Baby, It's Cold Outside

One of the beauties of living in NYC, especially as the weather worsens, is that groceriescan appear at your door as if by magic. And because everyone wants to "make it" in the Big Apple, tech behemoths like Google and Amazon are now duking it out with smaller players for our shopping dollars.  Herewith, an unscientific and biased report on online grocery shopping.

First, a word on cost:  If you have a decent market a block from home, paying for delivery may not make sense. But for most of us, with a shrinking selection of overpriced, overcrowded grocery stores, the trade-off for time and effort is worth considering.  Investing in an annual pass can minimize delivery costs if you shop regularly.  

Second, some drawbacks: 
1. It's still too easy to screw up
Despite steady improvement since FreshDirect launched in 2002, it's far too easy to mis-order online, partly because you lose the cues of the physical world.  At a glance, the 2 lb bag of flour looks like a great deal because its photo is the same size as the photo of the 5 lb bag of flour.  A friend once thought she'd ordered 2 quarts of mango sorbet, but received 21.  Always review your shopping cart carefully!

2. There's not enough information, and there's too much information
Search for "sugar" on the FreshDirect website: 98 results. Sorting by price doesn't show price per pound (the cheapest sugar), only price per item; true comparison shopping is a lot more work online than in store. 
And how much basil is "a bunch"?  Enough for my recipe?
 The Options Freshdirect  
The grandaddy of NYC online grocers requires advance planning (at least the day before). While not perfect, they continue to improve and offer many locally sourced/sustainable choices.  B/B+ for selection, price and quality; A - for website design and responsive customer service.   Great promotions for new membersOverall grade:  B+

Google Express
No fresh food at all, but a revelation otherwise: same day delivery of a huge range of items, in-store prices, and a bargain-hunter's dream; you can easily comparison shop for items from their many source stores, including Target, Fairway, Costco, Staples, even L'Occitane and Paragon Sports.   A sample basket of basic household items was 20% cheaper than FreshDirect. All neatly delivered in their signature shopping bags with almost eerie perfection---much easier, of course, when there's no spoilage risk.  The website could be clearer.  Three months free delivery for new members.  Grade: A-

Instacart 
This well-funded startup hires contractors to shop for you at places like Whole Foods, instead of hiring their own staff--and the difference is huge. One try was enough. My shopper's questions were polite but clueless, delivery was VERY late, and customer service far too hard to reach. The website needs work; ordering under a pound of fresh ginger was a convoluted, illogical process. Plus, you pay a premium over the in-store price. Grade: C-

AmazonFresh 
To date only available to New Yorkers who are Amazon Prime members in Park Slope, AmazonFresh will likely be most directly competitive with FreshDirect.   Their selection is large but idiosyncratic; 142 results for "sugar," not one of which was a plain old 5 lb bag.  Grade: TBDThe bottom line There's no perfect one stop shopping.  Current winners are FreshDirect for perishables and Google Express for everything else.