Coronavirus Stresses Grocers and Delivery Services

Shoppers seek delivery, pick-up services and non-perishables.

March 09, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—It’s no surprise that the growing number of coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) cases is upping the demand for door-to-door delivery and grocery pickup and, in some cases, changing the way those customer services operate.

Last week, Instacart announced that customers can choose to have their deliveries dropped off at their doors, instead of being hand-delivered, reports U.S.News. The company had been testing a new “Leave at My Door Delivery” feature in some areas during the past few months, but the demand for that service has spiked recently.

Postmates introduced a similar option on Friday, and, grocery delivery service FreshDirect notes on its website that its "delivery personnel will bring your order up to your door, but cannot enter your home at this time," CNN reports.

Instacart said deliveries jumped tenfold during the past week and as high as 20 times in California and Washington, where the virus has been the most widespread in the United States. Hand sanitizer, canned food and face masks were among the items most in demand.

Consumers have been stockpiling essentials in some states, spurred by messages from state health departments urging residents to buy supplies of non-perishable foods, prescription medications and sanitary supplies. Stores have seen a rush on household essentials, emergency supplies and other products online, according to Grocerydive.com.

Data from technology and content firm Chicory shows increased shopping in highly populated urban areas. Anxiety over the virus is driving shoppers online, where they can purchase groceries, personal care and medical supplies without risking exposure to crowds of people. The demand will mean a sales lift for retailers but also cause challenges as they work to restock their store backrooms and warehouses.

In the past 30 days, 21% of U.S. shoppers have bought perishable groceries online, according to NPD analyst David Portalatin, up from 18% during the same period last year, and that figure is expected to increase as the virus spreads. According to a survey of 1,100 consumers in February by Coresight Research, 27% said they were avoiding public venues like shopping centers, and 58% said they would avoid public venues if the outbreak continued to spread.

(Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday recommended that elderly people and those with underlying health conditions avoid cruises, flights and large crowds.)

On top of staying in stock, grocers face other challenges, such as managing a workforce, especially in sensitive locations like the Seattle area, where most of the COVID-19-linked deaths have occurred. As of Sunday evening, the U.S. had logged more than 500 confirmed cases across 33 states and the District of Columbia and at least 21 deaths.

The virus is a stress test for the still-developing online grocery platforms. And while customers may be upset over delayed orders and out-of-stocks, companies can use the opportunity to make their e-commerce operations stronger, and they can also use their platforms to communicate clearly with customers and build long-term engagement.

For more information on COVID-19, visit the NACS Coronavirus Resources page.

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