That's a wrap: Online grocery sales in the U.S. ended 2021 on a high note, totaling $8.9 billion in December—up more than 3% from $8.6 billion in November—and reaching $97.7 billion for the year, Brick Meets Click and Mercatus reported in their latest survey of the grocery e-commerce scene.
In 2021, more than 70% of U.S. households ordered groceries online at least once, according to Barrington, Ill.-based Brick Meets Click. Online's share of grocery spending was almost 13% for the year, up close to 2 percentage points from 2020, the analytics firm reported.
Among monthly active users—those who order groceries online consistently month after month—the average number of orders placed per month in 2021 stood at 2.74, down only 1% from 2020. Further, volatility in order frequency declined significantly in 2021, Brick Meets Click stated, "signaling that buying patterns are becoming more entrenched at a level that is 35% higher than pre-COVID levels."
Online orders for pickup (in-store or curbside) took share from ship-to-home in 2021, with pickup orders accounting for 45% of online grocery orders in the U.S. during the year, up 5 percentage points from 2020. Ship-to-home declined to 22% of online orders, down 5 percentage points, while delivery held steady at 33% of online orders. Notably, however, in select large urban markets—where ultrafast delivery services have started popping up—delivery overtook pickup as the top method for receiving online orders in December.
Nationwide, pickup retains its dominance: "Even before the pandemic started, pickup was preferred over delivery," Brick Meets Click partner David Bishop said in a statement. "Then in April 2020, pickup took the top spot away from ship-to-home, and it's kept that spot ever since."
Mass merchandisers saw their popularity with online grocery buyers grow in December: More than 29% of frequent online grocery shoppers placed at least one order with the likes of Target or Walmart in the month, a record for that shopper cohort. "For these households, cross-shopping with Target rose sharply, while Walmart dipped slightly," Brick Meets Click reported.
"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," said Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO of e-commerce platform Mercatus, which sponsors the survey.