In a fast-paced sector like online grocery, it can be difficult to keep on top of all the trends. Finding a single reliable source of data that provides an insightful and realistic view of what is actually happening on the ground is often equally challenging.
Here are six vital statistics to help paint a picture of the state of the U.S. online grocery market.
Online grocery shopping market share
As far as online retail goes, food and grocery is one of the less developed sectors, with a relatively meager 5.5% of all spending being made online. That compares unfavorably to the 18.9% of apparel and 10% of homewares spend made digitally.
Why is this number so low? There are a number of factors. First, food is largely needs-based, and many purchases have a degree of immediacy attached to them. That means buying is often most conveniently done through stores. What’s more is that many shoppers find online food shopping more difficult than walking around a shop and putting things in a cart. Finally, grocery retailers have been slower at developing online services than many of their counterparts in other sectors.
This latter point is now starting to change, however, largely thanks to Amazon’s entry into grocery via its acquisition of Whole Foods. Almost all mainstream grocers, and players like Walmart and Target, are now busily developing online grocery services so that they can remain competitive.
This, along with increased consumer demand, will spur the market to higher growth. By 2022, almost 10% of all grocery sales will likely be made online. In terms of cash value, that amounts to a whopping $133.8 billion. A figure like that will prove disruptive to all food and grocery players as it changes the whole dynamic of retail and distribution.
"By 2022, almost 10% of all grocery sales will likely be made online. In terms of cash value, that amounts to a whopping $133.8 billion."
Share of shoppers
While online spend on groceries remains relatively low, the number of people who have actually tried a digital grocery service is far higher.
Last year, some 23.4% of all consumers who shopped for food tried an online service. Admittedly, many of these people only used online once or twice or used it for only a few specific items. However, the significant point is that digital grocery is becoming more accessible and increasing numbers of consumers are willing to give it a go.
This sizeable base of receptive customers means that as the service and number of online options improves there is significant scope for growth. It also means that food and grocery brands urgently need to understand the motivations of digital consumers so that they can evolve their brands and propositions accordingly.
"Last year, some 23.4% of all consumers who shopped for food tried an online service."
Not all sectors are equal
Looking at the online grocery market in aggregate is useful; however, there are a lot of nuances that sit behind the headline figure. One of these relates to how successful individual categories are online.
When it comes to what type of products consumers are buying, staple pantry products – rice, canned goods and the like – top the list. Consumers are generally comfortable buying these items online as they know what they will get. They also have confidence that the products transport well. Specialist ingredients – unusual spices for example – come second. As these can be difficult to get in mainstream stores, it’s not surprising that people turn online to find what they need.
At the bottom of the list is food for special occasions like dinner parties, fresh produce, and meat and deli items. These are often the products that people like to see in stores to assess quality and freshness. Many consumers still lack confidence in buying these things online, which represents both a challenge and an opportunity for online grocers.
Over the next five or so years, all of these categories will see online sales grow. However, food and beverage firms need to be aware that some parts of the market are migrating more rapidly to digital than others.
"When it comes to what type of products consumers are buying, staple pantry products – rice, canned goods and the like – top the list."
The way in which people shop for groceries differs between online and in stores. Online consumers tend to be more habitual and less adventurous. They are more likely to migrate to well-known brands or to brands that they regularly purchase. Despite the ease with which shoppers can search online, relatively few use the channel to discover new products.
The more interactive store environment, where people are influenced by displays, is more conducive to persuading consumers to try new lines or engage with new brands. Packaging design is also a more of a driver of purchase in the store than it is online.
These differences are important for food and grocery brands as they mean that strategies, especially for things like new product launches, need to be built differently for the online and store channels.
"Online consumers tend to be more habitual and less adventurous."
Voice is hype
Voice ordering has been a big area of discussion over the past year, with lots of predictions stating that this will become one of the main ways in which consumer buy groceries.
The reality, however, suggests otherwise. Over the first half of this year, only 3.1% of all grocery shoppers bought something using voice-based ordering. That’s a small number, even for an embryonic technology.
The top reason for not ordering via voice is that the products cannot be seen. The second most popular reason is that while voice might be good for ordering one or two items, it is difficult when undertaking a large grocery shop consisting of multiple products. Over 50% of consumers don’t really see the point in voice shopping, while almost 43% think it is more of a hassle than it’s worth.
None of this should be taken as an indication that voice shopping will not grow or that it won’t someday be important. However, for the moment it remains a niche channel. Food and beverage firms should be aware of this and ensure that they direct investments accordingly. It is easy to be lured by hype that will not deliver results.
"Over the first half of this year, only 3.1% of all grocery shoppers bought something using voice-based ordering."
Basket sizes differ
Average basket sizes differ between channels and delivery methods. For example, the average basket size for click-and-collect grocery orders is currently around $72. This is roughly 30% higher than the basket size for physical grocery shops. However, this basket size is smaller than for general online ordering, mostly because many committed online shoppers do bulk shops to obtain free delivery or to make the delivery charges worthwhile. It is also the case that some C&C shoppers make additional purchases in stores when they collect their orders.
Again, this underlines the different mechanisms and dynamics of each channel, which is something brands need to be aware of when undertaking activities like marketing and promotion.
"The average basket size for click-and-collect grocery orders is currently around $72. This is roughly 30% higher than the basket size for physical grocery shops."
One of the most important parts of understanding an evolving channel like online is to explore all of the various angles. One data point is interesting, but a raft of online grocery shopping statistics gives a much more balanced picture that helps drive sound and sensible strategies.
Neil Saunders is a retail analyst and consultant. He currently serves as Managing Director of the research firm GlobalData, where he oversees the development of the company’s retail proposition and its research output. He also works with clients to help them understand the retail, shopper and market landscape.
Neil is a founding partner of Prasentia, a firm that works with clients to help them communicate more effectively. Outside of work, Neil is an advisory board member for the faculty of business and law at the University of Southampton, an Honorary Lecturer at the University of New Hampshire, and a Visiting Fellow at the University of Surrey.