In 2021, convenience is the primary motivation driving grocery shoppers online. But some shoppers remain nervous about exposure to COVID-19 when shopping in stores.

2020 was a big year for total U.S. ecommerce sales. Measured by percentage growth, it was an even bigger year for U.S. online grocery sales. 

Online food and beverage sales grew 108.2% to $110.72 billion, compared with $53.19 billion in 2019, according to Digital Commerce 360 estimates.

The Digital Commerce 360 estimate includes U.S.-based food retailers and grocers such as The Kroger Co. (No. 8 in the 2021 Digital Commerce 360 Top 1000), Albertsons Cos. Inc. (No. 27), Thrive Market Inc. (No. 175) and Blue Apron Inc. (No. 155). Also included are the estimated food and beverage sales of mass merchants like Inc. (No. 1), Costco Wholesale Corp. (No. 10), Target Corp. (No. 6) and Walmart Inc (No. 2)—each of which is a sizeable grocery merchant—and the U.S. online sales from international sellers Ahold Delhaize—the owner of and several U.S. grocery store chains—and HelloFresh Group, an online meal-kit retailer based in Germany.



Among the 39 food/beverage retailers ranked in the Digital Commerce 350 Top 1000, eight had year-over-year sales increases of 100% or more in 2020. As a group, online sales for the food/beverage retailers in the Top 1000 soared 102.8%. The median year-over-year sales increase for those 39 retailers was 48.5%.

Retailers expect 2021 to be another strong year for online food sales, despite the relative normalcy created with states and municipalities easing restrictions related to COVID-19.

“Both digital engagement and ordering remains strong with customers,” says Usman Humayu, vice president of digital marketing at grocery chain operator Albertsons Cos. Inc. “While the pandemic allowed for rapid acceleration of both development and adoption of digital for groceries, we are seeing stickiness in customer behavior, especially when they are presented with the right experience and content on digital platforms.”

COVID-19 and convenience drive grocery shoppers online

Food and beverage stores remained open during the pandemic-related shutdowns, but in surveys, consumers expressed wariness about going into stores. That hesitancy—which helped power a surge in online orders for delivery or curbside pickup in 2020—persists in 2021. But convenience is a more important motivator for shoppers who order groceries online.


As of August 2021, 38% of online grocery shoppers said they were still avoiding stores because they were nervous about COVID-19, according to a survey of 1,028 online grocery shoppers by Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights. But, in the same poll, 61% of shoppers cited “it saves me time” as a motivator. 57% of those surveyed said they purchase groceries online because they can shop at times convenient for them, and 46% said online shopping helps them avoid long lines at grocery stores.

Large players dominate online food retailing

The U.S. online grocery market is far more concentrated than the overall U.S. grocery market.

Unlike the overall U.S. grocery market, characterized by numerous regional and local chains, a few prominent players dominate the online grocery channel. Combined, the top three online grocery retailers—Walmart, Amazon and Kroger—accounted for almost 74% of online food sales.


Digital Commerce 360 estimates Walmart led the way in 2020, garnering a 32.1% market share the U.S. online grocery sales for the year. Amazon was in second place in 2020, with 28.9% of online grocery sales. Kroger, the largest standalone grocer in the United States, was a distant third, with a 12.6% share of online grocery sales.

As a group, the top three online food retailers represented a comparatively small 35.5% share of the $1.4 trillion total U.S. grocery market. Walmart—which is the largest grocery merchant in the country—garnered just under 23%. Kroger, the second-place grocery retailer, captured less than 10% of the total market in 2020. Amazon’s 2020 market was 3.2% of total U.S. grocery sales.

This article is based on an analysis from Digital Commerce 360’s 2021 Online Food Report. This report is available to Digital Commerce 360’s Gold and Platinum members or available to purchase for $399. View the table of contents for full details on what’s included in the report. You can learn how to purchase the 2021 Online Food Report here.


Included in the 2021 Online Food Report:

  • The continuing impact of COVID-19 on grocery shopping
  • 30+ charts and tables
  • Estimated market shares of the top online grocery merchants
  • Focus sections on Walmart, Amazon and Albertsons
  • An overview of online grocery funding rounds in 2021
  • The rise of fast, on-demand delivery services
  • Fulfillment experiments using drones and wheeled delivery robots