What is the future of online grocery shopping?

The conventional wisdom is that the epidemic will bring about a far-reaching and lasting change in American practice from analog to digital. But what about that most basic habit – grocery shopping?

Americans spend more on groceries than anything else, and how we buy food is considered a finger in the air to assess the future of our shopping habits. At the moment, the direction … is unclear.

I scrutinize the data on online grocery shopping in the US, and I will humbly say that I do not have a clear picture.

Americans are certainly buying more groceries online than we are in 2019, but in some significant segments such as fresh and frozen foods, online sales growth is much lower than before the virus spread widely in the United States. In recent months, online grocery sales have dropped or barely decreased compared to the previous year.

It is inevitable that digital sales will continue to grow as part of US spending, including groceries. But digital transformation is often not a straight march up the hill but an uneven climb, up, down and sideways. And groceries have been bought in a specially jagged trajectory.

My wish-washing analysis is that Americans haven’t gone overboard to buy bananas on the Internet, but we’re not denying that either.

Statistics that show that e-commerce lost ground for personal shopping last year, dirty pictures of online grocers show that human behavior can be too complicated for a simple explanation.

Here’s how things stand: Before 2020, Americans weren’t so keen on delivering groceries to our doors. Depending on the choice or need, almost all US grocery shopping has happened.

Online grocery purchases have grown from 3 or 4 percent of total sales in 2019 to about 7 to 15 percent. (Analysts have told me that about $ 1 trillion in US grocery sales data should be taken with grains. Salt.)

Delivery of groceries to our doorsteps is still relatively low, but ordering groceries online for pickup at the store took time and stuck. Maybe.

But there has been some delay in ordering online, and the vast majority of Americans are still shopping for groceries in the old fashioned way. It is difficult to assess how much the online-grocery habit can stick.

A report by Forrester and IRI found that online growth of products in many categories of supermarket purchases is lower than in January 2020. According to a survey of buyers by research firm Brix Meets Click, online grocery sales have been growing disproportionately recently.

It is not surprising that online grocery sales did not grow as fast as they did in the time of the Internet panic-shopping in 2020. But with sales still relatively low, it’s not a sign of passionate digital love that isn’t in numbers. Going up fast or steadily. (Rising costs for everything makes it difficult to compare 2019 purchases with 2022 purchases.)

Even experts can’t say with confidence how fast Americans will get into the habit of online-grocery shopping or how virtual our shopping can become. “The numbers are too small to draw conclusions,” said Jason Goldberg, chief commercial strategist at advertising giant Publicis.

He told me that in his conversations with industry leaders, the big supermarket chains had bet that online grocery shopping would become a big part of our lives but everyone was constantly second-guessing their beliefs.

At least for now, supermarkets, including Walmart, Target and Kroger, are looking to expand their options for people to choose the groceries they buy online. This is the way Americans go for digital grocery shopping.

Large supermarkets are redesigning stores to make it easier for their employees to consolidate online orders, and some have even invested in automated mini-warehouses like Amazon.

Goldberg said grocers don’t want to be left behind when it comes to shopping on the Internet. But they are also concerned, partly because selling online already adds costs to the profit-challenging sector.

Even a relatively small amount of grocery shopping online has now profoundly changed the experience of many shoppers, the millions of Americans who work in grocery stores and those anxious sellers.

Nevertheless, the difficulty of analyzing the present and future of our online-grocer calls for humility in the sustainability of our adaptation to the coronavirus. When people make bold statements about what will happen in shopping, work or the economy, try to remember that no one knows for sure.

Maybe in your own life, you’re not sure how you want to shop for food. I look forward to hearing from you at ontech@nytimes.com. Please put “grocery store” in the subject line.


AAre you serving restaurant food or groceries? Brian X ChenThe consumer technology columnist for The New York Times suggests ways to determine the actual cost of your order, including fees that are sometimes not explicitly disclosed.

(Please note that delivery app bills may vary depending on where you live. Some US cities require that the delivery app pay their fee item.)

Have you ever wondered why it costs 50 to get a pepperoni pizza delivery through Dordash or why that InstaCart bill seems astronomically high? It is not just inflation that has pushed up food prices. Online delivery applications and restaurants that rely on them also find ways to pay a staff fee on your order which is not always transparent.

Consider an order I placed for the supply of two subway sandwiches. In a survey I conducted for a past column, Uber Eats charged me 25.25, which included food costs, a service fee, delivery charges and a small order surcharge – a 91 percent markup compared to buying these sandwiches in person.

In a separate experiment, I noticed that some restaurants charge more for certain menu items when you order through the Delivery app. Family Feast Value meals on the Panda Express restaurant cost $ 39, but if you order through DoorDash, Grubhub or Uber Eats, the same item costs $ 47.10. This was before the additional service fee was paid. Restaurants sometimes increase the price of menus to cover the commissions they pay on delivery apps.

The next time you decide whether to order a delivery, be aware of the costs involved. Take a closer look at the bill and compare the price of the items in the app with the price of those menu items on a restaurant website or grocery store.

The actual cost of using the delivery app may force you to use the phone to order a takeout and pick up the dinner yourself, or you may decide that the delivery is valuable. Either way, you’ll be better informed.

  • A test ground for combat face-scanning technology: My colleague Kashmir Hill reports that ClearView AI’s software, which promises to identify people from their facial expressions, has been used to inform the families of soldiers killed in the Ukraine war. However, he noted that facial-recognition companies could use a crisis as an opportunity to sell, and that mistakes in identifying people could have serious consequences in a war zone.

  • Problem for that, uh, eye ball-scanning company. This sounds weird, but a start-up called WorldCoin has promised to give people in low-income countries cryptocurrencies and scanned their eyes to make sure no one is paying more than once. BuzzFeed News saw that some people were furious that they had a currency voucher that did not yet exist.

  • How does e-commerce work in remote Pacific islands? In French Polynesia, locals have created their own online shopping service relying on planes, cargo ships, scooters and the Facebook Messenger app, Rest of the World reports.

See you The squirrel likes all that bagel.


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