Can Subscription Grocery Services Save You Money or Just Save You Time?

grocery store subscription savings
Image via Flickr/ Rob Ireton

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In a perfect world, I would pretty much buy everything online. Seriously. To be able to sit in my jammies/yoga pants and do all of my grocery shopping online and then watch it magically appear at my front door would be utopia. It would be even better if I didn't have to actually think about what I need — if somehow the website knew what products I loved and could figure out when I was about to run out so they could just deliver it to me right in the nick of time.

Of course, I want all of this AND the best possible price, too. So does such a thing exist?

Well, kinda. Subscription-based grocery services are starting to catch on. Amazon has been in the game for a while now, Target has recently jumped into that action, and there are plenty of other players in the drugstore, beauty, and prepared-foods areas. These retailers know that customers are looking for convenience and ways to save time, especially if this can be balanced with a reasonable price.

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So let's take a look at the options and see if subscription grocery services can really save you money or just save you time.

Amazon
Image via Amazon

Amazon's Subscribe & Save

Amazon offers thousands of products as part of its Subscribe & Save program. The way it works is that you subscribe to receive a particular product on a regular basis — let's say a big box of 40 rolls of toilet paper every two months. When you subscribe, your first delivery will ship in the following month, and that shipment will come at a discount — typically 5% off Amazon's regular price for that item. If you have at least five subscription items that ship in the same month, Amazon will give you 15% off of that entire order.

If you decide that you don't need an item in an upcoming shipment, you can easily cancel or push out the delivery. And you can set up your Subscribe & Save items to send you an email reminder before it ships so you can make changes if needed. Be sure to pay attention to prices in that email notice, as subscribing for regular delivery does not “lock in” a price — it can change from delivery to delivery.

Pros:

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  • You get to “set it and forget it” by subscribing to receive deliveries of your household staples, which is pretty convenient.
  • I find it especially helpful to subscribe to items that I can't find in my local stores such as my favorite Earl Grey green tea that I drink each morning.
  • This is great for items that you mean to replace on a regular basis but often forget such as kids toothbrushes, wiper blades for your car, etc.
  • If you can coordinate delivery of at least five subscription items in the same month, you can save 15%, which really adds up!
  • When shopping for items using the subscription function, Amazon always gives you the price/unit so you can comparison shop to see if you are getting a good deal or not.
  • Amazon does offer coupons, and you'll see them right where you subscribe for the item, so be sure to click on them to get the best possible price.
  • You'll receive free shipping on your Subscribe & Save orders.

Cons:

  • I find that on most shelf staple items such as toilet paper, paper towels, baking supplies, etc., I can usually beat the best Amazon deal with a grocery store sales price combined with a coupon. However, the Amazon deal at 15% off usually beats most warehouse club prices!
  • Delivery is available in monthly increments only, so if perhaps you wanted to receive an item every six weeks, you need to select either monthly or every two months instead.
Target
Image via Target

Target Subscriptions

Target began offering subscription services on baby items such as diapers and formula last year and has recently expanded their program to offer thousands of items in the grocery, baby, and beauty categories. Target's program works similarly to Amazon's — you shop for items that you would like to receive on a regular basis, and you subscribe to them. But with Target, your first shipment will occur right away, and then your future shipments will take place on the interval you set ranging from 4 to 26 weeks. At Target, you will receive 5% off of the Target regular price on all subscription items, and if you're a REDCard customer (Target's own credit card), you can also receive your 5% REDCard discount on top of that!

Pros:

  • I like that you can receive your first subscription order at the discounted price without having to wait a month for the first shipment.
  • Delivery increments are by number of weeks, not months.
  • You can combine Target coupons and Cartwheel deals on your first subscription order.
  • You can “set it and forget it,” knowing that regular deliveries of your often-used items are headed your way!

Cons:

  • They seem to have a smaller offering of items available for subscription vs. Amazon.
  • Amazon prices (on the specific items I shopped for) were better.
  • Target does not provide a per-unit price on its website, which means you need to calculate it when doing price comparisons across online and brick-and-mortar retailers.

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Drugstore.com
Image via Drugstore.com

Drugstore.com

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Drugstore.com and Beauty.com are other online retailers that offer you the ability to automatically set up re-delivery of an item for a discounted price. The cool thing about these two sister sites is that all of the items on the site are available for auto delivery.

Pros:

  • They apply a 10% discount on items that are set to auto delivery, ranging from every 30 to every 180 days. You can also earn 5% back in drugstore.com dollars, which, based on purchases, are awarded to your account quarterly.
  • They will send you an email reminder prior to your next shipment so you can make adjustments to your order or even cancel it.

Cons:

  • Prices did not seem to be as sharp as Amazon's on the few items I compared.
  • You need to reach a $35 order minimum in order to receive free delivery.
Blue Apron
Image via Blue Apron

Blue Apron

Forget about just having grocery items delivered. What about having pre-prepped and healthy meals planned and delivered, all ready for you to cook them? That's what Blue Apron is all about. You subscribe as either two or four people to receive three meals a week. You let them know about your dietary preferences, and then you select your delivery day. Each week, they will send you everything you need to prepare three great recipes for dinner. They have pre-measured everything, so there is no waste, and their clear recipe cards make final dish creation simple and yummy!

Pros:

  • For working parents who are tired of takeout, delivery, or are concerned about not eating healthy, balanced meals, this is a great way to get back on track.
  • You can skip a week or cancel at any time.
  • Ingredients are shipped in a refrigerated box, so food stays fresh even if you are not home to receive the delivery

Cons:

  • At $9.99/person, it is not an inexpensive option. Does it beat the price at a restaurant meal? Definitely. But you are certainly paying for the prep work vs. purchasing the ingredients at the grocery store and doing all of the prep yourself.
  • You are only providing Blue Apron with dietary preferences — you are not actually selecting the meal that will be delivered. So if you are on the picky side, this might not be the best option for you.

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Have you tried any subscription services such as these? Do you have any pros/cons to share?

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What do you think?

Can Subscription Grocery Services Save You Money or Just Save You Time?

My name is Sharon and I am the busy Mom of six children ages 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, and 8. People often ask me "How do you do it?" I tell them that my key to success lies in planning ahead, with a whole lot of creativity and organization thrown in! ... More

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