User ordering groceries online using a mobile app.

If you’re like most people shopping for groceries online, you likely do so for convenience — delivery and curbside pickup can save time. With third-party delivery services like Instacart and grocery stores’ own delivery options, you don’t need to find a parking spot in a crowded lot (and remember where you parked after), scour aisles for everything on your list or load up the trunk with heavy bags. Instead, you can relax at home while someone else all this for you.

Though it’s convenient, does online grocery shopping save money? Before you add food to your virtual shopping cart, here’s what to consider if you’re exploring how to save money on groceries.

Why online grocery shopping can be expensive

The convenience of online grocery shopping can come with added costs compared to shopping in-store. Someone else is physically picking, packing and delivering your groceries — with companies using technology to support this process. Grocers often pass on these additional costs to consumers, so you may experience sticker shock with some items online compared to in-store.

Though a lot of these surcharges might be hidden unless you take the time to compare, online grocery shopping does come with more upfront costs. Also, you’ll usually need to meet an order minimum for delivery, so shopping online for groceries isn’t the most cost-effective option if you only need milk, toilet paper and carrots, for example.

You also have to consider tipping. Instacart and other shoppers work hard to fulfill orders, and many of them rely on tips to earn a living. It’s customary to tip when you use online grocery delivery, so you’ll also need to factor this cost into your grocery budget if you plan to shop online.

Product availability is another factor that can make online grocery shopping more expensive. If a product isn’t available on store shelves, a shopper may replace it with another higher-priced item. You do usually have control over replacements and can request something else. But if a lower-priced product isn’t available and you need a specific ingredient to make tonight’s dinner, you may have to settle for paying a bit more.

How to save money on online groceries

Even with these added costs, the convenience might be worth it to you — time is money, after all. But here’s how you can save some actual money, too.

Consider a membership

An online grocery service membership can save you money in the same way a wholesale club membership does. With a membership, you pay a one-time annual fee and don’t have to pay delivery fees for each order, especially during peak times when fees often increase. You can also save on service fees that online grocery services charge to cover their operating costs. A membership becomes more cost-effective the more you use the service, such as if you buy groceries online at least once a week.

Create a shopping list

Shopping in-store may give you more choice, but it also comes with the risk you’ll be tempted to buy something just because it’s a two-for-one deal or it catches your eye.

Online grocery shopping mostly removes this temptation: You can’t really add items to your order once a shopper starts shopping for you. And it’s not as easy to wander the digital aisles as it is the physical store aisles, so you’re more likely to stick to your list and avoid impulse buying. Plus, you’re at home, so you’re able to see exactly what items you need instead of second-guessing while in the store.

Use an online grocery app as a budgeting tool

One of the advantages of an online grocery service is that you can see in real time how much you’re spending. Every time you add an item to your digital cart, it adds to your total. For example, if you have a set grocery budget of $100 a week, you can add or subtract items and more easily compare prices to stick within your budget.

Use the app

Using our app is perhaps the best way to stretch your grocery dollars and save money. If you love certain brands or have favorite products, search our app or website by category, brand name, product popularity, or offer value to see if you can get cash back on those items. Just submit a receipt after your purchase or use your store loyalty card (linked to your account) at checkout to get reimbursed through PayPal. Our cash back offers are good on both in-store and online purchases at any retailer that provides itemized receipts.

Does online grocery shopping save money? It depends

With delivery and service fees, tipping and peak pricing, online grocery shopping can be more expensive than shopping in-store. But you can save hours every week by buying groceries online, and for many people, you can’t put a price on time saved. By being more strategic about how you shop for groceries online, you’ll get the best of both worlds and benefit from convenience and savings at the same time.