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Although I don’t take advantage of this type of service every time I need to go food shopping, grocery delivery is one luxury I enjoy about once a month. I’ve been a customer of Peapod for about eighteen months. Peapod is a company associated with Stop & Shop, a supermarket in my area. The food they offer is the same as Stop & Shop’s items, including store brands. Throughout almost this entire period, living in a New Jersey suburb, Peapod has been my only choice for food delivery.

That changed a few weeks ago when FreshDirect expanded its delivery service to include my town. That news, accompanied by a $50 coupon, inspired me to try the service. After one delivery from FreshDirect, I think I’m ready to compare the food and experience with that from Peapod.

My grocery needs are simple. I am a single man living in a second-floor apartment. I have no pets. I try to eat healthy food but I mostly fail at that goal. I don’t particularly like cooking, but I have had some success with fajitas. As time permits, I’ll continue my cooking attempts, but I can’t say I enjoy it.

Generally, some items I buy from the grocery store go to waste because I can’t make use of an entire package before it goes bad. For example, even the smallest containers of fresh milk expire before I have a chance to use it all. Add some frequent traveling to my schedule, and the food doesn’t stand a chance of survival, left unconsumed.

I may not be the best shopper to fully compare every small aspect of an online grocery shopping experience, but there are things I see worth discussing, and each service has its own benefits.

Online ordering process.

The process for ordering groceries is the same regardless of which service you use. Both Peapod and FreshDirect ask you to create an account. With both, you can save your shopping list or items in your cart to return at a later time, making it easy to add items throughout the week as you think about them or as you discover you need more. That, in theory, replaces the notepad on the refrigerator, but I still have one there anyway.

Peapod’s website is a little nicer for displaying items up close, but keep in mind the photographs are generic; if you go to a store, you can pick a specific package of meat, for example, while ordering online, your selection is subject to the whim of someone in a warehouse. To the right, you can see the look of the Peapod website, and underneath that, FreshDirect.

During the checkout process, you can choose your delivery date and time. With Peapod, you can save some money on the delivery charge by choosing a wider time frame for delivery. If you need the groceries delivered during a specific two-hour window, the delivery fee is one dollar higher. With Peapod, if I order early in the day, which I almost never do, I can generally find time slots available the following day.

With FreshDirect, however, and probably because I live in one of the outermost counties in the company’s delivery area, I can rarely find delivery windows available for the following two days. As a result, if I plan to shop with FreshDirect, I have to plan more in advance than I usually do.

Delivery and reception.

With Peapod, I can leave a tip for the driver during the checkout process, and I usually leave $5. While you can leave a tip online, if you have coupons to apply to your order, you hand them to the delivery person. I occasionally have coupons to use — but not often since they’re usually not worth the hassle for me. If I have one, I use one.

FreshDirect has not provided me any coupons thus far, except for a online code for $50 off my first order, then another coupon in the mail for $50 off my first two orders. Each time, the discount only would apply to orders over $125. These are codes that you would use during the checkout process online, and it was a struggle to use them. I entered the code in the appropriate place, but FreshDirect responded with a message saying the coupon wouldn’t be applied until I selected a delivery date and time.

I continued with the process, selected an open delivery window, and no longer had an opportunity to enter a code. I had to complete the checkout process and edit my shopping cart later to use the coupon code. Both FreshDirect and Peapod allow customers to modify their orders until a cut-off time in advance of the delivery, so it’s easy to make last additions to your shopping list or cancel the entire order. The services won’t charge your credit or debit card until the order is finalized, and in Peapod’s case, they won’t charge until your food is packed (and weighed, if applicable) at the warehouse and placed on the truck.

With Peapod, the refrigerated delivery truck arrives, and the driver grabs the plastic bags that were organized for the delivery before they were placed on the truck. He — so far, every time I’ve ordered, the delivery person has been male — carries the bags up to my kitchen and presents me with the invoice, indicating if the store needed to make any substitutions or if any of the items weren’t available for any reason.

FreshDirect’s delivery arrives by refrigerated truck as well, but my items have been packed into cardboard boxes, with dividers if necessary. This makes it easy for the delivery person to place the boxes on a hand truck to wheel them to my door. I was much more impressed with FreshDirect’s packaging than with Peapod’s. I have no use for Peapod’s plastic bags. I have little use for cardboard boxes either, but at least they’re better for the environment.

Selection and quality.

I don’t have exquisite taste when it comes to groceries. I do, however, have some favorites, and in those instances, FreshDirect delivers. I don’t drink soda very often, but I like Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda and Black Cherry Soda. Peapod doesn’t carry these drinks, although I can get them in Stop & Shop. FreshDirect also has some prepared meals which are useful in situations where I don’t feel like cooking, although one such meal I received was recalled right after I purchased it. (The company automatically credited my account and encouraged me to discard the item.)

With the deli meats that I order — my typical lunch is a sandwich — FreshDirect seems to offer higher quality. Yet, the same size slices of the same meats seem to last longer when I order from Peapod. That is, even though I order a quarter of a pound, sliced medium, I can make more sandwiches from the result when I order from Peapod than I can when I order from FreshDirect. That may be all in my mind, and it may also be all in my mind that the meat from FreshDirect is tastier.

For fresh meat, FreshDirect customers can customize their cuts, from thickness to weight. Customers can even choose vacuum packaging for an extra fee of $0.50. With Peapod, customers are restricted to a default cut thickness, predefined approximate weights, and cheaper Ziploc-type plastic bags.

FreshDirect has more choices for people who prefer organic foods. I don’t have much experience with that.

Price comparison.

Here are a few examples of the price differentiation between Peapod and FreshDirect.

Item Peapod FreshDirect
Arnold Whole Wheat Bread (each) (sale) $2.25 $4.39
Tuscan Dairy Farms Whole Milk (gallon) $4.69 $4.29
Boars Head Deluxe Roast Beef (pound) $13.99 $12.99
Skippy Creamy Peanut Butter (16.8 ox jar) $4.19 $3.69
Red Delicious Apples (bag of 4) $2.76 $3.99
Store Brand Unbleaced Flour (5 lbs) (sale) $2.00 $3.49

It’s interesting to see that it’s impossible to say, overall, that one store is cheaper than the other. The prices do vary, and this is just a snapshot of items at a snapshot in time. Assuming the prices average out to be roughly equal, the points for consideration are FreshDirect’s slight edge in quality and availability of more of the items I like and Peapod’s flexibility in scheduling delivery. In this case, I think FreshDirect wins, but by a small margin. In a pinch, I can still run to the store to get some of the items I can’t get from Peapod, but that defeats the purpose of delivery.

Update: With a second $50 coupon, I placed my second FreshDirect grocery delivery order. The options for delivery were more varied, and I was able to choose a delivery time within the next twenty-four hours. If this is the likely situation for future orders, FreshDirect will most likely be my delivery option of choice.

Do you have your groceries delivered? What are your experiences?


Someone I know is boycotting Wal-Mart. I would not be able to boycott Walmart myself, as I never shop there in the first place. My absence from Wal-Mart does not have any effect. I believe I’ve stepped inside the store twice in the past decade or longer, and I don’t remember why. The basis for avoiding the store came from visits long ago, while I was in college, and was reaffirmed by at least one of those visits in the past decade.

The stores are designed like bazaars, the people I encountered were rude and sometimes dirty, and the prices were no better than those I could find elsewhere. That’s enough to keep me away. The fact that the company does not respect its employees is another reason to avoid the retailer, but beside the point of my personal experience and preference.

Again this year, Wal-Mart stores featured brawls and arrests as people fought their way for a limited supply of marked-down items like iPad Minis. The store, and other stores like it, are not completely to blame. Yes, retailers manipulate the market to induce high demand and short supply, and this creates hysteria.

Why stores are open on the holidays.

Which comes first? Are stores, like those that open on Thanksgiving, forcing retail employees to spend less time with their families on this holiday, just responding to consumer demand? Or has the retail industry created this monster by hyping up materialism as a piece of American culture since the late 1940s through advertisements (including product placement in entertainment), changing how people living in the middle and lower classes expect to live their lives? Or has the public in the United States simply accepted this type of commercial messaging without wide criticism of behavior or philosophy?

That we’ve ended up with people trampling and killing others at Wal-Mart, like the incident in 2008, is a sad commentary on the state of American culture. The reasons that got us here are complex and intertwined. No, this type of activity, the mass hysteria surrounding the ever-expanding Black Friday time period, is not representative of everyone in the United States, however bad it looks to the outside world.

I not concerned that my not wanting to shop at Wal-Mart, for the reasons I cited above, makes me seem “elitist.” I also don’t shop in stores on the other end of the consumer spectrum, so I’m confident in the sensibility of my tastes.

“I pledge not to shop on Thanksgiving.”

This year, a popular campaign spread through social media: “I pledge to not shop on Thanksgiving. If I’m shopping, someone else is working and not spending time with their family. Everyone deserves a holiday.” A Facebook friend of mine responded to this campaign by welcoming the retail industry to the world he already lives in as an emergency responder. He, like doctors, firefighters, and police, work on holidays, but that’s understandable. If you’re in the business of saving lives, the calls can come at any time. Retail workers do not save lives. Do they deserve to be home with their families more than first responders do?

Others are calling for the government to intercede and force businesses to keep their doors closed on holidays. It’s an interesting concept; states and local governments have often historically required businesses to remain closed on Sundays. Officially, the reasons for these laws tend to be so employees can remain home with their families once a week, but you can’t ignore that the concept stems from a religious influence on government.

If shoppers led the way by refusing to shop on holidays, businesses would see no choice but to remain closed. But because every shopper wants to believe they’re scoring a deal, enough will take advantage of every opportunity. There will never be the a popular protest large enough to force stores to remain closed, but there will also never be the support for laws to do the same thing. We are headed towards a society where the retail industry will be open 24 hours a day around the holiday frenzy season.

Maybe working on holidays won’t be considered to be such a social problem in the future, if retail workers are replaced by robots (and if assaulting a robot becomes a punishable offense — there are many variables to consider). The prevalence of online shopping has probably prevented the adventures in brick-and-mortar shopping from being more deadly than it has been.

But isn’t “saving money” good for Americans?

It’s amazing that with all this focus on so-called saving money, Americans aren’t in better financial shape. Spending with discounts and bargain-hunting is far removed from “saving money.” Of course, it’s not amazing at all, because the prevalence of advertising and a culture of bargain-scouring results in more spending, not less.

As an individual, and certainly as a Consumerism Commentary reader, you may be able to exercise some control. You’re more likely to wait for only the best deals, buying only what you need, but overall, this approach to promotions, including advertising Black Friday deals and opening early, benefits the retail industry more than the purchasing public.

If these deals didn’t make tons of money for the retail industry, the shopping season would not be getting more intense every year. At the same time, a healthy retail industry is supposedly one of the keys to a booming economy. Then again, what worked in the years after World War II may not be as effective today. Retail profit margins are thinner than ever. Much of the profit goes to the manufacturers who are likely to be based outside the United States.

Can “Small Business Saturday” help?

Over the last few years, American Express has tried its own marketing campaign, supposedly to aid the economy. The company’s Small Business Saturday encourages Americans to spend money on the Saturday following Black Friday — after all their money has been spent, anyway — by patronizing local businesses. These are the businesses who can’t discount prices on the same merchandise found in large stores, but can perhaps offer products you can’t find elsewhere.

Small Business Saturday is however just an excuse to get consumers to use American Express cards more often, so the large financial corporation can increase its profits on swipe fees. Many small businesses do not accept American Express cards because the swipe fees (fees the retailer pays to credit card processing companies for each transaction) are higher than those for Visa and MasterCard, but then again, premium Visa and MasterCard credit cards, like those offering rewards and concierge services, can rival American Express in terms of high swipe fees.

So if you really want to help your local business and local economy, shop from small business as often as possible, and use cash.

How did you handle shopping through this year’s Thanksgiving holiday? Did you go shopping and did it take time away from your families? Did you use a Black Friday outing as a way to bond with your family like Erin did? Are you planning to shop locally on Saturday? Does Cyber Monday exist this year? What can society do to change today’s consumerism-focused situation, if you believe it does need to change? Can boycotting accomplish anything?

Regardless of what you’ve done on the consumer side of your life, I hope you — all Consumerism Commentary readers who celebrate Thanksgiving — had an enjoyable and thankful day.

Photo: Flickr/jbhthescots


For some reason, this year I’ve been bombarded more than any other year by advertisements for Black Friday deals. The marketing is coming from helpful people who just want to share the good news with their friends, people who are clearly paid to spread the messages, and retailers who simply want people to buy as much as possible so they can show a profit on their financial books this year.

Many of the “Black Friday deals” you hear about are not good bargains, they’re just marketed in a way to make people believe they are. Furthermore, even if an advertisement is a good deal for someone, it may not be a bargain for you. Here’s how to see past the dirty marketing tricks and determine where and how it’s worthwhile to spend your money this holiday season.

Be skeptical of every advertisement, even if it’s coming from a trusted source.

Dirty trick: companies use your friends and other trusted entities to convince you a deal is worthwhile.

When retailers or manufacturers pay the public to advertise for them, it changes the natural order of communication. If I were to ask you to share a deal I’m offering, let’s say it’s a notebook computer for $400, you might not think it’s such a great deal, and you’d be unlikely to share it. But if I offered the deal and said I’d pay you $25 for every sale you refer to me, you’d be more likely to share the deal. And why not? A few sales and you’d be able to buy the notebook computer for yourself.

Many people sharing their favorite deals have the promise of their own income as a motivating factor for sharing the deals. I’m no stranger to this; sales, while a small part of my business, contributed strongly to the value of that business, which eventually allowed me to sell that business and remove myself almost completely from the sales process. Eventually, those who share bad deals as if they’re good will eventually stop because they will, over time, not be seen as a trusted source. But there will always be others.

Being skeptical and always asking questions is the basis of one money system that will lead you to success in building wealth.

Price history and future.

Dirty trick: Advertisements make you think a price is good when it’s not.

One question you want to ask is whether the deal is a good price, not just based on history but on the future as well. Advertisements can make a price seem good when it is not by evoking an emotional response rather than providing the information you need to make a good decision.

On the whole, Black Friday ads published by reputable retailers do a good job of offering the lowest price for many items thus far, but what may be difficult to predict are price movements between Black Friday and the holidays. (This yeah, Hanukkah falls very close to, and even on, Thanksgiving, but that isn’t the case most years.) In many cases, Black Friday deals don’t look as good in hindsight, because depending on the items, prices continue to fall as retailers want to eliminate their inventory before the new year.

According to Consumer Reports, prices almost always fall after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The frenzy and hype surrounding these shopping events often cloud what is really happening with prices. The Wall Street Journal agrees.

Plan your shopping and stick to the plan.

Dirty trick: Advertisements encourage impulse decisions, and consumers spend more.

Most holiday shopping mistakes occur because it’s easy to make impulsive purchasing decisions. When a sale lasts just one day like Black Friday — or when a desired item is likely to run out of stock within hours of a store’s opening — the emotional frenzy takes over and rational decision-making loses. Maybe you can get a toaster oven for $15, but if you weren’t planning to give anyone a toaster oven and you have your own, you’re not saving $40, you’re spending $15. That’s not saving; that’s spending.

“Buy now while supplies last” is one message that successfully encourages shoppers to spend more than they otherwise would, in this case, with a sense of false urgency. And even if supplies don’t last (they might not with “doorbusters”) there will always be a roughly equivalent alternative.

Bargain culture has taken over the concept of holiday shopping. People look for deals just to be proud of their shopping savvy. But if it’s not on your list, it’s not a deal for you.

Deals help retailers clear inventory of discontinued items.

Dirty trick: Heavily discounted items are often worth less than nothing to the retailers.

Many of the Black Friday deals you’ll experience are able to be priced as they are because they are discontinued or old items. Technology moves quickly. One of Best Buy’s biggest deals in its Black Friday advertisement is for $100 off an iPad 2. This sounds like a great deal, and for someone, perhaps a kid, it might make a good gift. But the problem is that this version of the iPad is considered old technology. It won’t even run some of the more modern iPad applications. A year from now, the iPad 2 will seem positively ancient.

This particular iPad (the 16GB variety) isn’t technically discontinued, but its cousins are, and there have been three generations of iPads since the iPad 2 was introduced. In terms of technological advancement, it’s already ancient.

Many other technology products follow similar cycles. Many deeply discounted items in Black Friday ads have been out of date for a year or two. If buying a product that will continue to receive support from the manufacturer and will remain competitive in the marketplace for a good amount of time is important to you, there are two things that can happen. If you buy the deeply discounted item, you’ll be unhappy with the purchase earlier. Or, if you like the deal but want a more current version of the product, you will end up spending more money for the more up-to-date item.

How to shop for the holidays intelligently.

I’m tempted to completely ignore the holiday marketing season. For me, and for many other people, it’s a waste of time. Buy what you need or strongly want, maintain some discipline, and be done with it. As studies show, Black Friday isn’t the best time to buy most things in terms of price.

But there are some good resources that are worthwhile if you do have a fairly typical household where paying attention to actual, not purely marketing, bargains might help. The drawback of putting time into this endeavor is that it’s very easy to get sucked into the shopping frenzy and spend more money than you need to. The holiday season is terrible for long-term wealth building.

But if you must, there are a few essential resources.

  • Keep your eye on, where you can find deals on just about everything that exists for the holiday season. This is just everything, so there’s no good indication of what might be a legitimate bargain and what won’t be. You need to use a critical eye.
  • Consumer Reports is simply the best in terms of editorial when it comes to holiday shopping. They are not as easily influenced by the retail industry, and the writers are willing to speak the truth. The magazine’s ratings are absolutely invaluable when it comes to making larger purchases, inside or outside the holiday season.
  • It’s best to remain skeptical when reading even the best blogs and websites with holiday deals, but you may want to start with SavingsLifestyle, FatWallet, and CNET.

What are your plans for holiday shopping this year?


In terms of credit card offers, Chase Freedom is one of the most popular. This is the card that was selected by expert personal financial bloggers to win the Fourth Annual Plutus Award for Best Credit Card Offer, most likely due to its cash back program, a sign-up bonus, and the strength of the Chase brand in terms of consumer credit cards.

All those late fees and interest charges go to pay more than just the rewards for customers who use their credit card wisely by paying off the balance in full each month. They also help support Chase’s internal consumer research. Every quarter, Chase collects aggregate data related to the spending habits of the Chase Freedom cardholders.

Chase BankChase, like every credit card issuer, knows exactly where and when you spend your money. Your purchase patterns form a unique fingerprint, and whether you know it or not, your credit card issuer probably knows more about you than you know yourself. But when Chase pulls together patterns from across all credit card users, the personal information, like your name or your address, is left out. All that remains is this fingerprint, and as long as it remains combined with other fingerprints, the data analysts have no way of knowing who is attached to the data.

The purpose of this data collection is to determine trends in consumer spending. This can be valuable information for retailers who want to forecast their business performance over the coming months and years. From a consumer perspective, it can be interesting to note changes in the public’s spending behavior. An increasingly number of companies have access to this type of information. When we track our finances on software like, or follow financial experts’ advice to use credit cards for spending rather than carrying cash, we willingly share something very personal — our spending habits — with companies that can profit from that information.

By using your credit card, you’re granting permission to various entities to use your data for their own benefit, and whether you’re fine with this concept or not, it’s good to be aware of it. All this data, coming from millions of consumers in the United States and billions of transactions each year, contributes to this new concept of “Big Data.” Big Data is the new monster, kind of like “Big Government,” that threatens to infringe on the private lives of American citizens.

Data sets are meaningless until they are interpreted, and the Chase Freedom Lifestyle Index is one approach to analyzing the consumer data collected from Chase Freedom cardholders. To engage people in sharing information, data can be boring. Stories are more interesting. Stories that come from data and its analysis resonate with people. When we say that the data indicate that there is a “continued strength of Do-It-Yourselfers who might be buying a home or remodeling their current residence,” as the latest announcement from the Chase Freedom Lifestyle Index does, homeowners can relate to it.

It doesn’t particularly matter that the analysis may be only one way of interpreting the data, and that it may be influenced by either a bias of preconception or simply a story that Chase wanted to tell and now has some numbers to back it up. The announcement goes into some detail. Spending at home improvement stores is up only four percent over the past year, but spending at craft stores increased 91 percent over the same time period. There may be more data behind the conclusion Chase is making, but with just the information presented, I’m not sure I would agree with this particular conclusion.

Why would spending at craft stores increase 91 percent? I’ve shopped in these stores, assuming craft stores include retailers like Michaels Arts & Crafts and AC Moore. Their clientele does not seem to include people looking to buy a home or remodel their residence. Craft stores cater to people working on smaller projects, the Pinterest crowd, perhaps. Artists, gardeners, elementary school teachers, yes. That’s one type of “do-it-yourself.” Tearing down drywall, installing your own kitchen cabinets, and building your own deck are all other do-it-yourself activities, but are activities that aren’t served by craft stores, and for the most part, represent a different selection of consumers.

The nearly doubled increase in craft store spending could simply be attributed to the growing popularity of smaller projects, inspired by the Pinterest culture, but also be related to an increase in prices at these stores as retailers react to the increasing demand.

Chase’s announcement contains a comment which struck me as weird: “Perhaps a sign of calm before the holiday shopping storm, consumer electronics spending continued to decline, dropping 7 percent compared to Q3 2012 and 11 percent compared to Q3 2011.” Of course, if you offer a statement with a qualifier like “perhaps,” you remove all responsibility for having to make an accurate analysis.

Here we have evidence of a lowered level of spending in the electronics category, but rather than extrapolate this pattern of decreasing spending into the holiday season, the analysis makes the assumption that either the decreasing spending is an anomaly, or that we can expect an anomaly once people start spending for the holidays. Chase already has an expectation for holiday spending, and regardless of how the electronics category has been shown to perform in the third quarter, the analysts weren’t about to let those data get in the way.

Also in the press release, Chase offers this statement: “The data suggests [sic] that consumers are recommitting to resolutions and self-improvement goals set forth earlier in the year, evidenced by year-over-year spending increases on books (+6 percent), sporting goods (+5 percent), and lessons and classes (+3 percent).” Have you recommitted to your resolutions and goals in July, August, and September? What were the goals you set for yourself earlier this year? Is this a fact or just a story, an interpretation of why spending in these categories may have increased?

J.P. Morgan Chase is not a non-profit organization working on behalf of the consumer. They have no obligation to release their data and allow others to analyze it. The company has a story to tell and will use data to tell that story at the same time they use the data to determine what strategic changes they can make to their business to better generate profit for shareholders. The two stories, one public and one internal, that come out of the same data sets, may not be identical. I’m not saying this company or any other is using data to mislead the public, just that data can be used to support almost any story you’d like to tell.

Photo: Flickr


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by Luke Landes
World Book Encyclopedia

From one of my social media accounts a few days ago, I responded to an article in Psychology Today. First of all, the article is a good read that discusses the relationship between money and happiness, and a recent study that disagrees with some of the more publicized studies from the past few years. It’s ... Continue reading this article…

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Maker’s Mark Adds Water

by Luke Landes
Maker's Mark

I’ve never had Maker’s Mark, but I do have friends who enjoy this particular brand of bourbon — or the bottles in which the bourbon is sold. With this latest piece of news, I’m wondering if the company believes the bottle is the product being sold rather than the alcohol inside. Beam, the corporate owner ... Continue reading this article…

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