For Many, Digital Food Shopping Is Still a 'Not Yet' Thing

Most expect to do more in the future

May 12, 2017

Roughly half of consumers never buy groceries online, a new survey found, but they tend to think they'll be buying more online in the future.

Market research company Field Agent queried its base of smartphone users and asked about their grocery shopping preferences. Fully 54% said they never buy groceries online. A tiny handful of consumers buy a lot of groceries online, but in general the survey suggests it's still a marginal activity, at best, in most households.

But when asked about their expectations for future buying, the respondents seemed much more open to the possibility of digital food shopping. Almost three-quarters of them said they expect to do at least a little bit more online grocery shopping five years from now. And 17% said they expect to be doing "much more" online shopping.

The results are in line with a variety of recent studies showing that most consumers remain reluctant to buy groceries online--but also that they foresee that changing in the future. A February survey by Unata and Brick Meets Click found that 19% of respondents said they had bought groceries online in 2016, but 31% expected to do so in 2017.

But the shift to digital, while widely expected by consumers, retailers and analysts, faces significant hurdles. Surveys have found that a key reason consumers wish to purchase in-store is the desire to see and touch the food they are buying. This desire is likely sharpened by the growing consumer preference (especially among millennials) for natural, healthier foods.  On the other hand, millennials are also more likely than older consumers to buy food (and products in general) online, to cook for themselves, and to try meal kits, all of which may spur increased digital grocery sales.

Cowen & Co. estimates that digital grocery sales will total $71 billion in the US this year, and projects that the sales will be more than twice that by 2021.