Online grocery shopping is becoming increasingly popular across the UK, as can be seen by the amount of Tesco, Asda, Ocado, and Sainsbury’s vans that you’ll find parked up outside people’s houses. This could soon be augmented by the addition of Amazon trucks, as the retail giant launches its new Amazon Pantry grocery service for Amazon Prime members.

With so many options vying for your weekly essentials, we take a look at what’s on offer, and which one would be the best for your perishable purchases.

See also: How to go green and save money with tech; How to get a cheap holiday online

Best online grocery shopping 2016 UK: Which stores are online?

There is quite a range of stores offering online groceries in the UK:

All have established services, and Poundland has entered the fray recently. The big hitters all feature developed sites that are well laid out and offer comprehensive ranges of fresh food, drinks, and household goods. Functionality is pretty much the same across the board, with all the sites proving easy to use and understand.

Loyalty schemes are worth taking note of, as there are some good deals available to regular shoppers. Tesco’s Clubcard is a real jewel in the crown for the supermarket giant, as the points shoppers accrue for spending money online, physically in-store, or at Tesco petrol stations, all go towards rewards. These include restaurant vouchers that can be quadrupled in value - so a £5 Clubcard voucher transfers into £20 at Pizza Express.

Sainsbury’s offers Nectar points for its customers, and again this applies to online, in-store, or at the petrol pump. Waitrose has a range of benefits that change on a regular basis, but an interesting one is that MyWaitrose card holders are entitled to a free cup of tea or coffee when they visit a store. Very civilised.

best online grocery shopping

Perhaps the most interesting new addition to the mix is Amazon Pantry. This is exclusive to Amazon Prime members and has a unique approach to deliveries. Each order goes into a 20kg box, and when you add an item you’re told how much space it takes up. The first box costs £2.99, and additional ones in an order go for £0.99. At the moment the food is restricted to tins and packets rather than fresh, but there is still a decent range on offer and if you want to stock up on cupboard essentials or pet food in bulk then it can work out surprisingly cheap.

Best online grocery shopping 2016 UK: What advantages are there to online shopping?

If you enjoy slowly browsing the aisles of Waitrose looking for something to inspire your culinary imagination, then online grocery shopping might not be for you.

On the other hand if the thought of marshalling a couple of toddlers past inconveniently placed confectionary shelves, all while trying to steer a determinedly wayward shopping trolley fills you with horror, well, online grocery shopping is probably going to be the best choice for you.

Having your shopping delivered to your door has a strong appeal for most people, especially when booked into specific slots which can be almost any time of day or evening. Due to intense competition between supermarkets there are often deals to be had online, and various incentive schemes exist such as Tesco’s Clubcard points which can be saved up and exchanged for restaurant vouchers or days out.

Then there is the added benefit of being able to set up regular shopping lists, so you don’t have to start with a blank slate every time you begin your order. Plus you can do the big shop while sitting on the sofa binge-watching Netflix. The future is beautiful, and slightly unhealthy. Just remember to order some fruit.

Best online grocery shopping 2016 UK: How to use an online grocery shopping service

It will come as no great surprise that shopping for groceries online is little different to that of any other retail experience, with the exception that there will be more items in your basket at the end. Once you’ve set up an account with an online supermarket the first thing you’ll need to do is book a delivery slot. This will usually be either one or two hours long, and will be priced differently according to demand so peak times (typically weekends) are more expensive. It’s a general rule that £6 is the most you’ll have to pay, with some slots costing as little as £1.

Best online grocery shopping

Most supermarkets now offer 'season pass' options for delivery, so you can pay a set amount for a period - say £35 for six months - then have as many deliveries as you want for no extra cost. There are some restrictions though, as all the major outlets require a minimum order amount before you can have an order delivered. These change over time, so be sure to check them out before you begin.

Depending on the location you might find that a supermarket won’t actually deliver to your address. Thankfully this isn’t necessarily the end of your online adventures. If you’re happy to pick up your shopping from the store itself, then Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose offer a free Click and Collect service where you order online, pay for the items, then have them bagged up and ready to go when you reach the store. Not quite as convenient as a delivery, but at least you avoid the queues.

The online shopping process itself is simple, you just visit the various sections - fresh food, frozen food, drinks, snacks, etc. - and add items to your order. You’ll see suggestions for complementary products or current promotions, and there are often  sections that include recipes for healthy living or seasonal meals. Once you’ve finished your order the site will save the items into a favourites section so you can quickly access them next time.

Best online grocery shopping

Best online grocery shopping 2016 UK: Make sure you take advantage of incentives

The chances are you have probably already developed some kind of affiliation with a supermarket brand and shop regularly at one location. This could be due to the fact it’s nearby, offers good parking, has the foods you prefer, or you align yourself with its values.

Online portals are simply extensions of the physical shops, so if you shop at Waitrose because you perceive it to offer higher quality produce than its rivals, then all you are changing by going online is your delivery method. If this is the case then it’s probably sensible to continue your allegiance as you may well already be in some kind of loyalty scheme.

If you’re willing to break ranks though you could find it advantageous as there are some good incentives available to new customers of other outlets. At the moment Sainsbury’s is offering new customers a £20 discount on orders over £100. Just use the voucher code NBMMFA2 up until the 7th May 2016 to get the discount.

best online grocery shopping

Ocado has £20 off new orders over £80, and there are various other incentives from other brands, but perhaps the most impressive is Waitrose who currently offers £20 off the first two orders over £100, then £10 off the next three. This adds up to £70, which is nearly an entire order in itself. This offer had to be activated by 31st March 2016 though, so be sure to place your order soon.

Deals like these are often in circulation, so wily customers could save quite a few pounds if they are willing to order from different stores at least once. To keep up with the kind of offers available we suggest you bookmark MyVoucherCodes, as it is an excellent repository of up to date promotions that can save you money.

best online grocery shopping

Best online grocery shopping 2016 UK: Compare prices online

With many supermarkets offering very similar core products, it’s wise to use price as an indicator of which is best for you. MySupermarket is a price comparison site that allows you to see which outlet currently offers the best deals for your weekly shop  and boasts that its users regularly save 30 percent off their bills.

best online grocery shopping

The idea is that you create a free account then enter a shopping list from your preferred supermarket. The site then checks to see if other outlets offer better value, or suggest alternatives products that on on offer. If you’re willing to take a little time setting up the service, and don’t mind switching allegiances often, then it could prove a very frugal choice.

Best online grocery shopping 2016 UK: Which stores is right for you?

As you can see from the range available there isn’t really a definitive answer. All of the major supermarkets offer a huge range of produce which mirrors that of their physical stores. With a quarter of all grocery shopping in the UK now conducted online it’s obvious that the brands see how important this market has become, hence the excellent websites on show. So really the choice comes down to your personal preference.

That being said, we strongly suggest that you take advantage of the new customer deals offered by the sites. Not only will this save you money, but you’ll also be able to sample the various outlets and decide for yourself which one has the best balance of products, rewards, and service for your needs. Before you give your loyalty to one brand, you owe it to yourself to sample the wares on offer, and make a few savings along the way. As someone once said, every little helps.