Online wholesale retailer Boxed.com has stood at the crossroads of grocery trends since the coronavirus outbreak.
Early on in the COVID-19 crisis, online purchases of groceries boomed as consumers nationwide scrambled to stockpile food and essential supplies to prepare for community and business lockdowns. Shoppers have continued to stock up on food, beverages, nonfood consumables and health products — albeit at a lesser pace — and bulk sizes, in particular, have remained in high demand.
Ankit Patel, vice president of merchandising at Boxed, has had a unique vantage point for pandemic-influenced shopping behavior as people have relied more heavily on online purchases versus in-store trips. The New York-based e-retailer, founded in 2013, offers direct delivery of bulk-sized products ordered via its website or mobile app. Unlike brick-and-mortar warehouse clubs, however, consumers don’t have to pay a membership fee to shop at Boxed.
“The dot-com players saw a surge in consumer traffic. We were no different,” Patel told Supermarket News in an SN Off the Shelf podcast interview. “Typically, we measure a lot of volume month over month and year over year. But this was unprecedented, where we had to really start thinking day over day, week over week. And that’s essentially what we saw. So we saw measurable, drastic upticks week over week.”
Patel has been with Boxed since May 2016 and served as VP of merchandising since July 2019. Among the trends he’s seen during the pandemic: a greater focus on center store items, such as cereal, and a jump in alcohol purchases, especially among first-time buyers.
“Clearly, people were buying what they could at the early stages of this [pandemic], which was hand sanitizers and wipes. Those were the hot items. And then of course, as the pandemic continued, the surges and trends expanded to other categories. It was one of those hockey-stick moments. If you’re looking at a chart, there’s a steady growth line, and then all of a sudden there’s a significant uptake. That’s what we saw,” Patel explained.
“We always want to make sure that we’re satisfying our customers. In this particular case, it’s having the items and stuff that they want to purchase,” he added. “It’s a really, really straightforward mission and task but a very, very complex problem to solve, given that a lot of our supplier partners saw very similar types of upticks and growth.”