In a world where everything has gone online, grocery shopping has followed suit. This need-based industry made its shift online, even in the pre-COVID era. But it is crucial to notice the boost that lockdowns have given the online grocery shopping industry during the pandemic.
Grocery Shopping Pre-COVID
By 2017, 23.4% of the American population were buying their groceries online. It was a massive jump from 3.9% in 2007.
However, this was not true for all sectors of the grocery industry, as this chart shows. Even in 2017, when over 23% of the US population was buying groceries online, this was mostly restricted to pantry items (like bread) or specialist ingredients that local stores would not have.
When it came to fresh produce, they trusted physically buying instead. Thus, they could judge the quality of the food they were going to consume. It mainly applied to the meat and fish industry, where freshness determined everything.
Habitual vs. Experimental
There is also evidence suggesting that people buying online were more habitual in their purchases. When going to a physical store, you may not always find the brand you desire. But if you need something, you cannot help but switch.
The online mode gives you the option to repeat order, letting you re-purchase everything without trying anything new unless the recipe calls for it.
This also completely changed post-COVID and the world going online. Let’s now see what these changes have entailed.
Grocery Shopping During COVID-19
While seamless customer experience was the priority of all grocery businesses, even pre-pandemic, this is even more the case with e-commerce. We can broadly understand the rise in online shopping in two ways:
- Previously offline shoppers shifting online
- Existing online shoppers’ change in buying habits
In June 2020, online grocery sales hit a record $7.2 billion in the USA alone, jumping from $1.2 billion in August 2019. However, this is understandable, considering the leap in the number of shoppers. In a 2019 survey, only 16.1 million Americans regularly bought groceries online. The number increased to 45.6 million by June 2020.
However, the shift to mobile grocery shopping has not been easy for offline shoppers. Therefore, it is up to the online store to optimize their user experience. As John Ross, president and CEO of the Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA), says, “The majority of transactions are coming from mobile devices, not laptops or desktops… Whatever model you have, you have to look [at it] through the lens of, ‘How is it going to appear on mobile devices, and how can we accelerate [that] experience for the shopper?’”
Meanwhile, online shoppers are more familiar with the interface. Hence, their buying habits have also changed. According to a survey by Core-sight in March 2020, the online shift pushes people to buy more frequently and in larger amounts.
With more people shifting online, bulk buying makes sense due to scarcity. While that may be a downside to this trend, several businesses are noting the multiple benefits of investing in online grocery shopping.
The Benefits of Online Grocery Shopping
There are several reasons companies are considering shifting online permanently or at least keeping their online stores. These include:
- Real Estate Costs: Once you buy a website, there is no need to worry about the maintenance of physical space. This is especially poignant for smaller, local stores.
- More Customers: Customers can access you everywhere. They no longer feel demotivated to drive to your store. Instead, your store is just a tap away. They can also browse for as long as they want and do not have to wait in long lines for checkouts.
- Safer Methods: While cashless grocery stores are currently taking being experimented with (e.g. Amazon Go), online shopping is a more reliable method – something preferred during a pandemic. Customers do not have to worry about multiple hands touching the same product.
- Faster Checkouts = More Checkouts: Features like one-tap checkout and bigger online shopping cart plugins encourage customers to try new things. This is especially important at the regional level, where the competition is most intense.
- Adding Incentives: Use discounts and free delivery coupons to your advantage. Give past customers incentives to come to your store and adapt to their needs so that you remain their first option.
The change in shopping habits seems here to stay. As more grocery stores adapt, the numbers grow, and the online economy continues flourishing.
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