Online grocery order rate moves closer to pre-COVID level

Online grocery order rate moves closer to pre-COVID level

Online grocery sales in the United States experienced a 3.1% year-over-year decline in September, totaling $7.5 billion, according to the recent Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey. The drop in sales was attributed to evolving shopping patterns, which included smaller and fewer orders. Despite the decline, the base of online grocery users expanded, indicating continued interest in e-commerce for groceries.

The report highlighted that pickup services achieved the highest household penetration ever, reaching 59% of monthly active users. In contrast, delivery and ship-to-home services saw declines of 39% and 40%, respectively. These figures reflect changes in consumers’ preferences for how they receive their groceries.

The decrease in sales was primarily driven by an 8% year-over-year drop in monthly active users. The order rate fell to its lowest level since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, ending the month at 2.31 orders per month. Although this figure was about 14% higher than August 2019, it indicated a significant shift in consumer behavior.

The report also noted that nearly 37% of monthly active users now only make a single order, reaching the highest pre-COVID level. Conversely, users making three or more orders experienced a year-over-year decline of 370 basis points.

David Bishop, a partner at Brick Meets Click, pointed out the impact on different retail formats, stating, “The downward movement in order frequency impacted most retail formats to varying degrees.” Mass retailers saw a 4% decline in order frequency among their monthly active user base, while Amazon’s pure-play segments dropped 7%. Supermarkets, in particular, witnessed a substantial drop of nearly 13% in September compared to the previous year.

Despite these changes, pickup, delivery, and ship-to-home services all saw increases in their monthly active user bases for households placing at least one order, collectively rising by 11% year over year, contributing to a 2% gain in order volume. Supermarkets experienced a 1% growth in their monthly active user base, while mass retailers saw a substantial jump of almost 20% year over year.

Furthermore, the report highlighted a 5% drop in the average order value across all digital categories. Pickup had the most significant decline, ship-to-home experienced a small dip, and delivery remained flat year over year. Supermarket average order value remained unchanged, while mass merchant orders fell by 9%. The report suggested that the rapid growth in the monthly active user base contributed to these shifts.

David Bishop, of Brick Meets Click, noted that both pickup and Walmart were gaining market share due to their cost-saving and flexibility advantages. “Each helps customers who are searching for ways to save money, while pickup provides more flexibility as to when an order is received by the customer compared to delivery,” he explained.

The report also highlighted the growing trend of customers who shop at both grocery stores and mass merchandisers. This figure increased by 40 basis points to 28% compared to the same period the previous year. However, customer retention for online shopping may prove challenging in a competitive market. Sylvain Perrier, President and CEO of Mercatus, advised grocers to emphasize quality, service, and convenience as key differentiators.

Online orders accounted for 12.6% of the total weekly grocery spend in the final week of September, marking a 160 basis point increase from the same period in 2022. Pickup and delivery also experienced a 150 basis point increase, reaching 10.5%. These figures indicate the continued growth of online grocery shopping in the evolving retail landscape.

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