U.S. online grocery sales continued their rollercoaster ride of recent months as the market totaled $8.4 billion in April, down 10% from March, the latest Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey showed.
April’s online grocery sales decrease extended an up-and-down trend from $9.3 billion in March, $8 billion in February, $9.3 billion in January and $8.1 billion in November. However, April 2021 online grocery sales remain more than four times higher than pre-pandemic levels and are up 16% versus April 2020, noted Barrington, Ill.-based Brick Meets Click, a strategic advisory firm focusing on digital technology’s impact on food sales and marketing.
In April, online grocery sales included $6.6 billion in delivery and pickup and $1.8 billion in ship-to-home, versus $7.1 billion in delivery/pickup and $2.2 billion in ship-to-home for March. U.S. delivery/pickup online grocery sales were $1.4 billion in August 2019, the latest month of Brick Meets Click’s survey prior to the pandemic. That figure jumped to $4 billion in March and then $5.3 billion in April of 2020.
“Online shopping has remained an attractive way to buy groceries for a sizable segment of the U.S.,” David Bishop, partner at Brick Meets Click, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Last year, retailers were in a race to meet the dramatic surge in demand. This year, it’s about executing a sound and sustainable strategy, with the imperative squarely on improving integration and implementation.”
Conducted April 26 to 28, the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus study surveyed 1,941 U.S. adults who participated in their household’s grocery shopping and made an online grocery purchase in the previous 30 days.
One factor behind the April sales decrease was a decline in average order value (AOV). Brick Meets Click reported that AOV of pickup, delivery and ship-to-home orders fell 6% year over year on an order-weighted basis, stemming mainly from a 7% falloff in ship-to-home AOV. Pickup and delivery AOVs ticked down 1% and just under 3%, respectively, but remained $8, or 10%, above pre-pandemic order values, measured in August 2019.
At the same time, the online grocery user base shrank 12% to 67.8 million U.S. households in April. Yet Brick Meets Click said that downsizing was offset by more engagement, as April’s monthly active users placed more delivery and pickup orders, which represented 78% of April’s overall online grocery sales.
Indeed, monthly active users made an average of 2.73 online orders in April, edging up from 2.68 orders a year earlier. Share of orders received via the ship-to-home segment dropped almost nine percentage points year over year, with pickup and delivery order share rising six and three percentage points, respectively.
Brick Meets Click said an increased share of the monthly active user base relied on two or more methods — pickup, delivery and/or ship-to-home to receive online grocery orders in April, extending a trend from the start of the pandemic. More than 35% of monthly active users received orders via two or three methods in April 2021, up almost three percentage points on a year-over-year basis and 20 points higher than pre-pandemic August 2019 levels, the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus study found.
The repeat intent rate — measuring the likelihood that a monthly active user will make another order within the next month via the same grocery service — surged by 55% in April, up five percentage points year over year yet still well below pre-pandemic intent, according to Brick Meets Click. Among less satisfied users in April 2021, 11% are still seeking an acceptable option, as they are extremely or very likely to use another service in the next month, the survey revealed.
“As the country opens, we’re consistently seeing double the number of active online shoppers compared to pre-COVID,” explained Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO of Toronto-based grocery e-commerce provider Mercatus. “At the same time, we know there’s increasing frustration with poor execution as evidenced by the widening repeat purchase gap between first- and fourth-time online customers. My message to grocery retail executives is blunt. There are no shortcuts. If you want to maximize the value of your digital investment, you also need a well-thought-out operations plan, one that can flex in response to shopper demand and help deliver a top-notch ordering and fulfillment experience.”