Comparing online and in person grocery shopping

Notice that the price comparison below does NOT take into account the cost of gassing up or maintaining your car. Once that’s taken into account the two online grocers come out way ahead. There’s still transportation costs but they’re included in the price.

Is It Cheaper to Buy Groceries Online Than at the Store? I Did the Math

With food prices on the rise, I compare the cost of buying groceries via Amazon Fresh, FreshDirect and a popular brick-and-mortar supermarket. The results may surprise you.

David Watsky

June 27, 2022 3:01 a.m. PT

A young woman looks at packaged food in a grocery store

We did some math to find out how buying groceries online compares to shopping in person.

Prostock-Studio/Getty Images

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET’s collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

With money markets in flux and food and grocery costs on the rise, you might be wondering how to cut costs when shopping for food or where to find the cheapest groceries. While we now have a handful of convenient options for buying groceries online, there are delivery fees, tipping and even membership fees to consider. So I’ve done some math to see if buying groceries online is cheaper or more expensive than buying them in the store. 

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Two services, Amazon Fresh (national) and FreshDirect (currently available in the Northeast only) manage their own supply chain and inventory, and thus set prices to compete with brick-and-mortar supermarkets. Both are ultra convenient since you simply place a full order and then set a delivery day and time — often as soon as the same day. Instacart (national) is a similar delivery service, but this third-party online grocery operation simply aggregates from your local stores so you’re getting the same prices, although you can price-compare area stores more easily. 

I set out to see whether or not purchasing groceries online from either Amazon Fresh or FreshDirect was comparable or even cheaper than buying them yourself at the store. It turns out that even with extra fees, buying your food online costs nearly the exact same as if you made a lengthy and pricey gas-fueled trip to the market. Here’s what I learned. 

Stop & Shop vs. FreshDirect vs. Amazon Fresh

Stop & ShopFreshDirectAmazon Fresh
Total before extras$197.64$182.27$183.63
Delivery feeN/A$6$8

Read more: Are Meal Kits Worth the Money? I Did Some Math to Find Out

I used average-priced Stop & Shop to compare

There are dozens of grocery chains around the country that vary greatly in overall cost. For the sake of this exercise, I chose Stop & Shop, which is right in the middle; not known for being overly pricey like a Wegman’s or Acme, but also not in the budget or wholesale category with Costco and Walmart. 

Woman in supermarket checking package information
Shopping in a supermarket costs you time and gas money. Is there a better way without breaking the budget?Tanya Constantine/Getty Images

Before looking at any prices, I generated a list of 38 popular groceries items — some name brands, some generic — in every category from eggs and dairy to bread and snacks, produce, meat, fish and pantry staples. I mostly avoided organic foods, specialty items and chose the cheapest available option from all three retailers: Stop & Shop, FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh. 

If something wasn’t available at one retailer, I selected the next closest item, since that’s what an average shopper might do. Amazon Fresh doesn’t stock boneless chicken thighs, for instance, so I chose chicken breast and added the same price-per-pound cost. This issue didn’t come up more than twice. 

fresh produce
Fresh produce is one thing you might prefer to buy in person. But is it worth an entire trip to the market?James Martin/CNET

FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh also have either a membership or delivery fee to consider along with (optional) tipping (more on that later), so I included those figures in the final tally. 

I did not include the fuel cost required to travel to and from a brick-and-mortar grocery store, since there is no one-size-fits-all formula for that. There is also the consideration of time and hassle required to shop in person. But, again, this is not something one can easily quantify in monetary terms. 

Read moreGas Prices Are Bananas. Here Are 10 Ways to Save Money at the Pump

Stop & Shop vs. FreshDirect vs. Amazon Fresh

Stop & StopFreshDirectAmazon Fresh
Brown eggs (12)$4.79$3.49$2.79
2% milk (1 gallon)$5.19$4.59$4.39
Almond milk (1/2 gallon)$3.29$2.79$4
Block Cabot cheddar cheese (8 oz)$4.89$5$5.29
Quart of plain yogurt (32 oz)$3.69$5.29$4
Bread and crackers:
Loaf of 7-grain bread$5.19$4$4
Thomas’ English muffins (pack of 6)$5.59$5$4.29 (Bay’s)
Club crackers (13.7 oz)$5.49$4.79$5.29
Broccoli head (1 lb.)$2.29$2.60$4.89
Bag of red potatoes (1 lb.)$1.49$1.01$1.20
Package of mixed greens (4 oz.)$4$4.29$4
Hass avocado (1)$2$2.49$2.29
Bag of carrots (1 lb.)$1.79$1.49$1.25
Bag of yellow onions (1 lb.)$1.49$1.25$1.11
Bottle of Heinz Ketchup (32 oz.)$3.69$3$5.69
Jar Hellman’s Mayo (20 oz.)$6.59$6$7.69
White rice (2 lbs.)$2.79$3.39$1.89
Chicken stock (32 oz.)$3.29$2.89$1.89
Ground Starbucks coffee (12 oz.)$11.59$11$9
Peanut butter (16 oz.)$5.19$2.49$2.69
Seltzer (8)$4.79$3.88$5
Barilla penne pasta (16 oz.)$2.39$2.09$2
Prego pasta sauce (24 oz.)$3$2.79$3.59
Canned dog food (12.5 oz.)$2.09$2$3
Box of Cheerios (9 oz.)$5.69$4.79$5.79
Cape Cod potato chips (7.5 oz.)$5$4.79$4.19
Corn chips (11 oz.)$2.69$3$2.49
Chewy granola bars (box of 8)$4.89$4.29$3.79
Breyers ice cream (1 quart)$6.19$7$6.79
Simply Orange juice (52 oz.)$5.69$5$5
Ground beef (1 lb.)$5.49$6$4.69
Skinless chicken thighs (1 lb.)$5$5.29$5.19 (breast)
Atlantic salmon (1 lb.)$15$14$12.39
Whole chicken (3 lbs.)$6.90$7.50$6.75
Organic chicken breast (1 lb.)$14.24$9$11
Bacon (16 oz.)$7.49$10$8.09
Beyond beef (16 oz.)$11.49$10$11.29
Veggie burgers (4-pack)$4.29$4$4.95
Total before extras$196.64$182.27$183.63
Delivery or membership feeN/A$6$8

Is buying groceries online cheaper than in person?

After tallying the grocery cost for my order with all three retailers, the results were remarkably similar.

FreshDirect was the cheapest before fees, but only slightly more than Stop & Shop after the $10 tip and $6 delivery. The total amounted to $198.27, just $1.63 more than Stop & Shop (but with no trip to the store, time spent shopping or money spent on gas). If you subscribe to FreshDirect’s DeliveryPass, the total would be more like $194 and a few bucks cheaper than Stop & Shop.

Amazon Fresh was the priciest, clocking it at $201.63 for the same 38 items including the $8 delivery fee and a $10 driver tip. If you already have Prime and knock the delivery cost off the bill, Amazon Fresh would fall to the cheapest at $193.63.

If I’d used Instacart to order from Stop & Shop and have the food delivered, the total with a $4 fee and $10 tip would be $210.64.

How much does Amazon Fresh cost and what are the other fees?

Amazon Fresh is available with free delivery to those with a Prime membership. If you’ve already got one, you can consider Amazon Fresh delivery free. If you don’t, you’ll have to pony up $13 a month or $119 per year. This will also get you a subscription to Prime Video along with free two-day shipping on Amazon proper, plus other secret perks

Those without Amazon Prime can expect to pay $5 to $8 for delivery, depending on how soon you want your order. Amazon Fresh also offers free pickup at Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh locations, depending on your proximity to those stores. 

Read more: Prime Day 2022: Don’t Miss 9 Amazon Prime Perks Hiding in Plain Sight

amazon fresh delivery or pickup options
Unlike FreshDirect, Amazon Fresh offers both delivery and in-store pickup for select zip codes. Screenshot by David Watsky/CNET

How much does FreshDirect cost and what are the other fees?

Fresh Direct has two delivery fee options: You can pay $6 per individual delivery, or sign up for DeliveryPass, which gets you unlimited free deliveries. A year of DeliveryPass is $129. There are also two six-month DeliveryPass options: One allows for deliveries seven days a week for $79, while the other limits deliveries to Tuesday through Thursday but costs just $39. 

If you were to order groceries every week and choose the cheapest delivery plan (Tuesday to Thursday only) you would pay just $1.50 per week, or $1.50 per delivery depending on how you look at it. 

delivery pass membership tiers
If you don’t want to pay the delivery each time, FreshDirect offers three membership tiers for unlimited deliveries.Screenshot by David Watsky/CNET

Is it hard shopping for groceries online?

Shopping for groceries online was incredibly simple and intuitive. I liked being able to peruse the items carefully and Google anything I was curious about. I also loved being able to see my entire order and total cost before making a final purchase, a luxury that in-person grocery shopping doesn’t afford.

For the most part, I found every item I was looking for. Stop & Shop, FreshDirect and Amazon Prime stock a lot of the same brands, but not all of the same brands, and so I wasn’t always able to find the exact same item at all three. Amazon also has its own proprietary brand Amazon Fresh alongside Whole Foods’ 365 brands, since it acquired the upscale supermarket chain in 2017.

chicken thigh product listings on Fresh Direct
For me, FreshDirect had the best options in most grocery categories and at competitive prices.Screenshot by David Watsky/CNET

Surprisingly, Amazon Fresh was the only grocery retailer that didn’t have some of the items on my list including boneless chicken thighs, and so I had to find a like alternative. Amazon also didn’t have a few popular brands including Thomas’ English muffins, so I opted for a lesser-known muffin brand called Bay’s. 

For me, personally, FreshDirect had the best overall selection of items I’d want, beating out both Amazon Fresh and Stop & Shop. But slight differences aside, you should be able to find just about anything you’re looking for on a regular basis at all three retailers.

One small annoyance I’ve had with FreshDirect is the accumulation of reusable bags since the service won’t pick them up. A spokesperson for the company alerted me to a donation program they’ve set up with local charities and nonprofits that need reusable bags.

You can’t squeeze a peach online

The biggest downside of buying groceries online is that you can’t judge produce, meats and other fresh foods with your eyes (or hands). In my experience, what I’ve received from FreshDirect in the dozens of orders I’ve placed have been up to snuff with no spoiled, bruised or overripe foods. The same can be said for my experience with Amazon Fresh, although I’ve used this service less. 

Buying groceries online is still my pick for value and convenience

That said, it’s hard to deny the convenience of getting all your groceries ordered in minutes and delivered in a day — sometimes hours. For those looking to grab some time back during the week, ordering groceries online is a major convenience and by my calculations, won’t cost you any more than making a trip to the supermarket. 

instacart shopper holding pepper
Instacart assigns a shopper to buy all your groceries from a local market. It has its pitfalls but is still a time-saver versus going yourself.Instacart

Other options for buying groceries online


Instacart is a popular national delivery service and functions as a third-party shopper and delivery outfit that allows you to order groceries from a selection of local supermarkets. You’ll essentially be paying the same prices as if you visited the store yourself, plus a $4 delivery fee and tip. 

I’ve used Instacart and like it fine, but there is a process by which you must respond to your shopper in real-time through the app while they’re filling your order and consent to replacements for items that aren’t in stock (and there are always items not in stock). It can be distracting, time-consuming and even stressful — although it’s still a time-saver over shopping yourself. 

hungryroot groceries
Hungryroot is an excellent subscription service that sends a curated order of groceries designed to make meals and snacks all week. You can always make swaps for things you don’t want. Hungryroot


Hungryroot is another grocery delivery operation, but it functions a bit differently than the others. With this subscription service, you’ll get weekly deliveries of curated groceries based on your preferences and eating habits. Hungryroot gives meal kit suggestions and will send you the ingredients to make them if you so choose. You can always ditch the meal kits or any other items you don’t want and swap them for groceries you do want using a credit system. The service ultimately is designed to inspire new recipes and introduce new grocery items to your weekly routine.

Hungryroot doesn’t have nearly as many grocery item options as the three stores I compared above, but it does have a full stock of meat, dairy, fish, produce, pantry goods and just about anything else you’d typically get from a supermarket. 

Read moreHungryroot Review: Can This Quirky Grocery Service Save You Money?

Hungryroot cost versus buying groceries in-store

I tested the hybrid grocery service and meal kit company in June and liked it a lot. Below is the cost for my week of groceries versus buying them from a local supermarket. You can read more in my full review of Hungryroot.

  • Hungryroot total: $120
  • Groceries if purchased separately: $107
  • Difference: +$13

Even more online grocery options: Thrive Market, 

There are other smaller online grocery services available including Thrive Market and I found both the retailers to be quite limited and not a full substitution for your typical grocery run. 

Thrive Market, for instance, has lots of high-quality and organic meats but no produce or dairy products. Membership-only is a good place to find dry goods, pantry items and paper products at low prices but it also lacks the fresh foods you generally buy at a market. 

If you don’t mind getting your various groceries from different vendors, we’ve tested to find the best produce delivery servicesbest meat delivery services and even the best online fish and seafood markets for 2022. 

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