Grocery shopping online again as COVID-19 cases rise? Here's how to save with Walmart, Target, Instacart orders
Mere months after my family started making more in-person trips to the grocery store, we're returning to curbside pickup as COVID-19 cases surge in our state, Florida, and across the country.
Other shoppers are turning back to getting groceries delivered or picking them up curbside.
According to a new report from Gallup, the percentage of U.S. adults who say they order groceries online for pickup or delivery at least monthly has doubled from 11% in 2019 to 23% today.
While there are fees to look out for, it's also possible to save money and time in addition to reducing potential exposure to the coronavirus.
►Back-to-school shopping:What's different amid COVID-19; how to avoid school supply shortages
The potential savings can come not only from making fewer impulse buys – which is far easier when you don't enter a store – but with cashback rebates or digital coupons.
Cashback app Ibotta, which offers rebates on purchases in physical stores, added rebates for online grocery shopping last year when the company saw the shift in shoppers making more online purchases. (I recently wrote about how I've saved close to $3,000 in digital rebates with Ibotta.)
Ibotta rebates are available for Target, Walmart, Safeway, Kroger, H-E-B, Instacart, Shipt and other retailers. (Ibotta is giving away free school supplies, but the promotion is only while supplies last or Aug. 31.)
"Last year in the middle of the pandemic, we decided that we needed to launch support for online grocery purchase," CEO and founder Bryan Leach told me. "All of a sudden we went from 0% of our business online to 15% of our redemptions are now occurring online for (consumer packaged goods) items, which is a huge change."
Target, Walmart are my go-to curbside stores
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I mainly used curbside pickup at Target.
Pro shopper tip: At Target there's no minimum purchase requirement, and you can show up to pick up your order any time. (Walmart and other competitors require you to select a time slot.)
Last year, Target added more grocery items such as dairy and frozen foods to its Drive Up curbside pickup, in-store pickup and same-day delivery with Shipt. It also added alcohol for pickup and delivery at many stores nationwide this year.
At Target, I redeem Ibotta rebates, but I also save with Target Circle offers and the 5% discount for using my Target RedCard store credit card.
Being able to pick up just one or two things curbside is helpful for my family, but the downside is I can't get all my groceries curbside at my closest Target as curbside options can vary by store.
A Walmart online grocery order makes it easier to stock the fridge and freezer. In the early days of the pandemic, it was harder to find an available time slot for a pickup but time slots continue to be easier to find near me in South Florida. On Friday afternoon, there were still options to pick up a Walmart order the same day.
Like Target, you can place your Walmart grocery order on the app or website, but make sure you are loading up the cart on the "Pickup & delivery" tab versus Walmart.com, which is more for general merchandise and orders delivered to your home.
With the nation's largest retailer, you need a $35 minimum order for curbside pickup and then have to select an hour time slot to pick up your order.
Pro shopper tip: You can book Walmart orders days in advance and change the order repeatedly until a cutoff time, which can vary. I had until 1:45 a.m. Saturday to change my order for an 11 a.m. pickup.
Watch for fees, higher prices
One reason I use Target and Walmart the most for curbside is that the price of the items has been identical to what I find in store. That's not always the case elsewhere.
I've also shopped curbside with Aldi and Publix, which both offer the service through Instacart and have continued to roll out to more stores during the pandemic. Both require a $10 minimum to check out.
Pro shopper tip: Prices are often higher on items retrieved via Instacart, even if it's just a few cents. Take note of prices on your frequently purchased items next time you're in-store so you can compare.
But Aldi also adds a "small pickup fee" to curbside orders to offset costs of the personal shoppers, the discount grocer says on its website. That fee has varied for me, ranging from $1.99 last year to $3.99 this week.
Aldi, which doesn't offer free bags when shopping in-store, also adds a bag fee to pickup orders, which, for a recent order, was 7 cents for each bag. You're able to bring your own reusable bags in-store.
But Aldi's low prices can help offset the fees. Fans of the Aldi Finds aisle of limited and seasonal deals can even try to snag a special through Instacart.
At Publix using Instacart, I take advantage of buy-one-get-one-free sales, and the Instacart app offers discounts on select items.
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Using Ibotta and coupon clipping (digitally)
Using the Ibotta app on both in-store and curbside orders has helped me get cash back at multiple stores. (Here's how the app works.)
Just make sure when you're shopping for grocery pickup and delivery that your Ibotta account is linked with the online retailer. Then add offers to your account and checkout online. You’ll get cash back 24 to 48 hours after your order is picked up or delivered.
I save the most with Ibotta, but there are others savings to look for.
Pro shopper tip: Instacart has digital coupons that can be "clipped," and Shipt has a deals tab with "exclusive promotions and discounted items."
And you can also try out membership program trials, including for Shipt, Instacart and Walmart+ if you want your groceries delivered.
Shipt offers a four-week trial when signing up through Target.com, Walmart offers a 15-day trial of its membership program, and Instacart says new customers may be eligible for free delivery promotions.
Just don't forget to tip and consider that as a deduction in your potential savings. On the plus side, you also save time, which can be even more valuable.