Tuesday, January 7, 2020

econlife - Why Online Grocery Shopping Is Good for Us by Elaine Schwartz


In many places, at most times, within two hours, an Amazon Prime member can have a Whole Foods grocery order in his fridge.

It sounds good. But not necessarily.

The Stores

The delivery people are changing the shopping experience. Some regular shoppers complain that they are getting elbowed out of where they are going by a harried person filling an order. Deli counter customers report that service is slower because of the larger orders the professional shoppers have to fill. Others say hard-to-get items like wild salmon run out by midmorning because of the online demand.

An Instacart professional shopper:




But most of us still go to the grocery store.



Online Grocery Shopping

What we buy at the store though is different from when we order online. According to a recent study, online, we tend to order healthier foods. We get more dairy, fruits, and vegetables and fewer sweets and snacks. Perhaps because we are distracted less and we get the groceries sooner, we have more self-control. It’s also possible that pictures of snacks are less compelling than the real thing.

In addition, one economist suggests that online ordering could help us lose weight. She observed that households purchase fewer calories when shopping online. At two calories less per ounce, we consume 53 calories fewer calories a day. Just from shopping online, we could lose five pounds a year! (But do we gain the weight from staying at home rather than running around the store?)

Our Bottom Line: Behavioral Economics

Behavioral economists tell us that we tend to make healthy plans for the future rather than for now. The best example is the sports club membership that we never use. It’s the New Year’s diet that we sincerely expect to follow.

When buying our groceries online, we are also contemplating the future.  Online, we activate our long-term selves. In the store, it’s the short term version. Ordering from home, we tend to select the “shoulds.” In the store, we can grab our “wants.”

So maybe it’s okay that those Prime shoppers are destroying our in-store experience. We might be healthier ordering from home.

My sources and more: WSJ started me thinking about the impact of online grocery shopping. Then, for the home side, this paper said all you could want to know about the online grocery shopper.


Ideal for the classroom, econlife.com reflects Elaine Schwartz’s work as a teacher and a writer. As a teacher at the Kent Place School in Summit, NJ, she’s been an Endowed Chair in Economics and chaired the history department. She’s developed curricula, was a featured teacher in the Annenberg/CPB video project “The Economics Classroom,” and has written several books including Econ 101 ½ (Avon Books/Harper Collins). You can get econlife on a daily basis! Head to econlife.