Study Reveals Online Grocery Shoppers Make Healthier Choices but Lack Variety

Study Reveals Online Grocery Shoppers Make Healthier Choices but Lack Variety

A recent study conducted by Cornell University highlights the shopping habits of online grocery shoppers, shedding light on how they differ from their in-store counterparts. The research, analyzing nearly 2 million shopping trips, uncovered some intriguing trends.

Researchers, including Sai Chand Chintala, a doctoral student, Jura Liaukonyte, the Dake Family Associate Professor, and Nathan Yang, an assistant professor, found that online grocery baskets, such as those from Instacart, tend to have less variety and fewer fruits and vegetables compared to in-store shopping. However, online shoppers exhibited more resistance to unhealthy impulse purchases, like candy, baked goods, and chips, resulting in up to 7% fewer of these items.

The study discovered that the difference in basket content between online and in-store shopping can be seen as a “wash” from a nutritional perspective. While online baskets contained 13% fewer fresh vegetables, they also had fewer impulse purchases, creating a trade-off in overall nutrition.

Jura Liaukonyte emphasized the implications of these systematic shopping pattern differences for consumers and retailers, stating that it impacts brand competition and the dynamics of the grocery market.

Online grocery shopping has witnessed significant growth, with around 54% of U.S. households placing online grocery orders in March 2021, marking a 328% increase since August 2019. Despite changes in pandemic-era shopping behaviors, many people now consider online grocery shopping a convenience rather than a necessity.

The research findings, published in “Marketing Science,” suggest that there is an emerging “new equilibrium” in consumer shopping habits, with online penetration remaining higher than pre-pandemic levels. Traditional grocery retailers need to adapt to this shift in consumer behavior.

The study identified several key differences between online and in-store shopping habits:

Variety: Online baskets exhibited around 10% less variety compared to their in-store counterparts within the same household.
Consistency: Instacart shopping trips were 27% more similar to each other than offline trips within the same household when comparing categories.
Overlapping Items: The number of overlapping items in Instacart baskets was more than double that of in-store carts when comparing items across successive trips to the same store.
One significant reason for the similarity in online baskets is Instacart’s “Buy it again” feature. This feature allows shoppers to quickly repopulate their carts with items from prior visits.

However, researchers noted that this heightened brand loyalty and consumer inertia could make it challenging for new brands and products to enter the market. Chintala emphasized the importance of advertising early on to ensure new products find their way into online shoppers’ baskets.

Nathan Yang pointed out that traditional in-store promotional strategies don’t translate seamlessly to online settings. Brands should rethink their online product introduction methods to ensure visibility and product discovery.

The long-term impact of these shopping trends on online grocery shopping is yet to be seen, making it an area of continued interest and study.

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