'll simply be charged the delivery price for that slot instead of getting it included with your Delivery Pass.
- Fresh produce at affordable prices
- Food boxes
Morrissons offers a good range of groceries and also has handy Food Boxes that you can order quickly for special occasions or even as a gift. There are subscription options such as '5 meals to feed a family of 4' as well as treats such as the Afternoon Tea box.
For your standard weekly shop, there's a minimum spend of £40 and delivery charges are competitive with others here - the average delivery cost is £3.89. There's also the Delivery Pass which works like others: there are Anytime and Midweek options, and the longer you subscribe for, the more you save. Just note that there's a minimum spend of £40 for any delivery.
Amazon Fresh & Morrisons on Amazon
- Same-day delivery
- Multiple storefronts to shop in
Depending on where you live, the Amazon Fresh service might also be available. As the name suggests, Fresh provides fresh food – bread, milk, fruit, vegetables, meats, etc. – straight to your door. The service highlights the fact that it offers products from suppliers local to you (hence the restricted coverage).
The service is free for Amazon Prime members and orders above £40 also qualify for free same-day two-hour delivery.
Those who shop at Morrisons can even get same-day delivery via its dedicated Amazon Fresh store-front, though you do need to be an Amazon Prime member to use the service.
See our full coverage of Morrisons on Amazon.
HelloFresh, OddBox & others
Options such as HelloFresh not only provide a recipe but also send a box of all the ingredients you'll need. Don't worry, meat and dairy are kept cool with ice packs.
Tech Advisor readers can use voucher code HELLOTECH50 for 50% off the first box and 35% off the next three boxes. (New customers only, expires 31/12/2021).
Sustainable alternatives such as OddBox home deliver locally grown, seasonal fruits vegetables that have been rejected from major grocery stores for being miss-shapen.
If you're just after booze and you're in a hurry, have a look at Wineapp. It stocks 800 fine wines plus beers and spirits and can deliver them to your door in as little as 20 minutes.
Take advantage of incentives
The chances are you have probably already developed some kind of affiliation with a supermarket brand and shop regularly at one location. This could be due to the fact it’s nearby, offers good parking, has the foods you prefer, or you align yourself with its values.
Supermarket apps and websites are simply extensions of the physical shops, so if you shop at Waitrose because you perceive it to offer higher quality produce than its rivals, then all you are changing by going online is your delivery method.
If this is the case then it’s probably sensible to continue your allegiance as you may well already be in some kind of loyalty scheme. Those willing to break ranks though could find it advantageous as there are some good incentives available to new customers of other outlets including big discounts and vouchers for first-time shoppers.
Loyalty and reward schemes
One of the perks of using a particular supermarket is a rewards program. You can collect points in store of course, but it’s also very much a part of the online experience, especially when you want to exchange your Clubcard, Nectar, or similar vouchers for products or days out.
Sainsbury’s offers Nectar points for its customers, and again this applies to online, in-store, or at the petrol pump. These can be exchanged for discounts or items on eBay and other vendors. The company has also improved this feature by introducing a new smartphone app for Nectar that will store any points gained when using Sainsbury's shops either in-store or online. It also tailors special offers to your spending habits and makes it easier to spend your points.
Waitrose has a novel approach, in that there are no points to be collected in its My Waitrose initiative, instead customers can get instant rewards via the app, including discounts on particular lines, free prizes, 20% off fish products on Fridays, and even a free cup of tea or coffee when you visit the store and buy something.
So which online supermarket is best?
All of the major supermarkets offer a huge range of produce which mirrors that of their physical stores. With a quarter of all grocery shopping in the UK now conducted online it’s obvious that the brands see how important this market has become, hence the excellent websites on show. So really the choice comes down to your personal preference, as their prices and selection reflect the bricks-and-mortar stores.
As mentioned, the choice may come down to where you live and the options open to you. It can be worth taking advantage of the 'new customer' deals offered by most of them.
Not only will this save you money, but you’ll also be able to sample the various outlets and decide for yourself which one has the best balance of products, rewards, and service for your needs. Before you give your loyalty to one brand, you owe it to yourself to sample the wares on offer and make a few savings along the way. As one of these companies says, every little helps.