I Tried 5 Grocery Delivery Services To See If They're Worth It

I hate grocery shopping. In theory, it should be this calming time where I get to linger over the season’s fresh produce and admire exotic meats and cheeses. In reality, I live in New York, so there are always lines, nothing is organized logically, and I have to schlep back everything on the subway, which will always be crowded because the law of public transportation says it should always be the most crowded train when you have the most bags to carry.

It doesn’t take much for me to give up on it all and just Seamless another week more. However, just like meal services, grocery services are popping up more and more, and are available in more and more cities. Could shopping for groceries in my PJs be my new future — and even allow me to cut down on eating out in the process? I knew I wouldn't save money, but sometimes, saving time is worth the extra few bucks.

I tried out five popular services to see what I could learn.

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Photo: Courtesy of FreshDirect.
The Service: FreshDirect

The Basics: FreshDirect has a wide array of groceries and home goods, all sold from its warehouses. Unlike many delivery services, FreshDirect also has the digital equivalent of meat, deli, and bread counters, allowing you to buy things like fresh-baked bread or ground beef in the exact quantity you need, as well as its own generic line, Just FreshDirect. FreshDirect also sells wine and spirits.

Cost: $40 minimum, $6.99-$7.99 delivery fee for most deliveries. For $79, you can buy a DeliveryPass good for six months that allows you unlimited delivers with no fees. It also allows you to reserve delivery spots up to a week in advance.

Delivery: Delivery times for FreshDirect can be chose in two hour increments. Cost is provided as an estimate since some things, like produce, are priced by weight. Once an order is placed, you have until 6 p.m. (for earlier slots) to 11 p.m. the day before to edit your order. Groceries are delivered in boxes, with freezer items and meats packed on ice.
What I Got: This week, I wasn't going to be home a ton, so I got a meal kit. At $22.99, it was a hair over the $10/meal cost that seems typical to so many boxed meal kits, but I appreciated being able to get just what I needed. I also got two pre-made salads for $7, which turned out to be TINY — whoops. I got a giant box of spinach for smoothies, a bag of flour, and a large bottle of olive oil. It came out to $53.25, but the olive oil and boxed meal were two large expenses. I received a $5 discount for using a less-popular time slot.

The Verdict: FreshDirect best mimics an actual grocery store experience from your home, with a huge array of items available. They even have a deli section with things like pasta salads. I love that you can edit your cart after you submit your order, because I’m always remembering things we need. The delivery spots fill up quickly on the weekends/early part of the week, but if you place orders early enough, or don’t mind late-week grocery shopping, you should be fine.

FreshDirect is also getting in on the meal kit game, at about the cost per meal of major competitors like Blue Apron, with no subscription required. If you only find yourself wanting a meal kit infrequently, it could be a good option.
Photo: courtesy of Instacart.
The Service: Instacart

The Basics: Instacart allows you to shop your favorite stores from the comfort of your own home. Unlike FreshDirect, which has it’s own warehouses, Instacart sends people to shop local stores for you. Many will guarantee same prices as in the store, and, depending on your location, you can even shop at CostCo with no membership required.

Cost: For orders over $35, the delivery fee is $7.99. Under $35, the delivery fee is actually higher: $11.99. Like FreshDirect, there is also a free delivery membership program, Instacart Express. For $149 a year, all orders over $35 are free shipping. Additionally, shoppers can go to multiple stores for you, meaning you can make a CostCo, Whole Foods, and pet store delivery all at once.

Delivery: Like FreshDirect, you choose a two hour time slot online. Unlike FreshDirect, however, you can get deliveries in as little as an hour for a higher fee depending on availability. If you do place an order ahead of time, you can modify it up until your shopper starts your order. If something you asked for is out of stock, your shopper contacts you to ask if you want an alternate item, or just to cut it from your order.
What I Got: I used my Instacart order to shop Whole Foods, and actually got a pretty big haul of produce for smoothies and salads, as well as a bag of apples, almond butter, and some household items like sponges and dish soap. Whole Foods Instacart prices are the same as in the store, so I paid $65.39 with no delivery fees since I was trying out the Instacart Express service. I tipped $5 on top of that. Over $70 for groceries seem steep, but since it was just $5 extra from what I would have spent in store, it didn't seem so bad.

The Verdict: In theory, Instacart’s same-day delivery would be a great option, but I often find myself wanting it on busy days like Sunday or Monday, so I haven’t ever been able to take advantage of it. That said, if there are favorite brands or prepared foods you know you can only get at a Whole Foods (for example), it’s a handy option. And, again, if you can plan ahead or shop in less busy hours, you’ll be set. Since it’s basically a courier service, InstaCart can’t offer its own deals or sales on products, but does show each store’s current offers.

The only drawback, for me, is that delivery starts at 9 a.m. at the earliest. FreshDirect allows you to schedule deliveries as early as a 6-8 a.m. time slot, making it perfect for a pre-work drop-off. Conversely, however, you could realize you need groceries for dinner tonight and schedule a drop-off to meet you when you get home.
Photo: Courtesy of Jet.
The Service: Jet

The Basics: Jet’s gimmick — that prices in your cart drop as you shop more — is a little confusing, but it’s basically an Amazon-y type service for all kinds of things, and that includes a limited grocery selection. Most produce is already bagged (think mixed greens or a bag of apples), and pantry and dairy items are national brands.

Cost: Shipping is $5.99, with free shipping on orders over $35. There is a cold-pack fee of $4.95 no matter what if you buy goods that need to be refrigerated.

Delivery: Jet mails goods through a package service, not through couriers. Packages arrive two days after you order them.
What I Got: I wasn’t actually able to try out Jet, since there's no where to leave packages unattended at my apartment. If you don’t like reserving time slots, however, and do have somewhere to leave packages (or someone to accept them for you), Jet would be a good option, especially since the $4.95 cold-pack fee is relatively low. And since the produce is (somewhat) limited, it might just be a good option for stocking the pantry every once and awhile.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
The Service: Amazon Prime Now

The Basics: Similar to Instacart, Amazon Now shops at your local stores for you. Unlike Instacart, Prime Now also has its own Amazon shop you can browse that includes everything from books to kid's clothing. If your groceries are also coming from the Amazon “store,” you could theoretically get your book club book, lunch for the week, and a new pair of earbuds in one go. Prime Now also includes restaurants and wine and spirits.

Cost: Prime Now is only available to Prime members, which is currently $99/year. After that, Amazon includes a suggested tip of $5 that you can change, but no delivery fees. There is a $20 cart minimum for Prime Now orders.

Delivery: Like FreshDirect, deliveries start as early as 6 a.m. and run through midnight. One-hour deliveries have a $7.99 fee. If your order has perishables, or is over $500, someone is required to accept it upon delivery. Unlike Instacart and FreshDirect, once your order is placed, you can’t edit it.
What I Got: I got more smoothie supplies, as well as cat litter, and feta and cauliflower for a recipe. The total was $32.46, and I left the $5 suggested tip. Total, it felt fairly reasonable — as always, I was surprised at how quickly prices added up, but nothing individually priced seemed wildly unreasonable (except for the limes — 50 cents a lime?!) Since I would have Prime whether or not I used the service, I didn't include it when I looked at cost.

The Verdict: Prime Now was my least favorite of the services I tried, though everything went fine. The lack of delivery fee was nice, but I was used to getting to edit my orders on the other two services. It also took a little bit of fiddling to make sure I wasn’t creating multiple carts from multiple stores. Since, however, there are no delivery fees, it would be a handy option for people who are already Prime members.
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon.
The Service: AmazonFresh

The Basics: You didn’t think Amazon only had one delivery service, did you? AmazonFresh is closer to FreshDirect, in that you are buying groceries directly from Amazon’s warehouse, not a local store. Like FreshDirect, some in-store experiences, like ordering deli meats to order are still available. They even sell a “single cow” ground beef. At least in New York, fresh bread is not made in-house but is purchased from local bakers. There’s also a local markets section that sells artisanal goods and take-out meals.

Cost: AmazonFresh is only available to Prime subscribers, and comes with an additional $14.99/month subscription fee. If your order is under $40, a $9.99 fee is added. There is no tipping.

Delivery: AmazonFresh offered something the other services didn’t: reserving time slots down to the hour. If you select unattended delivery, time slots are in three-hour increments, and the groceries are left in insulated bags. If you select attended delivery, you can choose any one-hour increment, the groceries are removed from the insulated bag and handed to you in plastic bags.
What I Got: Amazon Fresh definitely gave me the most bang for my buck. For $45.63, I resupplied on paper towels and TP for our apartment, as well as lunch and breakfast for the week. Surprise surprise, frozen smoothie supplies, as well as beans, wraps, and shredded cheese. The wraps were a national brand, and were only $2.02, and the shredded cheese was only $2.50. However, considering there's a $14.99/month fee, if I were to use it weekly, that would add around another $4 dollars onto each order.

The Verdict: After a so-so experience with Amazon Prime Now, I was shocked at how much I enjoyed AmazonFresh. The $14.99/month subscription fee seems steep, but it would be the equivalent of two orders a month without a membership fee from the other services (and, it should be noted, if you’re doing this weekly, the membership fees of any of the services are almost always worth it). I also was impressed at how cheap some of the pre-made options, like salads, were. But the biggest draw was the 1-hour time window. Yes, this might make me supremely lazy, but the difference between an 8 p.m. delivery and a 10 p.m. delivery is huge. It’s much easier to plan on being home when it’s just an hour, especially when other time slots also run 8 a.m. (way before I have to get to work) to 10 a.m. (at which point I’d be late).

The Takeaway: I had a relatively good experience with all these services, but especially enjoyed the ones that let you modify orders for a period of time after you'd placed it (AmazonFresh, FreshDirect, and Instacart). As far as best value for occasional orders, Jet's $4.95 cold-pack fee is the best deal. If you are using it every week, AmazonFresh, FreshDirect, and Instacart shake out to about the same cost if you pay for a membership fee (between $3.10-$3.74 a week). However, AmazonFresh doesn't have tipping, so you won't add to that $3.74 delivery fee. Plus its 1-hour delivery option is crazy convenient. Considering how frequently I skip the grocery store during the week (and wind up relying on takeout instead), the fee, for me, is more than worth it.
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