Meet the online grocers

Could shopping at your local supermarket soon be a thing of the past?

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Lim Yi Ling
Lim Yi Ling

Honestbee takes a leaf from Uber’s book and leverages on existing resources – in this case, partner supermarkets instead of private vehicles – to serve up groceries to customers. Its lack of an inventory is what sets it apart from its competitors.

Instead, it relies on freelance runners to respond to orders and make deliveries. The on-demand nature of its operations means that it’s a lot more nimble and doesn’t have to deal with the costs associated with operating and maintaining its own storage facilities.

The process was really quite simple. At the landing page, you’re prompted to key in your postal code or address, and a list of available partner stores is then displayed.

Considering the ease with which you’re now able to have purchases delivered to your doorstep, it was only a matter of time before the same applied to groceries. Traditional brick and mortar supermarkets already have their own online stores, but we’re now seeing the rapid growth of e-services start-ups such as Honestbee and Redmart.

The logistics of stocking and delivering fresh produce is a whole different ball game from an online store that deals with gadgets or clothes. Companies have to grapple with issues such as refrigeration costs, especially if they have their own inventories, as Redmart does. And in our tropical climate, any glitch in the refrigeration system could result in tons of spoilt produce.

Then, there’s the issue of variable quality. Food doesn’t roll off an assembly line in identical copies. This particular roll of cabbage may be fresh and green, but the one next to it could be a less savoury specimen. Online supermarkets have to take over the task of picking and choosing the best selections from their customers, which may be a deal-breaker for some.

We decided to try our hand at ordering from three such services to get a better idea of the online ordering experience. Could going to the supermarket soon be a thing of the past? Here’s our verdict.

My Reading Room
My Reading Room
My Reading Room
One of Honestbee’s strongest selling points is its same-day delivery offering.

The interface is simple to navigate, and a helpful side bar with clear categories such as “Fresh Fruit and Vegetables” or “Preserved and Dried Food” lets you find what you need quickly. This isn’t unlike actual supermarket aisle signs.

After adding the desired quantity to your cart, you’re prompted to leave your phone number and any further instructions before checkout. For instance, you can simply instruct the runner to leave your items at your doorstep if you’re not home, or even specify how ripe you want your fruit to be.

One of Honestbee’s strongest selling points is its same-day delivery offering, which is good news for intrepid chefs who are missing key ingredients at the last minute. We were offered a list of time slots, the earliest being two hours from our order time. First-time customers have their delivery fees waived for orders above $10, which was a much more generous criterion, compared to charges from Redmart and Cold Storage.

Payment is made by credit card, and you are then asked to select replacement items should your ordered items be out of stock. And as a final contingency measure, you can make a request for the runner to call you if even the replacement items are unavailable, or simply opt to receive only available items.

And voila! Our order was sitting on our doorstep two hours later, and the items were fresh and in good condition.

The site is also optimised for mobile-phone use, and it remembers your credit card information, so you can pretty much order while on the move.


Redmart is a massive logistical operation with its own automated fulfilment centre. Instead of having runners go to partner stores to pick out items, it relies on its own inventory and its network of independent sellers on the Redmart Marketplace to meet customer demands.

Redmart’s interface is slightly different. First, you have to search for a specific product or category in order to view the available listings. For instance, searching for “herbs” yields suggested categories such as “Salads & Herbs” and “Herbs & Spices”, along with individual product listings that match the word or phrase you searched for.

Because it controls and takes stock of its own inventory, Redmart is able to offer helpful filters within individual categories to sort items according to whether they are new arrivals, on sale, or simply in stock. This also means there’s no need to select second-choice items at checkout. In comparison, an on-demand service such as Honestbee would have to rely on an on-site runner to determine if an item is available. In addition, you can filter items according to brand, price, and even popularity.

At checkout, you can enter special instructions as to how you want your items delivered. However, there’s now an option for self-collection at certain pickup locations across the island. It’s certainly helpful to have the choice, especially if you happen to live near these locations and want to save on delivery for small orders.

Redmart switches things up a bit when it comes to selecting a delivery time slot. You’re able to reserve a two-hour time slot before you even add items to your basket, although you can do it while checking out as well. It’s handy for those who are going to be spending quite a bit of time shopping online and don’t want to risk having their ideal time slot snapped up. However, do note that your reservation is only good for an hour.

But unlike Honestbee, you’re not likely to get a same-day delivery slot. We ordered on a Sunday, and the earliest available slot was on Tuesday. So, if you’re intending to buy from Redmart, you should plan ahead. At the time of writing, Redmart was also offering free delivery for orders over $30.

Different payment options are available at checkout, and you can pay with either your credit card or Paypal. Before confirming your order, Redmart generates a list of suggested items that it thinks might go with your order. Given the size of its inventory, this could potentially be useful.

My Reading Room
My Reading Room
Redmart relies on its own inventory and its network of independent sellers on the Redmart Marketplace to meet customer demands.
My Reading Room
One particularly useful feature is something called “My Shopping List”, which allows you to add things for purchasing at a later date.

Then there’s Cold Storage, which offers an online version of its physical store. Supermarket aisle categories make a return here, in addition to a dedicated section for promotions such as weekly deals or bulk specials.

Each “aisle” is, in turn, sub-divided into small categories. For instance, under “Grocery”, there were headers for snacks, sweets and baking needs.

The checkout process combines elements from both Honestbee and Redmart. You select the action you want the runner to take if your item is unavailable, and are prompted with an additional list of suggested items before checkout.

For replacements, there are four options to choose from. Not only can you choose whether you want an unavailable item substituted for something else, but you can also decide if you want to be called and informed about it. So, if your item is unavailable and you indicated that you wanted a replacement, the runner will either call you to ask what you want, or decide for you.

Delivery time is on a par with Redmart, with the earliest delivery slot available two days after. But instead of strict two-hour windows, Cold Storage’s delivery windows range from three to four hours.

And in addition to credit cards, there’s also the option to pay by cash. Unfortunately, there’s no free delivery for first-time customers, and Cold Storage charges a $12 delivery fee for orders less than $60 and $7 for orders above that.

One particularly useful feature is something called “My Shopping List”, which allows you to add things for purchasing at a later date. So if you often list things to buy on a crummy sheet of paper, only to lose it later, this could help keep you organised. The system also saves your order history, so you can easily reorder your weekly shopping list.

Incidentally, Redmart has a similar function which automatically adds your purchase history to what it calls “My List”. Like Cold Storage’s own feature, this is a virtual shopping list that helps prevent you from forgetting items.


There’s a lot of talk about how online supermarkets are disrupting the grocery market, and we can absolutely see why. Online grocery shopping is exceedingly convenient, and the three we covered here don’t even represent all of available options.

It also saves a lot of time thanks to virtual shopping lists,quick reordering features, and mobile-optimised sites and apps, which allow you to shop faster and order from just about anywhere with an Internet connection.

For an idea of where this might go, consider Tesco in the UK. Its online business became so popular that the runners were disrupting the in-store experience of regular shoppers, and restocking the shelves was an hourly problem. As a result, Tesco resorted to dark stores, which are essentially stores set up to serve only online runners.

Unless you really enjoy picking out your food or are extremely wary of quality issues, we can’t see why you wouldn’t want to give one of these online stores a shot. Why bother trudging through the physical store when you can browse all the aisles with a click of your mouse?

Lim Yi Ling
Lim Yi Ling