Shopping on a plate: your online Christmas dinner

Home deliveries from supermarkets are convenient and flexible, but can you be sure of getting the best produce?

The countdown to Christmas is on and although many recession-afflicted Brits will be looking to economise, the supermarket checkouts will still be busy and that means queues and car parks full to bursting. So why not take the strain out of your yuletide food shopping and go online?

Many of the leading supermarkets – including Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Waitrose – offer an online grocery service, although Marks & Spencer doesn't deliver food apart from in hampers. With petrol prices still high and time precious, many consumers find home shopping both convenient and economic.

For a small charge, the supermarkets will deliver at an appointed time to your home. However, not all UK addresses are covered. As a rule, the UK's towns and cities enjoy very good coverage, and the rural areas less so. Generally, Tesco has the widest distribution network across the UK as it has multiple depots, while smaller players such as Waitrose deliver to fewer areas.

The good news, though, is that most of the supermarkets operate seven days a week and at all hours, although some have a less frequent service on Sundays.

Charges can range from 99p to £9, although you should expect to pay between £3 and £7 for most deliveries. That said, Sainsbury's will deliver for free midweek provided your order is for more than £100.

The supermarkets vary their charges according to what time you want the item delivered. Commit to waiting in for the van on a weekday and you'll pay less than if you ask for your groceries to be brought to your house after work or at weekends.

Although most online services offer home deliveries close to Christmas, all the supermarkets say it is best to book early as slots will fill up fast.

If an item on your shopping list is unavailable, a "logical" substitute will be provided, which you are free to reject on delivery for a refund. Where an item is replaced by one of higher value, Asda and Waitrose charge customers at the lower price.

The main drawback, though, is that you can't physically pick the goods you want; you're relying on the staff member in the supermarket's distribution centre to give you the freshest produce, rather than something close to its sell-by date. So to an extent, shoppers are taking pot luck.

Last year, consumer group Which? conducted an undercover "mystery shopping" exercise and found that food bought online is 1.28 days nearer its "best before" date than produce available in-store.

Laura Starkey, from the consumer advice website Fool.co.uk, points out that there are a number of ways to ensure you receive fresh food. "When you shop online, you give up control," she explains. "But some websites, such as Ocado, will give you a product idea and provide you with the sell-by date before it gets to you.

"If you want a Christmas delivery, you would need to book it early, but you could also stagger the process by getting booze earlier and then the veg a little later."

And there are savings to be made on delivery costs or the groceries themselves, as supermarkets compete for yuletide business. "Often you can find online voucher codes on forums such as Hotukdeals.com and websites such as MyVoucherCodes.co.uk, where you input the code at the checkout and it offsets the cost of delivery –and most of the time it will be free. We will see more of this the closer we get to Christmas," adds Ms Starkey.

However, consumer groups believe that the best deals are to be found offline rather than online because supermarkets will sometimes keep their cheapest products and one-off special offers in-store. In addition, while the budget supermarkets, such as Aldi, Lidl and Netto, don't offer home delivery, they have still been stealing a march on the traditional big names.

"We are now seeing people flocking to discount retailers," says Sarah Dennis, a researcher at Which? "Aldi and Lidl beat the big four supermarkets in our recent survey. We looked at the quality, and in a lot of the cases Aldi and Lidl were just as good as Tesco. Price is the main reason for shopping at these stores."

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

    Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Equity | New York

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: Quantitative Research | Global Equity | New Yor...

    Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation

    Not specified: Selby Jennings: SVP Model Validation This top tiered investment...

    Selby Jennings: Oil Operations

    Highly Competitive: Selby Jennings: Our client, a leading European Oil trading...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?