Roughly 90% of online grocery shoppers expect to continue buying food online once the pandemic is over. Most consumers who changed grocery providers during the pandemic switched to another store-based retailer.

Online grocery purchases will account for about 21.5% of total U.S. grocery sales by 2025, reaching an estimated $250 billion, according to a study of nearly 60,000 U.S. shoppers.

The study, from grocery ecommerce platform Mercatus USA Inc. and research firm Incisiv, shows how the pandemic-related online grocery shopping could boost the online share of the $1 trillion-plus U.S. grocery market for years to come.

The report points out that a pre-pandemic 2019 projections from Incisiv and Winsight Grocery Business predicted online sales would reach 13.5% of total grocery sales by 2025.

 

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In the Mercatus/Incisiv survey, 43% of respondents had shopped online for groceries over the preceding six months (up from 24% in 2018). At 50%, online grocery adoption was highest among consumers in the 25-44 age group. Among shoppers 45 to 54 years of age, 39% shopped for at least some of their groceries online. For shoppers of ages 65 and above, 36% did so.

The most-cited reason for shopping online for groceries was COVID-19 concerns (62%). But nearly as many cited convenience (61%) and a sizeable percentage (52%) said online grocery shopping saved time.

The survey revealed other changes in shopping behavior brought on by the pandemic. Among respondents, 40% reduced the frequency of their shopping trips, and 46% changed their preferred fulfillment method. A majority (52%) of respondents said curbside pickup was their preferred fulfillment method when they were sheltering in place, while 38% chose home delivery as their favorite and 10% named in-store pickup. Before sheltering in place, those percentages were 44%, 32% and 24%, respectively.

Customer satisfaction was high for curbside pickup (79%) and home delivery (74%). But consumers also said retailers should make improvements. For example, the report says, respondents expressed a desire for more personalization of product recommendations better website and app functionality.

For curbside pickup users, 82% of respondents cited limited product availability as a “friction point.” 62% identified the availability of same-day or next-day pickup as something retailers could improve on. Home-delivery customers’ top complaints were the communication of out-of-stock items (44%) and delivery fees (41%).

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Shoppers expect to stick with online grocery buying

One reason for the optimistic market share and sales projections: Mercatus/Incisiv research says roughly 90% of online shoppers expect to continue shopping online. But that does not mean consumers are likely to flock to web-only grocery merchants. The survey found 87% of shoppers intend to remain loyal to their preferred bricks-and-mortar retailer—even as they experiment with different online retail options.

That high loyalty to preferred retailers does not necessarily extend to online orders. Among those surveyed, 58% were satisfied with their preferred bricks-and-mortar retailers’ online shopping capabilities. However, while 43% of respondents bought groceries online in 2020, only 26% said they shopped online at their preferred grocers. The rest either did not shop for groceries online or used an alternative grocer.

While about 30% of shoppers changed their primary grocery shopping destinations during the pandemic, the report says just 8% shifted to an online-only grocery provider, the survey found. That includes 61% who moved from one retail chain to another and 19% started using the online app of another bricks-and-mortar retailer—meaning 80% of shoppers who switched providers chose another retailer with a physical presence. Also, 12% of shoppers who switched primary grocery providers moved to a third-party delivery marketplace such as Instacart or Shipt—which work with grocery retail chains.

Lack of product availability (56%), concerns over safety protocols (33%), and the availability of pickup or delivery time slots (24%) were the most-cited reasons for switching retailers. The top reasons cited for satisfaction with a grocery retailer were “proximity to me” (50%), value for money (46%), and product quality (37%).

More online grocery news

  • Amazon.com Inc. (No. 1 in the 2020 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000) recently made its first Amazon Fresh grocery store in the Woodland Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles open to all shoppers. Because of the pandemic, Amazon temporarily opened the store in April as a fulfillment center for online grocery delivery orders. Like the Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market grocery chain, the new store will conduct daily temperature checks for all employees; require face coverings for all employees and customers entering the store; offer free, disposable masks for any customer who wants one; and operate the store at 50% capacity. Also, Whole Foods plans to offer grocery pickup from 480 stores by the end of September, a spokeswoman confirmed.
  • Earlier this month 7‑Eleven Inc. began offering same-day delivery via app-based delivery service Instacart from more than 750 convenience stores in Florida, Texas, Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.  Over the coming months, the rollout will expand to include more than 7,000 7‑Eleven stores, Instacart says. Instacart says it works with more than 400 regional and national retailers and is accessible to more than 85% of households in the United States. 7-Eleven is the first national convenience store to join its marketplace, Instacart says. 7‑Eleven operates, franchises and/or licenses about 11,800 stores in North America.
  • A recent survey from Mercatus and digital grocery consultant Brick Meets Click found U.S. online grocery delivery and pickup sales for August 2020 totaled $5.7 billion, down from June’s peak of $7.2 billion. But average order value for online orders increased to a record high of $95. Plus, intent to make a repeat purchase in the next month reached 75% in a market that is nearly five times larger than it was a year earlier. Brick Meets Click and Mercatus fielded its Grocery Shopping Survey Aug. 24-26, 2020, to 1,817 U.S. adults.

 

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