Online grocery sales held firm in October, but the dollar ring for pickup and delivery orders well exceed pre-pandemic basket sizes, strategic advisory firm Brick Meets finds.
For October, the U.S. online grocery market edged up 1.3% to $8.1 billion from $8 billion in September, when month-to-month sales fell 7%, according to the latest Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey, released Thursday. October’s total, too, stands at the same level as a year ago. Similarly, both pickup/delivery and ship-to-home dollar sales in October ended up at about the same level in September, at $6.4 billion and $1.7 billion, respectively.
Weighted average order value (AOV) for pickup, delivery and ship-to-home in October came in at $70.65, reflecting averages of $85.13 for delivery, $80.88 for pickup and $45.57 for ship-to-home. Brick Meets Click noted that although October AOVs are down from highs a year earlier, the AOVs are up 12% for pickup and 18% for delivery versus pre-COVID-19 AOVs. Ship-to-home, meanwhile, has returned to pre-pandemic levels, up only 2% gain with August 2019.
On average, monthly active users (MAUs) placed 2.74 orders in October 2021, roughly the same rate as in recent months. Still, that order frequency is 35% more than pre-pandemic levels and just 6% below the record high in May 2020, when market conditions were much different as consumers continued to stockpile, Brick Meets Click pointed out. In October, about half of U.S. households (63.8 million) bought groceries online, including purchases ranging from only a few items to a full basket.
October’s online grocery order frequency and user base figures show how buying behavior is stabilizing at elevated levels compared to the pre-COVID period, according to Brick Meets Click. For example, the current size of the MAU base remains larger than the total number of households in August 2019 who had placed at least one online grocery order over the previous year.
“As the number of new COVID-19 cases in October continued to decline, key performance indicators for monthly active users, order frequency and average order value are rebalancing from the record highs of 2020 and now provide a more stable and sizable base for building and forecasting the business in 2022 and beyond,” explained David Bishop, partner at Barrington, Ill.-based Brick Meets Click, which focuses on how digital technology impacts food sales and marketing.
Conducted Oct. 29 and 30 by Brick Meets Click and sponsored by grocery e-commerce specialist Mercatus, the study surveyed 1,751 U.S. adults who participated in their household’s grocery shopping and made an online grocery purchase in the previous 30 days. Delivery includes retailer and third-party services (e.g. Instacart, Shipt), while pickup includes in-store, curbside, locker and drive-up services. Ship-to-home sales cover online grocery purchases delivered via parcel couriers like Federal Express, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service.
Pickup retained its status as the most preferred way to receive online orders in October, tallying a MAU base of 33.4 million households. Delivery was used by 26.2 million households in October but lately has seen more month-to-month volatility, Brick Meets Click said. Ship-to-home totaled 29.8 million MAU households for October, but that fulfillment methods numbers have shrunk every month since July.
Order share among fulfillment options has continued to shift over the past few years, but with the mix moving toward click-and-collect. Pickup garnered a 37.9% share of orders for October, up eight percentage points from November 2020 and 10 points from the pre-COVID period, indicating that click-and-collect’s gains have come more recently, Brick Meets Click reported.
Conversely, delivery share came in at 29.6% for October, up just two percentage points from November 2020 and seven points from before the pandemic, showing that delivery’s gains occurred earlier. Those increased siphoned share from ship-to-home, which contracted to 32.5% of orders in October, marking a nearly two-thirds share loss since last November.
“While the vast majority of online grocery shoppers still prefer to use only one method — pickup, delivery or ship-to-home — over 30% of MAUs chose to use multiple methods to get their online grocery needs met in October 2021,” Bishop noted. “The share of MAUs that received online orders via multiple methods has grown by over 16 percentage points since the start of the pandemic.”
Repeat intent rate — the probability that a MAU will order again from the same online grocery service in the next month — dipped to 57.2% in October, a month-to-month decrease of 4.2 percentage points, likely due to a change in the customer mix, said Brick Meets Click. The share of customers who used the most recent service for the first time rose two points, yet only 30% of those shoppers were very or extremely likely to make another order, versus 80% of shoppers who placed four or more orders within the past three months with the same provider.
In terms of retail formats, repeat intent rates for supermarkets in October trailed those of mass merchants like Walmart and Target by 2.1 percentage points, or about 4%. Though that gap was smaller than in September, the shortfall signals that grocery stores can raise customer satisfaction by reducing sources of friction in their service, the research revealed. During October, 25.6% of supermarket MAUs also placed at least one online order with mass merchants, about the same level as in September. Nearly two times as many of those households cross-shopped with Walmart versus Target.
“As we see online’s share of total weekly grocery shopping consistently hit the double-digits, it represents a new normal. A sound strategy for grocers going forward is continued investment to improve and differentiate your online service,” commented Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO of Toronto-based Mercatus. “Incentivize customers to shop your first-party channel while offering them choices for receiving online orders. Leveraging a third-party, last-mile provider can make sense today for multiple reasons. However, it is essential that retailers take an integrated approach that promotes the benefit of ordering from the retailer’s owned experience.”