Consumers’ Pandemic-Spurred Adoption Of Online Grocery Shopping Likely Here To Stay

Consumers’ appetite for online grocery shopping is slated to continue its skyrocketing rise in 2021. In 2020, the pandemic pushed tens of millions of U.S. consumers to become online grocery buyers for the first time. Online grocery sales grew 54 percent in 2020, reaching $95.82 billion. That propelled it to a 12-percent share of total U.S. ecommerce sales and 7.4 percent of all grocery sales. Marketing researcher eMarketer expects this practice to transition from a trial to a habit for many shoppers in 2021.

“The pandemic pushed consumers to search for a safe and convenient way of getting essential grocery items, and many retailers adapted to that demand,” says Whitney Birdsall, eMarketer senior forecasting analyst at Insider Intelligence. “With the growing number of stores offering curbside pickup and an increase in features offered by grocery delivery apps, consumers are now presented with a variety of incentives and options to order their groceries online. A large portion of consumers who became first-time online grocery buyers during the pandemic now prefer this mode of grocery shopping due to convenience.”

Looking ahead, growth will slow as the vaccine rollout allows shoppers to more comfortably return to stores. Nevertheless, a portion of online grocery shopping will remain, pushing past $100 billion in spending for the first time in 2021, a full year ahead of previous estimates. And by 2023, online grocery sales will make up 11.2 percent of total U.S. grocery sales.

eMarketer notes that the growth in grocery ecommerce sales can largely be attributed to first-time buyers entering the market. Last year, the number of digital grocery buyers ages 14 and older in the U.S.—who made a purchase at least once during the year—jumped 42.6 percent to 131.6 million. By 2022, eMarketer expects that more than half of the U.S. population will be online grocery buyers.

“Many low-propensity buyers will return to their pre-pandemic purchase behaviors once the threat is sufficiently mitigated through vaccines,” says Andrew Lipsman, eMarketer principal analyst at Insider Intelligence. “Other consumers, now acclimated to the process of buying groceries online, will do so on an occasional basis. And many who developed a regular habit around buying groceries online will carry the behavior forward. Continued growth in digital grocery will now depend more on purchase frequency than new buyers entering the category.”

The growth of online grocery sales will also be driven by higher spending per buyer. eMarketer estimates annual spending per buyer at $728 for 2020 and $818 in 2021. By 2023, it expects that figure to exceed $1,000.

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