Online grocery shopping is here to stay. Here’s why

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Many Americans rely on their phones for everything from catching up with friends to staying on top of the news to streaming videos. And new findings from Acosta, a sales and marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida, reveal the coronavirus crisis has accelerated another phone-savvy trend: buying groceries online.

More than half (51%) of consumers surveyed by Acosta started shopping online for groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic, and 35% are using their smartphones more often to plan and shop for groceries. In fact, 23% who already shop for groceries online intend to do more of it in the coming year.

Buying online means less time shopping

Consumers who embrace online shopping for their groceries tout it to be a convenient (68%), stress-free experience (60%) that’s also fast (56%). More than three in 10 (34%) online spenders cite a wider variety of products, while 29% say it leads to less time shopping.

And while more U.S. consumers are relying on their phones and computers to stock up their fridges and kitchen pantries, they haven’t abandoned stepping foot inside the stores when picking up their orders. Among those surveyed, 27% say they often go inside, 46% say they occasionally do and 26% say they never do.

More than six in 10 (61%) go inside a store to purchase something they forgot online, 60% say they run inside because they prefer to pick up specific items themselves, and 48% go inside to buy things not sold online.

Habit-forming online shopping behaviors

U.S. consumers who shop online for groceries have shown signs of developing habits. They often:

  • Place an order through the retailer’s website (47%)
  • Look for details about a product before buying (37%)
  • Use their order history to make repeat purchases (34%)
  • Save by using digital coupons (33%)
  • Spend several days to build their cart (30%)
  • Order via the retailer’s app (28%)

Customers are most satisfied with their online grocery orders being on time, the ease of building their shopping cart and the accuracy of their orders (all 84%). They also cited:

  • Ease of picking up order (83%)
  • Quality of perishable items (65%)
  • Alternative products offered for unavailable items (59%)
  • Ease of finding digital coupons (58%)
  • Spot-on personalized product recommendations (54%)

Shoppers expanding online grocery purchases in all categories

Across the board, U.S. shoppers are broadening what they’re buying when getting groceries online. With shelf-stable food, they’re purchasing salty snacks (64%), coffee or tea (62%) and condiments (57%) the most. In perimeter categories (aka those items that line the walls of the stores), fresh produce (46%), milk (46%) and packaged cheese (43%) were the most frequently bought items.

The great scarcity scare of the pandemic seemed to have made a mark on consumers, as toilet paper (57%), paper towels (57%) and laundry products (56%) were the top three non-edible products purchased online, while frozen dinners (35%), frozen desserts and ice cream (35%) and frozen breakfast (30%) were ranked highest in the — spoiler alert — frozen foods category.

Beyond groceries, Acosta found that online subscriptions rose in popularity during the pandemic. Data shows that 31% of shoppers have at least one online subscription, and nine in 10 (90%) of those who currently subscribe plan on continuing them next year. The most popular online subscriptions were:

  • Pet care/food: 50%
  • Coffee or tea: 41%
  • Shelf-stable foods: 35%
  • Paper/cleaning supplies: 35%
  • Over-the-counter medications: 35%
  • Shaving products: 35%
  • Meal kits: 34%
  • Beauty/care/cosmetics: 34%

If online subscriptions are creeping up on you and eating into your budget, go through your bank or credit card statements or money management app and see what you can toss out.

With inflation impacting the cost of food, shop with a list and try a cook-with-what-you-have challenge, where you skip a trip to the grocery store for one week. You can also make the most of cashback credit cards, especially ones that feature high-than-average rewards.

Methodology: Acosta fielded online surveys between Sept. 23-29, 2021, using its proprietary shopper community. It surveyed 1,447 primary grocery shoppers and 690 online grocery shoppers.


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