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Focus on Shoppers: How Americans Shop Online for Groceries

The time is approaching when online grocery-shopping is the rule rather than an exception in America. This opens up the all-important question of how, exactly, Americans online shop for groceries.

All the usual purchases were in the shopping cart: bananas, cucumbers, salad kits, protein shakes, and, whew, don’t forget that air freshener. Roxanne also made room for one of her favorite hot, ready-to-eat meals: H-E-B’s stuffed salmon with fresh broccoli. Delicious.

The total rang up to a reasonable $78.39, and, as normal, Roxanne simply put it on her card.

So far, just your typical, everyday grocery-shopping trip.

Only, for Roxanne, there was no trip.

She made all the day’s purchases online—with the groceries sold through H-E-B but filled and delivered by Shipt.

Roxanne, a 38-year-old mother of two from San Antonio, Texas, is just one of a growing number of Americans turning online for basic purchases of fresh groceries and household consumables (HC) like cleaning supplies, paper products, and personal care items.

“Such a convenience for busy families,” said Roxanne after purchasing her groceries. “This service has decreased my stress level and anxiety…”

With grocers big and small aggressively developing their in-store and curbside pickup capabilities, and third-party services like InstacartPostmates, and Shipt bringing same-day, grocery-delivery to the masses, it’s no wonder more and more shoppers are spending their grocery dollars online.

Indeed, a time may be quickly approaching when online grocery-shopping is the rule rather than an exception. The headlines, at least, suggest many retailers and services are gearing up for this possibility.

Thus, given the potential of online grocery-retail, it has become increasingly important for companies to ask the question: How exactly do Americans shop online for groceries? 

How Americans Shop for Groceries Online

To understand the online grocery-shopping behaviors of Americans, retail insights firm Field Agent conducted post-shop surveys in March 2018 with 451 shoppers immediately after they made a single online grocery-purchase of at least $30. Roxanne, featured in the vignette above, was among these shoppers.

The sample consisted entirely of individuals using services like Walmart PickupKroger-Instacart deliveryAmazonFresh delivery, and Jet Fresh delivery—that is, retailers and retailer-service combinations that offer fresh groceries for pickup or local delivery.

Here are 3 quick but important insights from this undertaking:

1. Fresh produce is both a common purchase and a common delayed purchase

Fresh produce was the most commonly purchased item among the 451 online grocery-shoppers in our study. Sixty-five percent of participants purchased bananas, cucumbers, and other fresh produce.

Clearly, fresh produce is a popular online purchase among online grocery-shoppers.

Yet, among those at least moderately likely to make a store trip to “complete” their online grocery-shopping (n = 352), 70% said they expected to purchase, yep, fresh produce on the follow-up trip.

As one 43-year-old mom from Mechanicsville, VA said, “I would purchase fresh produce [online] however I really prefer to touch and see it first.”

So, paradoxically, fresh produce is both something folks are willing to buy online and, yet, prone to put off until inside a store.   

2. Impulse purchases aren’t necessarily a thing of the past

As settings for purchasing groceries/HCs, websites and stores, of course, differ in marked ways. Websites, for instance, appear less poised to take advantage of impulse or unplanned purchases.

To be sure, planning, in one form or another, is commonplace among online shoppers purchasing groceries/HCs.

Field Agent found, for instance:

  • 57% of online grocery-shoppers inventoried kitchen cabinets before going online
  • 56% took requests from household members
  • 55% made a shopping list
  • 20% researched meal recipes

But do online shoppers deviate from these plans to make impulse purchases when shopping online? In our study, 65% of the 451 online grocery-shoppers reported making at least one unplanned purchase during their digital shopping “trip.”

So, although websites may not be built (yet?) to accrue large numbers of impulse grocery-purchases, such purchases can and do occur online.

3. Overwhelmingly, shoppers are satisfied with the online grocery-shopping experience

Whatever retailers and third-party services are doing, Field Agent’s post-shop surveys with 451 online grocery-shoppers suggest these companies are generally on the right track.

Indeed, 91% of participants were either completely or very satisfied with their online shopping experiences.

“Love curbside pickup!,” said one 34-year-old Walmart Pickup user. “Super easy and convenient for those on the go!”

Of course, online grocery-shoppers also have plenty of suggestions for retailers and delivery services, including:

  • Improving how substitutions are made and communicated
  • Accepting manufacturer coupons
  • Paying greater attention to the freshness of produce
  • Providing more and/or more flexible pickup/delivery times
  • Improving communication with personal shoppers
  • Providing more items and brands online
  • Allowing shoppers to use their own bags/eliminating plastic bags

In conclusion, today’s shoppers seem enthusiastic and pleased with the direction of online grocery-retail, yet the majority is also quick to point out one or two inconveniences.

But as growing numbers of Americans turn online for their grocery purchases, expect a premium to be placed on insights that answer the all-important how question—How, exactly, do individuals shop online for groceries?


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One response to “Focus on Shoppers: How Americans Shop Online for Groceries

  1. According to Statista, 19% are purchasing groceries online and 97% are purchasing in stores. The online grocery revolution is clearly not upon us yet. These earlier adopters seem pretty happy, which is a good sign for the future of online ventures.

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Rick West

Rick West

Co-Founder & CEO, Field Agent, Inc.