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Online Grocery Shopping: Way To Go?

You can almost anything via your computer, even your groceries.

But do the companies that provide the service deliver on their promises of quality?

On The Early Show Friday, consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen came through with the scoop on buying food the high-tech way.

She says the millions of consumers who do their grocery shopping online are expected to spend more than $4 billion on it this year.

Among them, Gennifer Calise, a working Manhattan mother of a ten-month-old, who summed up her reasons for going that route when she told Koeppen it's "quicker and easier."

Calise gets her shopping done in 15 minutes by clicking away, while a typical trip to the supermarket takes her about an hour. And that doesn't include much travel time: Calise buys online even though the supermarket she buys from is on the ground floor of her apartment building!

"I am not lugging my son to the grocery store and lugging him back," she says. "I can be here and play with him on the floor and be clicking online at the same time.

"These days, having a kid and a full time job, I don't do anything that isn't easy. S I wouldn't be doing it if it didn't make a difference."

Calise adds that most of her friends buy food online, and Koeppen notes that most of the consumers shopping online for groceries are women.



Online shoppng facts:

In 2005, $3.3 billion was spent on online grocery shopping. That's projected to hit $4.2 billion this year, and double, to $8.4 billion, by 2010. Overall, groceries are a $640 billion business. There are currently five million people who shop online for groceries, and that's only makes up 2% of the online population.



Koeppen herself gave four of the major online grocery providers a try, and reported on how she fared with each of them.

PEAPOD.COM

Koeppen's order came in grocery bags. She ordered many items in hopes of planning a fun family picnic. The hotdogs she ordered were not in the bags. There was no substitution in the bag, so no hotdogs. She received everything else on her grocery list. The prices online were all comparable to those in the brick and mortar supermarket. The site is user friendly. Customers are able to search for foods that are categorized by section. Once in a selected department, you can sort foods by price, specials, popularity, calories, fat, carbs, cholesterol, dietary fiber, kosher, organic, protein, sodium, and sugars. That's great for people who love to read labels! The site gives delivery times to choose from, and the order arrived right on time.

The good:

-The whipped cream and yogurts came cold
-The strawberries were all great looking

The bad:

-No hotdogs, no substitution offered
-Flowers: Ordered a bouquet of flowers. Online, they were pictured as purple. They arrived in white. This was probably a substitution.
-Cheese platter presentation was unattractive and the cheese was really warm. Looked like pieces of the cheese were missing.
-Beans: The can was dented. Susan wouldn't buy a dented can in the actual supermarket.

About Peapod.com:

-Largest online grocery store
-Since inception 17 years ago, has delivered to 8 million customers
-From June '05 to June '06, had 250,000 active customers
-12,000 customers a day go to the Web site
-Has perishables.
-Serves Connecticut, New York, Rhode island, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, the rest of the New England coast, Chicago and Milwaukee.
-Associated with Stop & Shop and Giant on East Coast. Those stores offer bonus packages and you can use that online to get additional discounts. The online site keeps your profile in its memory.
-Site organizes many of its products by nutritional value, sodium, fiber, calories. That's helpful to people on a variety of diets, and to picky eaters. You can also sort by price.
-Delivery: $100 and over is $6.95. $100 and under costs $9.95.
-Customers can save additional money online by using manufacturers' coupons and by selecting less desirable delivery times.
-Grocery packers aren't in stores, but warehouses, to control quality and out-of-stock items. If something is out-of-stock, customers have the option of substituting a similar item.
-There is a 100 percent guarantee on food. You can get a refund if you are not happy.

FRESHDIRECT.COM

All groceries came in boxes, except for the frozen goods. On the Web site, they feature a link to different recipes. Customers have the option to buy all the ingredients to make that recipe. Koeppen loved that feature. She ordered the ingredients for ten-minute chili. The frozen food came in a separate bag. Everything inside the bag was cold. Two eggs out of a dozen came cracked. Everything was packaged tightly in different boxes, except for the frozen goods. The deli meats were also impressive. The site gives consumers the option to cube cheese, or have your deli meat cut regular, thin, or thick. All was done as ordered. The fruits were all very fresh. This site also offers nutritional information on its products. The site gives delivery times to choose from. The order came right on time. Company has return policy and will refund the money on the cracked eggs.

About FreshDirect:

-Freshness guarantee: Company prides itself in the high quality of its fresh food and packaged goods. It guarantees your satisfaction with every product, every time.
-Rapidly expanding. Currently serves most of Manhattan and locations in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and parts of Long Island, New Jersey and Westchester.
-Claims 25,000 - 35,000 unique shoppers come to the site each day
-Most popular items on the site: pizzas, fresh dining meals, stir fry kits, croissants, fruit (bananas, strawberries), Veggies (broccoli, carrots, cucumbers).

Rates:

Manhattan, and New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens: $4.95 delivery charge
Riverdale (a section of the New York City borough of the Bronx): $4.95 for orders over $100, and $6.95 for orders under $100
Westchester (northern suburb of New York City): $5.95 for orders over $100, $7.95 for orders $75-100, and $9.95 for orders under $75
New Jersey: $5.95 delivery charge

AMAZON.COM

Non-perishables: There were specialty items on this new grocery section. They did not have Poland Spring water, but they did have Zico Pure Coconut Water. Koeppen could not find one of her favorites: Hershey kisses. She did order Back to Nature all natural cereal, Kraft Easy Mac Cups, Milk Bone original dog treats, nuts, Bounty paper towels. All of these items are bought in bulk. Amazon offers free shipping nationwide with purchases over $25. Koeppen found the Web site more challenging to navigate than the others.

About Amazon.com:

-Features more than 14,000 non-perishable food and household items; lots of dry goods, such as packaged cereals and canned food
-Only shop organic? From Alter Eco to Wild Oats, from Wolfgang Puck soups to Sun Ridge Farms nuts, Amazon Grocery has nearly 7,000 organic products to choose from.
-Ships in Bulk
-Does not offer returns, but if there is a problem with the product, will send a replacement.

NETGROCER.COM

There were lots of organic and natural groceries on this site. Some prices higher than in the grocery store, such as that of protein bars. Others, such as baby food, were the same. All the items (non perishable) came via FedEx and were packed nicely, and you don't have to be home when the food arrives. Everything was fresh, but the bag of tortillas was crushed and the tortillas were ruined.

About Netgrocer.com:

-FedEx shipping, based on how many dollars are being spent
-30,000 items shipped nationwide and worldwide
-100,000 customers have used the site
-Return policy: 100 percent guarantee: refund or new shipment
-Non perishables right now, but will start offering perishables in about two months
-Since 1997, Netgrocer says, it has been the premier online provider of "hard-to-find" brands, regional favorites, and other specialty non-perishable groceries.

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