Only a tiny percentage of Americans actually shop for groceries online. Will the rest of us follow?

By Mike Pomranz
February 06, 2019

Everyone seems to think that shopping for groceries online and having them delivered to your door is the next big thing — but what often isn’t mentioned is that it pretty much has to be the next big thing because despite all the press services like these have gotten since Amazon bought out Whole Foods in 2017, it’s still barely a thing right now.

New analysis from the consulting firm Bain & Company (and created in collaboration with Google) explains that only 3 percent of grocery spending in the U.S. is being placed online — a strikingly small figure especially compared to something like consumer electronics, which apparently is around 40 percent. In speaking with 8,000 grocery shoppers across the U.S., the report found that only 6 percent were shopping for groceries online at least once a month, despite the fact that 25 percent of people said they had used one of these services in the past year.

So though the report suggests that the market is “ready to grow,” obviously, people are reluctant, and the reasons are almost as clear as the room for growth. Convenience is a big issue: Only 42 percent of first-time online grocery shoppers said they felt like it had saved them time. Additionally, shoppers have a tendency to want to see, feel, and choose some items firsthand — particularly perishable items like produce and meats. Bain’s research offers up an eye-popping stat: At a traditional grocery store, 65 percent of the items bought are perishables, but for Amazon, that number is just 6 percent. Meanwhile, CNBC suggests that pricing is an issue as well: Shoppers don’t necessarily trust that they are getting the best deal when looking online, and if an online retailer is attempting to recoup the costs of delivery by increasing the prices of individual items, that might be the case. Even if the prices online are comparable to those in-store, delivery fees can deter some shoppers.

Interestingly enough, this week, The Atlantic also published an in-depth look at why online grocery shopping hasn’t caught on in the U.S. That article cites a number of the same stats and delves deeper into the probative overhead costs that supermarkets and grocery warehouses face. But it offers up another reason as well: Grocery shopping in-store isn’t really that bad. Stores can be spacious and relaxing, and many now offer other amenities besides just groceries that make them worth the stop. “It’s my quiet time,” one shopper was quoted as saying.

And yet, The Atlantic also cited a stat from a Deloitte survey that about 41 percent of people neither like nor dislike shopping in grocery stores. Deloitte suggests that this would appear to be an untapped market. And yet, if they are that ambivalent about shopping in-store, what’s to say they would be passionate about shopping for groceries online?

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