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Student’s guide to online food shopping

Get the lowdown on the pros and cons of online shopping, plus how to get the best price on your weekly haul.

Cheap online food shopping tips

Doing your food shop online has plenty of benefits. For starters, you don't need to lift your bum off the couch to wander the supermarket aisles – in fact, you can do your entire week's shopping at home in your pyjamas!

Comfort aside, there's also far less chance of your stomach dictating what goes in your trolley. Plus, since you wont be passing any promotional offers on the shelves, you shouldn't be tempted to make any crazy impulse buys (Cheerios are simply awful – don't buy a big box just because they're on 2 for 1).

But how do you get the most out of the online grocery world? To help take away the stress of researching it for yourself, we've done the leg work for you.

You can get your food shop even cheaper online by opting for the supermarket downshift. Oh, and don't fall for these sneaky supermarket tricks they use to convince you to spend more!

How to get your online food shop for less

  1. Use mySupermarket

    Mysupermarket compare food prices

    Deciding where to shop can seem like a pretty daunting decision. Tesco is cheaper for one thing, but Asda has another thing on offer, and Sainsbury's has a multipack that you can't get elsewhere. Nobody would blame you if you just gave up and went wherever's closest.

    Thankfully, mySupermarket allows you to compare the products you're buying from all the major supermarkets to see where you'll be able to grab it at the best price.

    All you have to do is fill your basket, and mySupermarket will show you which supermarket would be the cheapest to shop with. Select one, and it will take you to their site and fill your trolley for you!

    As if all that wasn't enough, mySupermarket will also scan your shopping cart and try to find you cheaper alternatives to the products you've chosen.

    For example, if you normally buy own-brand toilet paper and the deluxe stuff is on offer (making it cheaper than your usual roll), it'll give you the option to upgrade. And if you're looking to slim down, there's also a calorie checker available!

    You can register for a free mySupermarket account here.

When using mySupermarket, check that the price of your order hasn't increased when you've got to the supermarket's website. The cost can change due to things like expiring offers, so just keep an eye out!
  1. Look for price matching

    Use price matching life hack

    Because supermarkets are just so desperate for you to shop with them, some promise to match the price of your shop if it's cheaper elsewhere. Price matching probably isn't as useful if you're intending to use mySupermarket, but it's still worth looking out for.

    Not every supermarket offers the scheme (although Asda, Ocado and Tesco all do), and the exact terms of the agreement will differ from shop to shop. Some will only price match on branded goods, while others will specify a minimum number of products that need to be purchased in order for price matching to come into play.

    The most important difference, however, is that not all price matching is paid automatically. While Tesco, for example, will automatically take the difference off your bill, Asda wont price match unless you actively claim it yourself.

    This is where you can combine price matching and mySupermarket – you can use the website to find out how much cheaper (if at all) your shop would have been elsewhere, and claim the cash back.

  2. Make a meal plan and a shopping list

    Student meal planCredit: blairwang – Flickr

    Don't be daunted by the idea of planning your food shop ahead of time. It might take a little time, but the benefits are more than worth it.

    Making a shopping list means that you'll know exactly what you need to buy, and reduce the chance of you ending up buying loads of food that you think you might use in the week, but really never will.

    Coming up with a meal plan is a great way to inform what should be on your shopping list, and if anything, makes dinner time a lot more enticing. It's easy to get overwhelmed in the supermarket and just stick to your old reliables, but if you're sat at home with some time on your hands, you can research some seriously tasty recipes to make in the next week!

Our student recipes section is a great place to start if you're after some cheap (but delicious) ideas!
  1. Go for off-peak delivery

    Get food delivery off peak

    As if having all that free time as a student wasn't already great, it can also save you money! Since you'll often be at home when the rest of the world is at work, you'll be able to get your shopping delivered at the cheapest times.

    Each supermarket will have its own peak/off-peak times, but generally speaking you should avoid getting your groceries delivered for a weekday evening or at the weekend.

  2. Get a delivery pass

    Delivery pass

    If you're intending to get regular food deliveries from the same shop, you should probably look at buying a delivery pass.

    Depending on the supermarket and the scheme you choose, a delivery pass will charge you monthly/bi-annually/yearly for unlimited delivery. The upfront cost is obviously more than that of a single delivery, but much like Amazon Prime, the free delivery will pay for the pass if you order things regularly enough!

    The best part is that most of the major supermarkets offer some kind of delivery pass, including Asda, Iceland (theirs is free!), Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury's and Tesco. Just make sure you do the maths first, to make sure that the cost of a pass works out cheaper based on how regularly you'll get a delivery.

  3. Use first-order discounts

    first order discount

    Pretty simple one really – most supermarkets will have a promotional offer that gives you a certain amount of money off your first delivery. Assuming you've not made an order with any of them before, you could switch supermarkets every week and get discounted shops for around two months!

    There are tons of offers out there, and the amounts will always change, so do a thorough Google before you settle on a deal.

  4. Order together to reach minimum order values

    Order food together save money

    If you're only shopping for yourself, you might struggle to make it to the minimum order value that most supermarkets have. The exact threshold will vary, but it can be £40 or more – and if you're spending that much on a weekly shop for one, you seriously need to look at trying the supermarket downshift!

    Rather than buying stuff you don't need to reach the threshold, do a joint shop for you and your flatmates. Not only will this get you to the magic number, but you can also split the cost of delivery!

If you're doing a joint shop, Circle is one of the easiest ways to transfer money and pay each other back. Plus, you get £5 free when you download it through us!
  1. Check whether items are sold by weight or quantity

    Online food shopping tip

    It sounds like something out of an 80s sitcom, but it happens in real life too. If you fail to check whether an item (usually fruit and veg) is sold by weight or quantity, you could end up with far too much or too little.

    In fact, just recently the mum of one of the Save the Student team meant to order two heads of broccoli, but instead ordered 2kg (which was, of course, far more expensive and unnecessary). If only she'd known about Olio

  2. Go bagless

    Go bagless save money

    It's kind of baffling that having plastic bags in an online order is even a thing anyway. The delivery comes in crates and they bring it to your door, so there's really no need to have any type of bag.

    Anyhoo, the fact remains that it is a thing, so be sure to select the bagless option to avoid the 5p bag charge (and help save the planet).

  3. Be wary of item exchanges

    For all its many benefits, online shopping does have its drawbacks. When you're shopping in-store and your usual purchase isn't there, you can carefully pick out whatever you want to get instead.

    However, when you place an order online, the shop worker is tasked with finding you the closest replacement. While they'll usually choose something pretty similar, you can get some pretty laughable substitutions…

    The worst part is that they will occasionally charge you extra if they replace the item you wanted with a more expensive alternative. If you don't want the substitute, ask them to take it back and refund you.

  4. Complain if your order is late or wrong

    Refund wrong or late delivery

    Now, we're not saying you should complain if your delivery is a minute late, or they've given you four bananas instead of three. But if there's a significant error with your order, or they've delivered it way outside of the slot you booked, you're well within your rights to complain.

    There are no hard and fast rules saying what the supermarkets will do to make it up to you, but if you're persistent enough, you stand a good chance of getting some kind of discount or refund.

  5. Try Approved Food

    Approved food buy

    Don't get us wrong – we're not saying that best before dates are a bad thing. What we're saying is that they're a guideline, not a rule.

    Approved Food get this, and they exclusively sell food and other products that are approaching, or have passed, their best before dates. Everything is still safe to eat, but it's available at up to 70% off the standard price!

    So, if you're after tinned goods, chocolate, sauces, or anything else that doesn't really go off, check out Approved Food before you hit up the supermarket!

  6. Check out Olio

    Use Olio free food

    Olio is a lot like what we imagine the old days were like (if grandparents are to be believed, anyway).

    Users of the app in your local area will flag up when they've got an excess of food (perhaps they cooked more than they needed, or have something that will go off before they get a chance to use it), and make it available either for free or for a donation to charity.

    It's obviously not a perfect system – you can't guarantee the quality of someone else's cooking, after all. But it's certainly something that's worth keeping your eye on, especially if you find you're missing a crucial ingredient at the last minute!

Read our guide to complaining and learn how to get results!

Which shops do online food delivery?

We're not going to sit here and tell you everything about the UK's major supermarkets. But what we will do is give you the lowdown on who delivers groceries, and what they can offer.

Oh, and a quick note on the typical first order discounts – some of these are listed on their websites, some aren't. But the important thing is that these aren't necessarily the best offers, just what you can expect to find.

Always go looking for a better deal, first by checking out our deals section. If we haven't got what you're after, a quick Google could help too!

  1. Asda

    Asda_Student_DealsDelivery: starts at £1

    Minimum spend: £40

    Delivery passes: start at £5 a month

    Typical first order discount: £6 off a £40 spend

    Shop at Asda »

  2. Iceland

    Shop at IcelandDelivery: £2 for orders under £35, free over £35

    Minimum spend: £25

    Delivery passes: Iceland's loyalty card (Iceland Bonus Card) entitles you to free delivery

    Typical first order discount: £5 off a £40 spend

    Shop at Iceland »

  3. Morrisons

    Morrisons online shopping Delivery: starts at £1

    Minimum spend: £40

    Delivery passes: start at £5 a month

    Typical first order discount: £5 off a £40 spend

    Shop at Morrisons »

  4. Ocado

    Shop at ocado Delivery: starts at £2.99 for orders under £75, free for deliveries over £75

    Minimum spend: £40

    Delivery passes: start at £2.99 a month

    Typical first order discount: £20 off an £80 spend

    Shop at Ocado »

  5. Sainsbury's

    Shop online at SainsburysDelivery: starts at £1 for orders over £40, £7 for orders between £25–40, free for orders over £100 delivered after 2pm Monday–Thursday

    Minimum spend: £25

    Delivery passes: start at £10 for three months

    Typical first order discount: £18 off a £60 spend

    Shop at Sainsbury's »

  6. Tesco

    Shop online at Tesco Delivery: starts at £1

    Minimum spend: £40 (£4 surcharge if your order is less)

    Delivery passes: start at £8 for one month

    Typical first order discount: none available at the time of writing, but be sure to search for some yourself!

    Shop at Tesco »

  7. Waitrose

    Shop online at WaitroseDelivery: free

    Minimum order: £60

    Delivery passes: none

    Typical first order discount: £100 off your first five shops (£20 each time, minimum spend £100 on each order)

    Shop at Waitrose »

You should also regularly take a look at our student deals section for the latest supermarket offers, along with great cashback deals.

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