What is the future of online grocery shopping?

It is widely believed that the pandemic will cause a widespread and lasting change in American habits from analog to digital. But what about that most basic habit – buying groceries?

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

I’m searching data on online grocery shopping in the U.S. and I’ll be modest and say I don’t have a clear picture.

Americans are definitely buying far more groceries online than we did in 2019, but in some significant categories such as fresh and frozen foods, online sales growth is much lower than it was before the virus began to spread widely in the U.S. u. In recent months, online food sales have fallen or barely moved from the previous year.

Inevitably, digital sales will continue to grow as a share of U.S. consumption, including groceries. But the digital transformation is often not a real march along the mountain, but a more uneven ascent up, down and sideways. And grocery shopping was on a particularly jagged path.

My dubious analysis is that Americans have not fallen in love with buying bananas online, but we do not reject that either.

Along with figures showing that e-commerce lost ground last year compared to personal shopping, the murky picture of online groceries shows that human behavior may be too complicated for simple explanations.

Here’s where things stand: before 2020, Americans weren’t so excited about delivering groceries to our door. By choice or necessity, almost all grocery shopping in the U.S. took place in stores.

The amount of grocery purchases online rose to about 7 to 15 percent from maybe 3 or 4 percent of total sales in 2019. (Analysts told me that data for about $ 1 trillion a year in U.S. food sales should be taken with salt grains. )

Delivering groceries to our doors is still relatively difficult, but ordering groceries online to pick up at the store persisted during the pandemic and remains. Maybe.

However, there has been some setbacks in online ordering, and the vast majority of Americans still buy groceries the old-fashioned way. It is difficult to estimate whether and how much the habit of buying groceries online will remain.

A report by Forrester and IRI found that in many categories of products bought in supermarkets, online growth was lower than it was in January 2020. In closely monitored customer surveys conducted by research firm Bricks Meets Clicks, online food sales have been growing recently. unevenly.

Not surprisingly, online food sales could not grow as fast as when we panicked online shopping in 2020. But given that sales are still relatively small, it is not a sign of passionate digital love that numbers are not growing fast or steadily. (Rising costs for all also make it difficult to compare purchases in 2022 with those in 2019)

Even experts cannot say with certainty how quickly Americans will adopt the habit of buying groceries online or how quickly our purchases could end virtually. “The numbers are too small to draw lasting conclusions,” said Jason Goldberg, chief marketing strategy officer at advertising giant Publicis.

He told me that in his conversations with industry leaders, large supermarket chains are betting that buying groceries online will become an increasing part of our lives, but that everyone is also constantly questioning their beliefs.

At least for now, supermarkets including Walmart, Target and Kroger are investing in expanding opportunities for people to pick up groceries they bought online. It was a method used by Americans to buy groceries digitally.

Large supermarkets are also redesigning stores to make it easier for their staff to place online orders, and some have invested in automated mini-warehouses similar to Amazon.

Goldberg said that food sellers do not want to be left behind if and when more of our purchases happen online. But they are also concerned, in part because selling online increases costs in a sector that is already profitable.

Even the relatively small amount of grocery shopping online has profoundly changed the experiences of many shoppers, some of the millions of Americans who work in grocery stores and those concerned vendors.

Nevertheless, the difficulties in analyzing our online food trade of the present and the future require humility in terms of the sustainability of our adaptations to the coronavirus. When people make bold statements about what will happen in shopping, at work or in the economy, try to remember that no one knows for sure.

Maybe in your life you are not sure how you want to buy food. I look forward to hearing about your experiences at ontech@nytimes.com. Please enter “Groceries” in the title.


Ado you have food or grocery delivery from the restaurant? Brian X. Chena consumer technology columnist for The New York Times, suggests ways to estimate the actual price of your order, including fees that are sometimes not clearly announced.

(Please note that invoices from shipping apps may vary depending on where you live. Some cities in the U.S. require shipping apps to state their fees.)

Have you ever wondered why it cost $ 50 to deliver pepperoni pizza via DoorDash or why that Instacart bill seemed astronomically high? It’s not just because inflation has raised food prices. Online delivery apps and relying on restaurants are also finding ways to incorporate fees that aren’t always transparent into their order.

Consider the order I gave for the delivery of two subway sandwiches. In a study I conducted for the previous column, Uber Eats charged me $ 25.25, including meal price, service fee, shipping fee, and small order surcharge – a 91 percent increase over buying these sandwiches in person.

In a separate experiment, I found that some restaurants charge more for some menu items when you order through delivery apps. A Family Feast meal at Panda Express costs $ 39 at a restaurant, but the same item costs $ 47.10 if you ordered it through DoorDash, Grubhub or Uber Eats. That was before paying for additional services. Restaurants sometimes inflate menu prices to cover commissions paid by delivery apps.

The next time you decide whether to order delivery, keep in mind how much it could cost you. Look carefully at the invoice and compare the price of the items in the application with what they cost and the items from the menu on the restaurant’s website or in the store.

The real cost of using a delivery app could make you use your phone to order takeaway food and pick up dinner yourself, or you might decide that shipping is worth it. In any case, you will be better informed.

  • Rat is a testing ground for face scanning technology: My colleague Kashmir Hill reports that Clearview AI software, which promises to identify people by pictures of their faces, was used to identify dead soldiers in the war in Ukraine to inform their families. But she also notes that face recognition companies could use the crisis as a selling point and that mistakes in identifying people could have deadly consequences in a war zone.

  • Problems for that, uh, company that scans the eyeballs. Sounds weird, but a startup called Worldcoin has promised to give cryptocurrencies to people in low-income countries and scan their eyes to make sure no one is paid more than once. BuzzFeed News found that some people were furious that they had vouchers for a currency that didn’t yet exist.

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

Please meet a squirrel who loves all pastries.


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