Online grocery adoption grows

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
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Mobile grocery shoppers show promising trends.

Consumer enthusiasm for purchasing groceries online continues climbing.

Online grocery sales continue to grow at a stable pace and will reach 20% of the total grocery sales by 2026, according to data from “eGrocery Transformation: 2021 market projections and insight into online grocery's elevated future,” a grocery consumer study from Mercatus and Incisiv. Results show that even as customers began to return to stores, adoption of online grocery shopping increased by 14% year-over-year, with 49% of surveyed consumers shopping for groceries online compared to 43% in 2020.

In addition, 46% of respondents bought more grocery categories online in 2021, compared to 34% in 2020, which Mercatus says indicates higher comfort with online grocery shopping. To consumer motivations to shop online included convenience (72%), saving time (45%), initially pandemic-induced but now convenience (30%), and ongoing COVID-19 health concerns 19%.

However, some online grocery statistics actually showed decline from 2020 levels. Online average order value (AOV) dropped 14% year-over-year, from $106 to $92, due to a decline in bulk ordering. And the reopening of stores did have an impact on the average number of monthly online shopping trips, which declined 12% to 2.3 from 2.6 as respondents returned to brick-and-mortar shopping.

Top friction points in the online grocery shopping experience include product search and inventory status visibility (66% each), site navigation 49% (up from 36% in 2020), and product categorization/layout and searching for available delivery slots at a store (45% each). Product categorization/layout rose from 33% in 2020, while searching for available delivery slots and inventory status visibility both slightly declined in prevalence from 2020.

The study also examined trends in mobile grocery shopping, finding it a highly lucrative digital grocery channel. Mobile apps consistently showed better conversion and customer engagement metrics than desktop e-commerce sites. including a 3x higher conversion rate, 4.2x higher number of products viewed, and 6x more time spent on a mobile app than a desktop site. Consumers intend to shop using mobile (app and web) at three times the rate of desktop over the next two years.

Other interesting findings include:

  • Three-quarters of all online orders are expected to be fulfilled at stores, either via in-store pickup or curbside pickup.
  • Among suburban households, delivery adoption is 80% lower as compared to urban shoppers.
  • Adoption of curbside pickup jumped to 61% from 57% in 2020, while home delivery stayed flat at 46%
  • While 57% of respondents say that
expedited (same-day) delivery is important, only 15% are willing to pay a
fee for it.
  • 34%of respondents have received their last online grocery order from Instacart delivery, vs. 24% from the retailer’s own delivery service, 22% from Amazon /Amazon Fresh, and 6% from Shipt.

According to figures previously released by Incisiv, the online grocery channel (pickup, delivery and ship-to-home) is expected to continue to grow to reach 11.1% of total U.S. grocery sales in 2021. In five years’ time, online grocery is projected to account for 20.5% of total U.S. grocery sales – or an estimated $263 billion out of total annual sales of USD $1,285 trillion. This represents a marginal reduction over 2020’s estimate as U.S. grocery customers adjust to returning to brick-and-mortar grocery stores.

More than 40,000 respondents across 20 states completed the survey, fielded in July 2021, generating more than 40 million data points.