Food fight

How many times have you found yourself pushing a trolley down supermarket aisle after aisle and thought "there must be a better way!"? For most people, the weekly shop is a chore they'd like to avoid. When e-commerce started to boom a few years ago, the Internet looked like a way to dodge this boring task.

Shopfast

This bright and busy site can be a bit confusing at first - there are so many icons and its initially unclear where to get started - but is easy to navigate once you get the hang of its structure. There are different methods for finding products, including a search function and a series of drop-down lists.

However, jargon does creep into some descriptions. When looking for a premium Sara Lee ice cream, for example, we eventually found it under frozen ‘adult treat solutions'. Shopfast, however, was the only site to offer the Sara Lee Rum and Raisin ice cream we were looking for.

In fact, Shopfast was the only online store that was able to offer all the items we had bought in the real world store, and the prices were comparable (only 15 cents more at Shopfast) before delivery fee.

The saved lists feature is easy to use and you can save a trolley mid-session and resume it later. Those worried about sending their credit card details over the Net can pay the delivery person using cards, EFTPOS or cash. Shopfast also offers a rewards program - kind of like flyer miles - that you can redeem in the store. The site suggests you can save up your rewards and use them at expensive times like Christmas.

URL: www.shopfast.com.au

Delivery: $5.95 to $9.95.

Minimum order: No.

Delivery area: Sydney Metropolitan (including Central Coast and Wollongong).

GreenGrocer.com.au

GreenGrocer.com.au began, as the name suggests, by selling fresh fruit and vegetables and later adding groceries - and it shows. Of the 18 products in our shopping list, we had to substitute seven, while we couldn't find frozen beans or ice cream at all. This meant we couldn't perform an adequate comparison with the other sites on price.

If you're used to a vast array of brands in your regular supermarket and want to keep to the ones you know, this may not be the site for you. Shoppers after gourmet products like Neil Perry spice pastes and meal kits, however, will appreciate the selection at Greengrocer: there's an array of gourmet goods from squid ink to truffle oil. The site says they're adding new grocery lines. Plus, if our comparison had been based on fresh fruit and vegetables, this site would have been much more successful.

You can browse to a category, search for a particular item or have a list prepared from the categories that interest you. Many of the products have pictures and the fresh fruit and vegetables have icons so you can get a feel for the quality. Some grocery items also have ingredient listings if you or your family have allergies. You can save shopping lists and copy previous orders to save time.

The site offered one of the cheapest deliveries for our selected time: $4.95 for 5:00 - 8:00 p.m.

URL: www.greengrocer.com.au

Delivery: ranges from $4.95 to $9.90.

Minimum order: $25.

Delivery area: Sydney, Melbourne (some Victorian regional areas).

Woolworths HomeShop

We expected to find a large range of items at Woolworth's online store, given it's one of the leading supermarkets in Australia - and for the most part, we did. We had to make a couple of substitutions, however: a larger size of low-fat shredded cheese, a different pasta sauce, and cookies and fudge ice cream instead of rum and raisin.

For the most part, shopping at HomeShop is straightforward, but the search function can be a bit flaky. For example, a search for McCains turned up frozen mixed vegetables but not the frozen beans we were looking for. At first we thought they weren't available, but they were later found through a quick browse of the frozen vegetables list. There's a ‘My shopping list' feature and you pay using EFTPOS or credit card upon delivery.

URL: www.homeshop.com.au

Delivery: $10.50 to $12.95

Minimum order: $60.

Delivery area: selected suburbs in NSW and ACT.

Coles Online

Coles Online performed as well as Woolworths in replicating our real-world shop (Shopfast was the best, with no substitutions). We only needed to substitute macadamia ice cream for our rum and raisin, a different Lean Cuisine and a different margarine.

While it's a pretty easy site to navigate, it does have some quirks. For example, our Bega reduced-fat shredded cheese didn't appear in the Bega listing; it was under the grated cheeses subdirectory.

Coles doesn't accept cash on delivery but drivers do have a mobile EFTPOS unit. There's no minimum order, but Coles has the highest delivery charge of the four Sydney online grocers we looked at.

Finally, comparison shoppers will find a welcome feature at this site. Many items list the price per 100g or 100ml, as well as the unit price.

URL: www.colesonline.com.au

Delivery: $13.69.

Minimum order: No.

Delivery area: suburbs in NSW and Victoria.

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Deanne McIntosh

PC World

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