Online vs. in store: the bottom line

September 01, 2004|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

How does ordering from Peapod stack up against shopping at your local Giant store?

If you're willing to pay a bit more - not only for delivery, but for some products - having groceries appear in your kitchen can feel like a busy person's dream come true.

But if you want to pay the lowest price for everything and if you'd miss the chance to watch the human comedy, you might prefer the store.

We decided to compare the two shopping methods by scheduling a Peapod delivery for a recent Saturday morning. The same day, I went to my local Giant, on York Road in Anneslie, to see what I might have picked out and paid the old-fashioned way.

Here's a quick comparison:

Ease of purchasing

Peapod: Because I have a Bonus Card, I could bring up a list of items the family had purchased. I could generate a list of specials, and shop by "aisle." I also could watch my total, and subtract items if I started to go beyond my $100 budget. But by relying on my list instead of the small product pictures, I ended up ordering the wrong bread and a half-gallon rather than a gallon of milk. I could only purchase certain amounts of some things.

Store: Easy to navigate, but busy. I would have waited a while in line, and so many carts made for some tough maneuvering.

Service

Peapod: The order came on time (though with just five minutes to spare in the three-hour delivery window I had scheduled). The driver was pleasant, brought groceries to my dining-room table as I asked, and pointed out the phone number for customer service in case anything went wrong.

Store: Largely self-service, as usual.

Selection

Peapod: The Web site had some good surprises, including herbs and frozen blintzes that are hard to find at my Giant. But other things weren't available, such as many fresh baked goods.

Store: I found most of what I wanted, but the herb shelf offered no basil or sage - just some cilantro and row after row of "curly parsley." The Skippy reduced-fat creamy peanut butter I sought, on sale for 99 cents in the store and online, was going fast.

Quality

Peapod: Produce was generally a cut above the grocery store. White onions were free of blemishes, and a tub of cut watermelon was just right. But the bananas, alas, definitely had a greenish tinge, even though I specified "yellow" online. Ice cream was frozen, milk was cold and the vacuum-sealed pork and ground beef, though bloody, were fresh, as were sea scallops and split chicken breasts. Eggs arrived uncracked in bubble wrap.

Store: Bananas were better in the store; some were a perfect yellow with no spots. Most of the cut watermelon looked past its prime compared to Peapod's. Meat and fish were fresh.

Convenience

Peapod: Online shopping took about 40 minutes as I got familiar with the Web site. But my order was saved, so next time would likely be faster. I could shop when my children were in bed, and spend time with them while waiting for delivery at home.

Store: I didn't have to be home to receive delivery, but I would have had to wait in line, load the car and carry the bags in myself. Shopping and travel would have taken at least an hour.

Price

Peapod: Including a newspaper coupon for $15 off my first order and the $5.95 delivery fee, my online order came to $98.63. Skim milk cost 36 cents more per gallon, eggs cost 40 cents more per dozen and bagels were 9 cents more each. The weekly sales didn't always match those at my Giant, so I missed out on some specials, such as the store's half-price Breyer's Ice Cream. Some regularly priced items cost more online, likely because Peapod sets its prices according to the higher Washington, D.C., market. On the other hand, Web specials offered some deals not available in the store; I saved $1 a pound on sea scallops with Peapod.

Store: Some items online weren't found in the store. But those items that were the same would have cost $65.70 in the store compared to $67.90 online. In addition to the lower prices, I could spot cheaper alternatives more easily, and there was no delivery charge.

Overall

I didn't save money with Peapod, but I did save time while getting most of the things I wanted.

On the Net

Peapod by Giant offers next-day delivery to 22 ZIP codes in the Baltimore area. For information: www.peapod.com.

Santoni's Super Market in Highlandtown delivers to 26 ZIP codes in and around Baltimore. For information: www.santonis market.com.

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