Exclusive: More Than Half of US Adults Say They’ll Buy Some Groceries Online Post-Pandemic

52% of Americans surveyed will buy some groceries online post-pandemic; 48% aren’t likely to.

By KATISHI MAAKE | Retail Brew | March 29, 2021

Covid-19 jumpstarted a retail phenomenon more inevitable than Thanos: online grocery shopping. Retail Brew’s exclusive Harris Poll survey of 1,078 US adults suggests the ramifications will be long-lasting, even if some consumers still prefer to explore the aisles.

  • More than half (52%) of Americans say they’ll purchase some of their groceries online post-pandemic, while 48% are not very likely to.
  • 71% of millennials and 55% of Gen Zers are somewhat likely to order groceries online, compared to 53% of Gen Xers and 36% of baby boomers.

Reality check: Last Friday, we reported survey results from the same poll, which found a plurality of Americans want to primarily shop in-store once restrictions are lifted, though online grocery shopping will remain much more common than before.

The cream rises to the top

So how big was the shift to digital? According to our survey, 22% of shoppers said they had bought groceries online before March 2020, while 37% do so now. But 28% say they rarely or never order groceries online, versus 15% who don’t shop in person.

Another measure: E-comm grocery sales increased 54% to $95.82 billion in 2020, but that’s still just 7.4% of the total US grocery market, according to eMarketer. They expect online grocery sales to hit $112.9 billion by year’s end.

Industry experts believe big name grocers will dominate this relatively small—but growing—segment via costly new investments, making it harder for smaller grocers to compete. Two examples:

  • Walmart overtook Harris Teeter as Charlotte, NC’s predominant grocer in 2019, and the pandemic widened the gap due to e-comm capabilities. Walmart held a 21.1% market share last year, compared to Harris Teeter’s 16.5%.
  • The US’s third largest grocer, Albertsons, reported e-comm gains of at least 200% in 2020. It’s now expecting e-comm to account for as much as 20% of total sales, and is building several new micro fulfillment centers (MFCs). MFCs from Takeoff Technologies, which powers Albertsons’s two existing MFCs, cost around $3 million for a 10,000-square-foot system.

Zoom out: The big/little divide may force smaller and independent chains to start or continue using less expensive digital solutions like Instacart-esque partnerships and self checkout services. Smaller grocers can also lean into their strength: offering competitive prices and customized inventory that fit their communities’ needs.