Online orders and sales continue to rise, leaving stores empty, as pandemic pushes grocery shoppers into digital discovery

Sep 9, 2020

Erik Wallin

Woman Smiling
Woman Smiling

44% of households in June expressed a high level of concern about catching COVID-19, according to a new survey from BMC/Mercatus, as the global health crisis continued to take its toll. The figure is up from 42% in May, reflecting increasing concern despite a variety of lockdown and social distancing measures.

It is this concern that is driving a sustained increase in demand for online grocery shopping. Orders and sales value have risen significantly since the start of the crisis, as many shoppers seek to minimise the time they spend in-store, instead opting for home delivery or pickup services.

Quite simply, more and more of us are turning to online grocery services as a routine part of the way that we buy food. The BMC/Mercatus survey shows that household penetration of online grocery services in the US hit 46.5 million customers in June (it stood at 43 million in May). That accounts for a penetration rate of 35%.

This fresh interest in online grocery shopping isn’t expected to tail off any time soon. Indeed, 32% of all households report being extremely likely or very likely to use an online grocery delivery or pickup service during the coming 90 days. Online food shopping is here to stay.

The sales figures are most stark when compared with those before the coronavirus crisis began. In August 2019, online grocery sales stood at $1.2 billion. By June 2020, they had risen to $7.2 billion — six times the previous level.

Order numbers over the same period rose from 16.1 million to 85.0 million, while the average spend per order went from $72 in August 2019 to $84 in June 2020.

Customers are shopping online for food more, spending more and also focusing more on choosing recipes and planning out meals. According to recipe shopping platform Gastrofy (a subsidiary of Northfork), 49% of shoppers have recipes and meals in mind when they enter into grocery shopping online.

The opportunity for grocery businesses is huge. That means providing easy-to-use, efficient solutions that take account of shoppers’ preferences, such as diet, allergens, budget or organic.

Veganism in the US, for example, has increased by 300% over the past 15 years, according to Ipsos Retail Performance. The market for organic food, meanwhile, is expected to increase from a value of $43.7 billion in 2017 to $70.4 billion in 2025. Online grocery retailers need to service these growing markets in order to continue thriving.

Delivering such positive shopping experiences will help retailers to win over loyal customers who will stick with them even once the external imperative for shopping online — the COVID pandemic — has been removed.

Grocery retail has been forced to change immeasurably. Now, it’s up to those delivering online food shopping services to turn a forced behaviour into one that customers do willingly. Consumer-centric shopping solutions have a key role to play in doing that.