Online grocery traffic surged up to 300% during COVID-19

By Michael Klein

Posted on 08-26-2020

Stuck at home, wary about visiting stores, or both, American consumers embraced online grocery shopping with open arms in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to our Digital Economy Index (DEI), which tracks ecommerce trends across retail sectors, top tier grocers saw their daily online traffic jump up as much as 300% between March and June, compared to pre-COVID levels.

The country’s top grocers, defined as those in the top 25th percentile of sales, also saw their online revenue jump between 100 percent and 200 percent when the pandemic first hit in March. Conversion rates followed suit, rising 33 percent in March and surging 66 percent in April, compared with the previous year. This marked a significant turnaround for American consumers, who no longer saw web and mobile orders as a nice to have, but instead accepted them as viable options for their everyday grocery needs.

When you look at the fact that ecommerce accounted for roughly 5 percent of grocery sales before the pandemic, and how much that shifted in just one month, it’s no surprise that those grocers that had already set themselves up for omnichannel delivery are now seeing their investment pay off.

Not only did more Americans buy groceries online, they also bought more groceries outright. Consumers filled their digital shopping carts with more items per purchase between March and June as they adjusted their habits to life at home. They also spent 250 percent more time browsing through grocers’ websites, filling their carts in much the same way they would in a physical store.

It’s always interesting to see how online shopping behavior mirrors the in-store experience, especially in the early days of adoption. We saw first-time buyers take more time to browse through grocers’ websites than return customers, exploring what was on offer and getting comfortable with the process of ordering on their computer or mobile.

Online orders still on the rise, but shoppers began spending more carefully

With more Americans making digital grocery purchases, online sales and order volumes continued to rise through June. However, the DEI research also uncovered a steady drop in average unit value between April and June as consumers adjusted to a new normal.

The average unit price value exploded in March, reaching values 36 percent higher than at the same time last year. Product availability (think: toilet paper) also contributed to this spike in average unit value. But this figure dipped significantly in April and over the next three months, consistently coming in 20 percent lower compared with the previous year.

Despite this dip in unit order values, the online grocery sector has never been stronger. June still saw a 77 percent rise in website visits year-on-year, as well as a 70 percent boost in conversions and a 32 percent increase in revenue per purchase.

It was inevitable that people’s buying habits would evolve during the pandemic. We also need to remember there was a mass migration to online in March, which accounts for much of the traffic we still see today. The fact that web and mobile orders are only getting bigger and more common is clear evidence that these channels are here to stay, and that business models must adapt to answer the call.

True omnichannel arrives

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the grocery sector, which remains an essential service across America. Grocers have had to rethink their delivery models overnight, balancing a rise in demand with changing consumer habits. Some, like Whole Foods and H.E.B (Texas only), for example, offer shoppers more buying options, whether they want to order and have their products delivered home, buy online and pick up in store, or curbside pickup.

Click and collect has been a lifeline for the entire retail sector during the pandemic. Another DEI study, which explored online purchasing trends across grocery, apparel, and a number of other retail sectors, found that click and collect orders grew 208 percent in April and 195 percent in May compared with last year.

All in all, the past few months have revealed what omnichannel really means in retail. It’s not just about having a web, mobile, and in-store service. It’s about allowing customers to mix and match channels when making a purchase without having to compromise on the quality of experience they receive.

For more insights and e-commerce trends, get the full analysis here.

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