Saving Money at the Grocery Store Online Vs. IRL

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If you've dreamed of a future when you could get literally everything you need to survive delivered right to your door, eliminating all reasons to leave the house and interact with other humans, then good news: The future is now. Or, if you're not looking to become a hermit, but just find that between work, family, and trying to maintain something resembling a social life, you barely have time left to run basic errands, then still good news, regarding the whole "future is now" thing.


Is that a gallon of ranch dressing?

Today, you can complete almost every errand, short of haircuts and medical appointments, online from the comfort of your own home — and this includes grocery shopping. But, as we all know, "can" isn't always the same as "should." Is actually better (and, most importantly, cheaper) to forgo physically going to the grocery store? Let's break it down.


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Comparison shopping

Comparison shopping is a key element in bargain hunting. Even when no sales are involved, the price of a single item can vary greatly from store-to-store. No matter how you choose to grocery shop, comparing prices across different stores is key to boosting your bank account.

Online: Shopping online makes comparison shopping very easy, not just across brands, but across stores. Amazon Prime Pantry,, NetGrocer, and are just some of the top sites for online grocery shopping. If you're looking to get the most for your money, consider creating shopping carts across several sites and tailoring your purchases so that you spend the least amount possible on everything on your list.


In-Store: If you prefer to do your grocery shopping IRL, there are still ways to use technology to make comparison shopping easy. Apps, like Smoopa, let you check prices for items across different stores (and websites). And, of course, if you still receive a weekly paper, you can compare sales at your local groceries and plan your shopping accordingly.

Impulse buys

Americans spend millions a year on impulse purchases. According to a poll conducted by, five out of six Americans admit to impulse shopping. The poll revealed that impulse buys are much more common in brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, a whopping 79 percent of impulse purchases were made in-store. Another 13 percent were made on computers, and only 6 percent were made on mobile devices (the remaining one percent were vaguely described as being made through "other" means).


Online: While sites like Amazon and might entice you with suggestions based on previous searches and purchases, if you're shopping on a site dedicated to grocery items, the likelihood of stumbling upon a "must-have" that's not on your list is minimal.

In-Store: Shopping in-person opens you to up to a lot more opportunities to impulse shop. In fact, stores are designed to entice you to do just that — it's why endcap displays and the shelves of candy and magazines at the checkout line exist. In addition to the displays that are purposefully meant to make you crave something you don't need, shopping in-person involves an element of browsing that doesn't exist online. And since, in spite of ample research proving what a bad idea it is, many Americans continue to grocery shop while hungry, the chances of buying food you don't need (and don't really want, when you aren't starving) goes up even more.



When you think of saving on necessities like groceries, you probably think very quickly of coupons. For previous generations, this meant clipping physical coupons from the newspaper, but in 2016 couponing takes many, many more forms.

Online: If you do your shopping online, using coupons means using discount codes. Most millennials are used to searching for codes that offer free shipping or a percentage off when buying clothes or electronics or even ordering a pizza. Chrome users can install the Honey plugin to automatically search for coupon codes at checkout. Coupons at Checkout works similarly and is compatible with Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. The Sidekick extension works with with Chrome, Safari, IE, and Firefox and also points out deals when you're shopping online.


In-Store: In-store shoppers have access to a lot of coupons too. In addition to doing a good old-fashioned search of the Sunday newspaper, you'll find that most major grocery chains have coupons available on their websites. These can be saved to your phone to show the cashier at checkout and many chains even allow users to create an account and load their desired coupons right onto their membership card, meaning the discounts will be automatically applied to qualified purchases.

Time and convenience:

When determining the least costly option, it's important to factor in time and convenience. While these might not be easily boiled down to concrete figures, they're very important when creating a budget.


Online: Online shopping can be quick and convenient. Websites might save your shopping list, let you set automatic reorders on products that you use regularly (and even give you a discount for doing so), and of course, don't require you to leave your house at all. The convenience of online shopping is a huge factor for many people, particularly those who find themselves too busy to run a lot of errands every week.

In Real Life: Shopping in-store can, naturally, be more time-consuming, but, it offers another kind of convenience: Instant gratification. If you're cooking dinner and realize you're missing an ingredient, a trip to the store will be faster than even Prime shipping. And, if you're the kind of person who values picking out your produce by hand, then the extra costs associated with shopping in-person might be a worthwhile trade-off.

In the end, where and how you choose to shop will be determined by your personality, lifestyle, and specific needs. But, if moving your grocery shopping experience online fits in with those needs, you might just find that it saves you a lot of time and, of course, money.

You like money, right?