New Research Shows How Grocery Shopping Behavior Has Transformed

New data not only confirms how grocery shopping has changed since the pandemic, it reveals which trends are continuing to emerge.

Grocery shopping doesn't look the same as it used to. The pandemic has shifted the way consumers shop, and the grocery segment is no exception. More consumers embraced online grocery shopping in the past year than ever before, and the market is only expected to grow.

Insights into today’s online shopper are brought to light by a new research report from Mercatus in collaboration with Incisiv, eGrocery Transformed: 2021 market projections and insight into online grocery's elevated future. More than 41,000 shoppers were surveyed across 20 states, uncovering not only how consumers' shopping habits have changed, but how they are likely to look in the future. The survey analyzed more than 40 million data points including questions about shoppers' retailer of choice, online buying preferences, preferred product categories, and changing modes of fulfillment.

By taking a closer look at the data, four key trends begin to clearly emerge.


Convenience is the main reason consumers choose to shop online

Even as pandemic-related restrictions have eased and shoppers were able to return to in-person shopping, data shows that customers are still shopping online. Online adoption rose by 14% from 2020 to 2021 and is expected to continue to climb in coming years.

While shoppers are returning to brick-and-mortar stores, they enjoy having the option and convenience of shopping online. In fact, 72% of respondents listed convenience as their main motivation for shopping online, while 45% said they used it to save time. Interestingly, only a little more than a quarter of respondents listed health and safety concerns as the reason they shop online, which signifies a broader shift and sense of familiarity and comfort with online shopping experiences.


Some shoppers' habits have changed more than others

Overall, online share of revenue is predicted to account for 20.5% of total grocery sales by 2026, representing steady growth in the industry. But survey demographics reveal which groups of shoppers have changed their habits the most.

Data shows that millennials and African American shoppers had the highest online adoption rate both in terms of number of online purchases and average order value.

For regional grocers, understanding their shopper base and which groups are more likely to shop online allows retailers to better tailor their experience and meet their specific needs.


Brick-and-mortar stores are the bedrock of fulfillment

Even with the expected rise of online grocery adoption, brick-and-mortar stores aren't going anywhere. Fulfilment is an integral part of the online shopping journey and physical stores are a crucial component of how orders make it into customers' hands.

Adoption of curbside pickup has already increased by 9% in 2021, with 61% of shoppers using the service. This is in contrast with use of home delivery services, which remained stagnant at the same level as 2020 and is actually expected to decline further in popularity among shoppers in the future.

Analysis of the survey's data found that while pandemic restrictions were in effect, 69% of online orders were fulfilled in the store via in-store and curbside pickup, and post-COVID-19, a full 75% of online orders are expected to be fulfilled through pickup services.


Mobile apps are the future of e-commerce

Another fascinating trend highlighted in the 2021 survey is shoppers' increased use of mobile shopping apps—at home and even while shopping in-store. Shoppers are using retailers’ apps to check for promotions, locate a product and even to save time when using self-checkout.

The transition to mobile is a trend that retailers in every industry are experiencing, and it only makes sense that grocery shopping—an inherently "on-the-go" activity—would be transformed and streamlined to meet the needs of shoppers who value convenience almost above all else.


Success in grocery e-commerce starts with understanding the needs and preferences of customers. For more insights into what motivates today’s consumers to shop for groceries online, download the report.


By: Sylvain Perrier, President & CEO, Mercatus

This post is sponsored by Mercatus