Grocery delivery services are nothing new.
However, the widespread shutdowns in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic funneled a massive number of new customers into all kinds of food delivery services, including grocery delivery.
Grocery services struggled at the beginning of the pandemic to keep up with this surge in demand, but the services also took advantage of the demand to innovate.
With the widespread shutdowns, people still needed to find a way to eat and buy other household goods.
This helped drive delivery times down and the customer experience up.
These days, the options include plenty of innovative start-up companies, as well as traditional grocers who have managed to adapt.
Hopefully, this innovation will last.
As more people take advantage of the flexibility of remote work, the sedan or SUV they were making payments on, which was needed for the commute, may become expendable (along with that car payment).
Without a commute, that quick stop by the grocery store on the way home also becomes obsolete, and for many, schedules have shifted away from regular work hours.
So, even as we manage to return to some normalcy in our lives, there are plenty of attractive reasons to consider using a grocery delivery service to help keep us fed.
Table Of Contents
What Are Grocery Delivery Services
Utilizing a grocery delivery service promises to save time by reducing the number of trips you need to take to the store.
Each delivery service, though, accomplishes that task a little differently.
Personal shopping services offered through standalone services like Instacart or grocery chains like Safeway allow customers to shop from the available items they would see on local grocery shelves.
These personal shopping services send shoppers to pick the actual items off the store shelves and deliver them to you.
This can help ensure that produce is fresh (assuming your shopper knows how to select good produce) and ice cream stays cold (if you’re not too far away from the store).
Also, customers can order from the selection of groceries they are accustomed to buying from their local store.
With this convenience comes the possibility that the store is out of stock on that favorite item, and the substitutions may be limited.
Services like Amazon Fresh and FreshDirect utilize centralized warehouses to fulfill grocery orders rather than picking items off a shelf at an actual brick-and-mortar store.
This can have environmental benefits by lowering the total trips needed from farm to table.
The warehouse, however, is probably quite a bit further than your nearest grocery store.
Some grocery selections may be a little unfamiliar at first.
For the added convenience of cutting down meal prep time, some services can help with meal planning for your family.
Meal box services are on the rise and reduce the time to plan and prepare meals for busy families and allow for easy adherence to strict dietary plans.
How To Choose a Grocery Delivery Service
The competitiveness of the services and variety of delivery options available today has provided benefits to the customer by increasing the convenience, selection, and value of buying groceries.
But, with so many grocery delivery companies offering different services, choosing which delivery service is suitable for your household has become more complicated.
Many services provide (and some require) a subscription plan.
Each plan offers different benefits, complicating things further.
To help simplify the process of comparing services and choosing a plan, here are some areas to focus on:
1. Consider Your Current Grocery Spending
It’s challenging to determine which service may be more cost-effective if you don’t have a decent grasp on where your grocery money currently goes.
Checking your first delivery service order against receipts from your pre-delivery grocery trips can help you compare costs and evaluate the benefits.
Keep focused on your own needs and budget goals.
This can help you from indulging in some of the bells and whistles these services are beginning to offer.
2. Evaluate Which Services You Already Have, and Which You’d Like To Join
Your existing memberships are worth keeping in mind, even if you decide to use other services.
For example, ordering through Amazon Fresh is already an option for you today if you are an Amazon Prime member.
Walmart+ provides additional compelling delivery benefits too and is positioned as an alternative to Amazon Prime.
3. Prioritize Your Dietary Needs and Preferences
Some boxed services offer a more robust selection or easier meal prep for certain specialty diets.
These services may be a good option for strict adherents or fans of the gluten-free, paleo/primal, keto, or vegetarian diets.
All the services, though, offer a broad range of dietary requirements.
If, like me, you are the only gluten-free dieter in the household, flexibility is essential.
You may find any of the grocery delivery services is suitable to meet your dietary needs.
4. Think About Your Schedule and Time Requirements
Some subscription-based services may not work for you if you tend to need your groceries as soon as possible, while other services cater to quick turnarounds.
In general, the more planning you can do, the more you can save.
If you are a planner, on a restrictive diet, or prefer not to have that tub of ice cream available to you in the next two hours, subscription-only services may be a boon for your health.
Do you need to save time planning and to prepare meals?
Services catering more to meal prep can help cut down the time required to source and prepare meals from scratch.
But, the restrictiveness of these services may need customers to find particular staple and household items elsewhere.
So, what companies provide the best service, with solid business models, that will continue to serve their large customer bases who rely on their platforms?
And which delivery services will keep us well fed in 2021?
The 10 Best Grocery Delivery Services
Instacart is one of the leaders in personal grocery shopping.
Founded in 2012 and therefore one of the oldest grocery delivery services, Instacart offers delivery services for many different grocery and retail chains.
This makes Instacart a convenient, all-around choice for those who prefer to use one service for local delivery.
It also makes Instacart a popular company for gig workers looking to become personal shoppers.
Its reach has grown with its popularity – Instacart services one of the broader areas in the industry.
- Minimum Order – $10.00
- Delivery Fee – $3.99 for same-day orders over $35.
- Membership – Instacart Express costs $9.99 per month or $99 per year.
- Membership includes exclusive benefits – Free delivery on orders that are more than $35 (usually this will start at $3.99 for non-Express) and lower service fees. Members avoid extra costs that are higher during peak delivery hours, among other benefits.
- Other Costs – Other fees vary for club store deliveries, one-hour deliveries, and deliveries under $35. There may be a “pickup fee” (comparable to a delivery fee for pickup orders) on your pickup order. Service fees vary and can change based on your location and the number and types of items in your cart. Orders with alcohol have a separate service fee.
- You can save on fees by using an Instacart promo code.
- Location – Instacart offers service in all 50 states and Canada
Shipt was founded in 2014 in Alabama, but Target Corporation quickly acquired it in 2017.
Although owned by Target, Shipt delivers much more than the merchandise available at your local Target store.
Shoppers can select delivery from a variety of popular merchants, from Sur La Table to Dollar Tree.
For those who wish for personal shoppers to handle more than grocery shopping, Shipt can be a solid option.
- Minimum Order – No minimum order
- Delivery Fee – One-time delivery fees, purchased in the app as a “Shipt Pass,” costs $10. Shipt offers a small discount for pre-purchasing “Shipt Passes” at three for $27 or five for $40.
- Membership – The Shipt Everyday subscription gives you a full year of unlimited free same-day deliveries on orders more than $35. It costs $99 per year (month-to-month is $14/month). You can use this option for any retailer, and it includes everything you usually get with Shipt. With membership – $7 for orders under $35.
- It is hard to cancel Shipt memberships.
- Other Costs – $7 for alcohol deliveries
- Location – over 5,000 U.S. cities
3. Walmart Grocery
The scale of Walmart is an obvious advantage, as the store can compete with heavyweights like Amazon.
Walmart, of course, has the benefit of an entrenched brick-and-mortar presence.
Walmart’s brand reflects a commitment to value.
The company’s value proposition is reflected in the annual membership cost of its Walmart+ service, which comes in about $20 less than Amazon Prime.
The Walmart+ service comes with a myriad of benefits, though it probably won’t top Amazon Prime for fans of Prime’s unique offerings,
Walmart is a major retailer and has harnessed that power to offer more than 150,000 different grocery products.
And Walmart can utilize more data in their AI to make better predictions which may be helpful when it comes to conveniences like better substitute products for out-of-stock items.
- Minimum Order – $35
- Delivery Fee – $7.95 to $9.95
- Membership – Walmart+ $12.95/month or $98/year
- Other Costs – For express delivery, Walmart charges an additional $10, even for Walmart+ members.
- Location – 3,000 stores
4. Amazon Fresh
Amazon Fresh is the retail giant’s primary grocery delivery option.
Amazon Fresh fulfills deliveries from warehouses.
The service fulfills a wide variety of grocery items, including the Whole Foods’ 365 brands, fulfilled by Amazon Whole Foods shoppers.
Flexible time slots are typically available.
Benefits of this service include Amazon’s infrastructure and logistics expertise.
Additionally, this service benefits from being coupled with the top-rated Amazon Prime service, which has been around longer than competitors like Walmart+ and offers a wide variety of additional benefits.
- Minimum Order – Orders under a minimum will incur an additional delivery fee. The minimum to avoid delivery fees ranges from $35 to $50, depending on the service area.
- Delivery Fee – Deliveries under the minimum incur a delivery charge of $4.99 to $9.99, depending on the delivery timeslot selected.
- Membership – Membership in Amazon Prime, which costs $12.99 per month or $119 per year, is required to use Amazon Fresh in most cases.
- Other Costs – N/A
- Location – Available in 2,000 cities and towns across the US.
FreshDirect is a fully online grocer that utilizes just-in-time manufacturing to optimize the fulfillment of its orders.
Like other services, FreshDirect offers its services through its website and mobile app.
With an emphasis on food sustainability and a focus on buying directly from farms, it caters to socially conscious consumers.
Unfortunately, it is currently only offered in a limited number of metropolitan areas on the East Coast (New York Metropolitan area and areas of New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Washington, DC).
Where available, it holds a high market share, particularly in New York.
Orders through FreshDirect are generally delivered the next day, though they are expanding same-day delivery windows for select areas.
- Minimum Order – $30 ($99 for the Hamptons)
- Delivery Fee – $5.99 – $9.99, depending on location ($15.99 for the Hamptons)
- Membership – $79.00 for a DeliveryPass Six-Month Membership
- Other Costs: N/A
- Location – East Coast
Like FreshDirect, Peapod is only available in certain metro areas along the East Coast, such as New York City, Washington D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia.
Peapod offers the convenience of ordering from local stores.
In certain instances, you may have to place your delivery order directly through one of Peapod’s partner grocery stores, such as Stop & Shop.
Peapod is an example of a company that has struggled against the new business models of grocery delivery, such as a contractor-led delivery system.
Peapod failed to compete in specific markets, and in February 2020, the service closed its Midwest market, shuttering delivery in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
- Minimum Order – $30
- Delivery Fee – $9.95 delivery fee, which is reduced to $7.95 for orders over $75 and reduced to $6.95 if you spend over $100.
- Membership – Optional membership is $119 per year. Members receive free shipping on orders over $100.
- Other Costs – No additional fees now, but Peapod could impose fuel surcharges in the future
- Location – East Coast
Fans of the bulk buying experience of Costco may want to check out Boxed.
This warehouse club delivers bulk groceries, paper goods, and household goods to your home through online shopping.
Boxed doesn’t have a mandatory membership fee like some other warehouse clubs typically do.
Membership is optional, and the membership buys you a lower threshold for free shipping and same-day grocery delivery option in some areas.
For items that are regularly shipped, the service may be slower than others.
But, the customers who are buying items in bulk tend to plan.
- Minimum Order – None, though shipping fees apply
- Delivery Fee – Free shipping for orders over $79. Otherwise, shipping fees vary by order
- Membership – Boxed Up costs $49 per year and lowers the free shipping threshold to $19.98
- Fees – N/A
- Location – Boxed ships everywhere in the contiguous United States.
Brick-and-mortar Safeway grocery stores have been around since 1915, making it the oldest grocer on the list.
Safeway is now part of the Albertson family of grocery brands.
Fun Fact: Albertson’s offers grocery delivery to customers’ homes with their DoorDash Albertson’s delivery program.
A few years ago, Safeway partnered with Instacart to offer rush deliveries but still maintains its own simply-priced delivery service.
The philosophy is that people’s shopping experiences should be as consistent as possible, whether a customer purchases groceries in-store, for delivery, or through curbside pickup.
With this philosophy in mind, Safeway offers pickup service with no charge, and its delivery service pricing is straightforward.
Safeway utilizes third-party services and its staff as personal shoppers.
Safeway provides a safe option for those wanting the most direct connection to a local grocery outlet or people who prefer straightforward pricing for delivery.
- Minimum Order – $30
- Delivery Fee – $9.95 in most cases
- Membership – Safeway FreshPass costs $12.99 monthly or $99 for an annual plan
- Other costs – N/A
- Location – Safeway has over 1,300 stores across 19 states
HungryRoot is a hybrid grocery delivery/meal prep service.
The HungryRoot platform is built on a customer’s profile, which they create by answering a questionnaire on dietary habits.
The default suggestions for meals trend towards healthier, plant-based options.
The service can account for plenty of diets and dietary restrictions, though the meal-based system can be a little too restrictive for some.
- Minimum Order – The smallest plan for HungryRoot starts at $59.94 and consists of 3 meals for two people.
- Delivery Fee – Shipping is $6.99 for plans less than $70.
- Membership – Plans starts at $59.94
- Other Costs – Once the plan minimum is reached, then shoppers can add items to the order.
- Location – Delivery is available in most zip codes in the 48 contiguous states and Washington D.C.
10. Thrive Market
Thrive Market is a membership-based online grocer that specializes in natural and organic food products.
A membership to Thrive comes with a smaller grocery list of items than other services offer, but Thrive Market discounts the things that they do carry.
So, Thrive may be a good option for particular brands or dietary preferences, although their selection may consist of more shelf-stable items.
For those who are looking for organic or non-GMO foods, or other special dietary foods, Thrive Market may help in savings and adherence.
All Thrive orders typically ship within one business day, and grocery orders ship seven days a week.
- Minimum Order – None
- Delivery Fee – Grocery: $5.95 shipping on grocery orders $49 or under, and $13.95 fee for frozen orders under $99 or wine orders & $79 and over.
- Membership – Membership is a requirement to use Thrive. Annual costs $59.95 (or $5/month), the month-to-month option is $9.95 per month.
- Fees – Aside from shipping and the annual membership, there are no other fees. And, if your membership fee isn’t paid for by the savings (which they calculate for you), you may be eligible for a refund of the difference between the membership fee cost and the amount you saved.
- Location – Thrive Market currently ships to all residential and commercial addresses in the contiguous U.S. While they don’t currently ship to P.O. boxes, Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, or Canada, they hope to do so soon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have questions?
Check out the answers below to some of the questions that we get asked most frequently.
Is grocery delivery service profitable for the companies providing it?
A profitable delivery service is a good sign for consumers.
Looking for services with a reputation and successful reviews can help ensure they can be relied upon and will be around for more than a few years as a part of the community, delivering groceries to you and your neighbor’s doorstep.
Profitable companies also have the resources to support a high-quality staff, whether that staff consists of gig workers or full-time employees.
While grocers generally operate on the lowest of margins, the good news is that grocery delivery services are looking more profitable.
Walmart considers the grocery delivery service to be a big part of its e-commerce growth strategy.
HungryRoot is an example of a start-up that has seen its share of bumps but seems poised for continued profits.
How much should I tip my grocery delivery driver?
Leaving a tip for a driver should reflect the customer’s experience while considering the service that the driver needs to provide.
With varied service levels, the amount of tip may vary. Instacart recommends, for its personal shoppers, a tip of 5%.
If the quality of service is exceptional, a larger tip may be in order.
Some services may let you add a tip after delivery, which can be helpful if you’d like to take a look at your groceries before tipping.
What is the cheapest delivery service for groceries?
The answer, unfortunately, is it depends.
Because so many services now offer annual plans, it may be more beneficial to check out the other benefits to better understand the value you will get from the service.
While on the surface, the delivery fees for companies like Instacart may be attractive from a cost standpoint, the price of the groceries may differ from those offered in the store, inflating the total bill.
Walmart, and some other stores, keep the prices offered in the stores the same as offered through delivery, but you may pay more per delivery charge.
Ordering Errors and Billing Policies
The availability of items and suitability of substitutions can also impact price – there’s not a lot to save if you need to run to the store for that one item the grocery service did not quite get right.
Canceled orders can be costly, too.
I have experienced several canceled orders from Amazon, where Amazon canceled the order after the promised delivery windows.
Getting refunds issued quickly is essential, and Amazon does not seem to give money back as swiftly as they take it.
If a service can’t get your order right in your area, it may be worth trying another service, even if it is more expensive.
Try them out
As a last tip, consider each service’s website and app for easy ordering as you are trying out services.
It should not take too much brainpower to translate your grocery list into an online order.
I’ll admit, we’ve ordered one single banana several times when we meant to order a bunch.
You’d think we’d learn after a few unnecessary excursions to the grocery store for the rest of the bunch.
Many of the services offer trial periods and special offers for new customers.
Take advantage of these low-risk offers to see if grocery delivery services work for you and your family.