An ongoing shift to pickup and delivery orders helped propel a rebound in U.S. online grocery sales in March, reaching a peak for the past year, according to the latest Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey.
Brick Meets Click said Thursday that online grocery sales came in at $9.3 billion for March, up 16.3% from $8 billion in February and matching the record $9.3 billion total in January. Month to month, pickup and delivery sales grew 16.4% to $7.1 billion in March, while ship-to-home sales — delivery by common or contract parcel carriers — rose 16.7% to $2.1 billion.
The growth represented a 43% jump in online grocery sales at the one-year mark of the COVID-19 pandemic, from $6.5 billion in March 2020, Brick Meets Click said. Notably, pickup and delivery sales are up nearly 78% over that time span, from $4 billion to $7.1 billion, while ship-to-home sales are down 16%, from $2.5 billion to $2.1 billion. The change quantifies the disruptive impact of the pandemic, which has continued to alter the way people purchase their groceries, the Barrington, Ill.-based strategic advisory firm noted.
“A year since COVID-19 changed how we live, work and shop, online grocery demonstrates continued strength and impressive staying power,” according to David Bishop, partner at Brick Meets Click, which focuses on digital technology’s impact on food sales and marketing. “The monthly active user base remains robust, average order values are at similarly elevated levels and order frequency has gone up.”
Conducted March 26 to 28, the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus study polled 1,811 U.S. adults who participated in their household’s grocery shopping and made an online grocery purchase in the previous 30 days.
In March, monthly active users made an average of 2.8 online orders, up from 2.7 orders in February and 2.5 orders in March 2020. The 12% year-over-year increase in order frequency reflects the fact that households were still shopping mainly in physical stores until states enacted stay-at-home orders, with California the first to do so on March 19, 2020, Brick Meets Click said.
The average value for delivery and pickup orders rose to $84 in March from $82 in February and remained virtually unchanged from March 2020. However, March ship-to-home orders decreased 6% to $49 versus a year earlier. Brick Meets Click pointed out that average order values across all the segments already had climbed 16% to 18% in March 2020 compared with pre-pandemic levels, as households began buying more groceries online.
In terms of order share, ship-to-home captured the largest share of orders before the pandemic and during March 2020, Brick Meets Click reported. But over the past year, that segment has relinquished almost 19% of order share to delivery and pickup, with the latter service now the dominant way online grocery orders are received in the U.S., the advisory firm said.
Overall, 69.3 million households placed one or more online orders in March 2021, down 7% from 74.5 million a year ago, when stay-at-home orders and shopping restrictions first went into effect. Brick Meets Click said the decline reflects fewer households making ship-to-home transactions. The ship-to-home segment of the online grocery market lost 27% of its monthly users year over year, whereas pickup added 12% and delivery added 23%.
“Over the last 12 months, consumers’ dramatic shift to online grocery shopping has solidified, with curbside pickup attracting the largest share of monthly shoppers at 53% compared to ship-to-home and delivery,” Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO of Toronto-based grocery e-commerce provider Mercatus, said in a statement.
The leading satisfaction indicator for online grocery, “likelihood to use a specific service again,” edged up to 62% in March from 58% in February and 56% in January. The gains spotlight retailers’ ability to address issues that dogged online grocery shoppers in March 2020 as the pandemic took hold, including out-of-stocks and a shortfall in order slot capacity, which degraded the overall experience and pulled repeat intent rates to less than 43%, according to Brick Meets Click.
“Pickup continues to have stronger consumer demand across all market types compared to delivery,” Perrier added. “Those brick-and-mortar chains that have invested in optimizing pickup services likely will continue to benefit from the high repeat intent rate as indicated in the data.”