Grocery Shopping from Your Couch
Nowadays, college students can take courses, buy books, research papers, talk to friends and even find a date online. They only have to leave their dorms for food, but a few companies are working to change even that. Online grocery stores are springing up across the country and college students are one of their biggest markets.
In the past, fledgling food delivery services found it hard to survive. Their consumers were unwilling to pay delivery charges or have a Web site pick out their fruit, vegetables and other perishable foods. The sites couldn’t support the fleets of drivers it took to make deliveries, profits dwindled and many went bankrupt in the dot.com bust of the 90s. The few that managed to survive only did so by partnering with huge already established grocery chains.
Safeway and Albertsons are both chains available on the West Coast that started online ordering and home delivery to their customers. Peapod partnered with Stop & Shop and Giant Foods, now offering delivery in parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and a majority of the northeast.
Other grocery delivery services have found their true niche in the college student market, seeing as how many students live on campus and don’t have access to a car. They have trouble finding both the time and the transportation to make it all the way out to the grocery store. Then, if they can’t find a ride, there is the hassle of lugging bags all the way back to their dorms.
Christine Mutto, a senior arts and sciences major at Syracuse University, orders from online grocery delivery services about once a week.
“They are convenient for me because I am from California and attending Syracuse and I don’t have a car or a close grocery store in walking distance," Mutto said. “Plus, I don’t have to be nice to my psychotic roommate to have her drive me."
Jesse Ruderman, from Harvey Mudd College in Southern California, seconds Mutto’s opinion.
“I eat in my room a lot, but I don’t drive and I don’t like carrying heavy bags of groceries two miles," Ruderman said. “Instead of begging for rides, I order from vons.com. They deliver groceries to my dorm room."
College students are a largely untapped market for online grocers. Business Wire magazine reports that, “college students are among the largest users of food delivery services. Fifty-two percent of college students order take-out or delivery service at least once a week, resulting in over seven million transactions per week." That could mean big bucks for grocery delivery services and better food delivered to students’ rooms.
OneClickGrocery is one of the first grocery delivery services that directly targets college students. It was founded in 2004 near Syracuse University by three recent alumni. They filled about 200 orders last year alone in the Syracuse area, and have since expanded to Ithaca College, Cornell University, Le Moyne College and the University of Connecticut. They also plan to add three more locations next summer.
Adam Peruta, lecturer at Ithaca College and Syracuse University, helped found OneClickGrocery. He said online grocery shopping is a service he wished existed when he was in college.
“We partnered up and came up with this idea because, from our experiences, groceries are a necessity for college students," Peruta said. "Most college students have meal plans, but the choices are limited, the food is not always fresh and they are very expensive."
There is a downside to online grocery stores. Most of the services charge a delivery fee of about $10. Many reduce the charge or offer free delivery for orders over $100 or $150, but most students don’t spend that much on groceries each week. OneClick offers free delivery, but they charge a $4 bagging fee. Many stores also have minimum orders of either $25 or $50.
Don’t expect 30-minute delivery service like your local pizza parlor; online grocery stores don’t even deliver same day. However, most offer next-day delivery service and allow you to schedule a one to two hour window for when you want your food delivered.
Online grocery prices tend to be slightly more expensive than your average concrete grocery store, but they do offer discounts, promotions and sales. They also accept all manufacturers’ coupons. OneClickGrocery offers a program where parents can deposit grocery money for their kids to spend and a reward service for frequent customers. It also has other promotions and coupons. (For instance, when I tried the service I saved $5 by entering the code ‘tasty’ in the checkout window.)
Online stores offer a convenient, albeit more costly, alternative to regular grocery stores. They help students avoid the "freshmen 15" by providing an alternative to greasy takeout food and allowing them to incorporate fruit, vegetables and other healthy foods into their diets. They are making it increasingly unnecessary for busy students to spend precious time running errands, or on the flipside, for couch potatoes to ever leave their dorm rooms.