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How the pandemic has shaped online grocery shopping

A year ago, most retailers were steadily ramping up their online grocery capacity. Some worked more quickly than others.

These days, even Costco – a longtime hold out in the click and collect game – is piloting online grocery pickup.

Online grocery adoption took a giant leap in 2020, with experts estimating growth five times what it was originally forecast. Online purchases are now about 10 percent of all grocery spending.

But will consumers continue to buy their groceries online once the COVID-19 pandemic settles down?

According to the Shopper Insights study conducted by Moxxy Marketing and Category Partners, they will.

“I think we’ll see continued online shopping near levels achieved during the pandemic,” said Karen Nardozza, Moxxy President & CEO. “It may taper off as the pandemic recedes, but people have grown comfortable with the convenience online shopping provides and formed new habits. Retailers and fresh food brands should focus on optimizing the experience to solidify and reward shoppers’ new habits. They should continue to train the army of professional shoppers and improve the quality of their choices, to encourage people to keep shopping online—and to refer friends and family who have not yet tried online shopping.”

And what’s more, heavy produce shoppers – long considered the last online holdouts – are keen to continue shopping digitally.

About a third of new online shoppers – those who said they started buying online after the start of the pandemic – said they plan to continue buying online.

Fifty-two percent who started buying online before the pandemic said they plan to continue to buy online.

What may surprise you is that heavy produce buyers who shop online said they were more likely to continue buying online than those who buy less produce.

Discount grocers continue to buck stereotypes when it comes to online grocery. Fifty-eight percent of new online shoppers who frequent discounters said they plan to continue shopping online, which is 24 percentage points higher than the average for all shoppers. Walmart’s online shoppers seem satisfied, as well, with 59% who bought online before the pandemic planning to continue to do so after.

Shoppers also reported a lot of changes in their in-store behavior due to the pandemic.

“Younger shoppers, ages 25-34, are looking for healthier items and value packs more often than reported by other age groups,” said Nardozza. “Knowing shopper demographics helps marketers determine the best product attributes, packaging strategies, and promotional messaging—both in-store and online.”

Shoppers in the Gen X age group (41-56 years old) say they are looking for more packaged groceries.

The most common changes among all age groups, however, are avoiding self-service items, and buying what is on sale.

Those in the eldest age groups, 75 and up, were much more likely to avoid self-service, at 36 percent, compared to 28 percent on average.

And 25 percent of shoppers on average said they’re buying what’s on sale.

“Retail grocers, online shopping apps, and fresh produce brands must work in sync to keep improving the online shopping experience to satisfy and reinforce current habits as well as encourage new ones. The convenience and safety-perception of online shopping should keep up with the remarkable innovation of fresh produce suppliers,” said Nardozza.

Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.