Grocers Struggle With Online Demand

More Americans are ordering groceries online, but stores are finding it hard to fulfill orders.

May 04, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Research from consulting firm Bain & Company shows that 3-4% of grocery spending in the United States was online before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now, that’s up to 10-15%, CNBC reports. If even a fraction of new customers continue to purchase online, it could disrupt the grocery industry in a big way.

As customers became wary of entering a grocery store or leaving their house, a wave of new app downloads and program sign-ups occurred. And now that consumers have downloaded the apps, used the services and found what they like about them, they may just keep up the habit—especially as social distancing remains a high priority.

This surge in demand is prompting U.S. grocers to rethink their strategy and may shift the way things are done in the long run. For now, grocers are struggling to not only fulfill or deliver online orders but also find the time to sanitize the store and restock shelves—all with distancing and safety guidelines in place.

Prior to the pandemic, a study by the Food Marketing Institute projected that online grocery sales will reach $100 billion (20% of total grocery retail) by 2025. Current sales data show that trend is accelerating. For example, Target says quarter-to-date digital sales have more than doubled compared to 2019. 

Additionally, customers are a bit more forgiving right now when it comes to out-of-stock items, extra charges or long wait times. Normally, these items deter customers from using the digital services. Only time will tell if the trend sticks—and if grocers can keep up with the shifts.