Most U.S. consumers ordered groceries online in 2021

(Graphic courtesy of Brick Meets Click/Mercatus)

More than 70% of U.S. households ordered groceries — including fresh produce — online in 2021, at least once.

The U.S. online grocery market captured $8.9 billion in sales during December as more than 69 million households shopped online for groceries, according to the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey .

December’s results bumped up annual online grocery sales to $97.7 billion for 2021, as more than 70% of U.S. households, or 93 million, received one or more orders during the year, according to a news release.

Brick Meets Click conducted the survey on December 29-30, with 1,836 adults, 18 years and older, who participated in the household’s grocery shopping. Responses are geographically representative of the U.S. and weighted by age to reflect the national population of adults according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Even though most grocery retailers used third-party delivery platforms when they began selling online, the U.S. is a pickup-dominant market. That dominance continues across markets of all sizes, except in some of the largest urban markets where delivery overtook pickup for the first time in December 2021.

Full-year results for 2021 showed that the pickup segment grew its share of online sales to 45%, up 5 percentage points versus 2020, while delivery’s share remained basically unchanged at 33% and ship-to-home’s share dropped 5 points to 22%. 

“If retailers are surprised by these results, it’s likely because they are missing a broader view of how and where customers are shopping online for groceries,” Brick Meets Click partner David Bishop said in the release. “Even before the pandemic started, pickup was preferred over delivery. Then in April 2020, pickup took the top spot away from ship-to-home, and it’s kept that spot ever since.”

For 2021, the average number of orders placed by Monthly Active Users (MAUs) held relatively steady at 2.74 per month, down just 1% versus 2020. However, the volatility in 2021’s monthly order frequency dropped 60% versus 2020 levels, signaling that buying patterns are becoming more entrenched at a level that is 35% higher than pre-COVID levels, according to the release.

When 2021’s online share of total grocery spending is adjusted to exclude ship-to-home because most grocers do not offer this option, the results reveal that the combined pickup and delivery segments captured 10% of total grocery sales, up 2 points from 2020.

Throughout December 2021, the share of grocery’s monthly active users who also placed at least one online order with mass retailers jumped to 29.1%, setting a record high for this shopper metric. For these households, cross-shopping with Target rose sharply while Walmart dipped slightly, and the gap between the two retailers shrank to only 2.5 percentage points, the smallest it has ever been.

“The state of online grocery in the U.S. today underscores not only the need for grocers to compete online for sales, but also the imperative to develop and implement more sound strategies that improve profitability as sales growth becomes more challenging,” Mercatus president and CEO Sylvain Perrier said in the release.

That means consumer satisfaction is paramount, requiring operations be efficient for the retailer and to cater to consumers’ quality and convenience demands, he said.



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