Food and Groceries is the rising star within eCommerce. But what do recent developments look like? Which consumers are more prone to buying Food and Groceries online? And what are their motivations for doing so? Which dimensions do Food and Grocery merchants need to focus on to keep online momentum going? AfterPay Insights decided to find out.

Looking at the full landscape of online product categories, Food and Groceries leads the way in terms of growth. Directly following the corona outbreak, online Food and Grocery purchases boomed like no other category. Since then, online Food and Groceries purchases have stayed at a fairly stable level still leading ‘the growth league’ in the second half of May.

 

Significant for consumers who have started buying Food and groceries online is that they are quite online-savvy and experienced e-commerce users. The more frequently you purchase online in general, the more likely it is that you buy Food and Groceries online, too. This is evident as Weekly Food and Grocery Shoppers only comprise 4% of online shoppers, but they stand for 73% of all online Food and Grocery purchases, according to AfterPay Insights’ recent research.

Compared to other categories, the key motivations to buy Food and Groceries online are very rational; avoiding meeting people in stores is the most important driver for increased online Food and Grocery purchases. In this light, we can conclude that consumers have been pushed towards making more online Food and Grocery purchases more than that they were attracted to doing so.

Food and Grocery Shoppers also put specific demands on grocery merchants when it comes to reliable delivery and merchants having a wide range of products. But how do grocery merchants perform on these demands? Our analytics reveal that grocery merchants are underperforming on product availability, as well as offering the lowest price. And since online purchases in Food and Groceries are driven by these very rational reasons, merchants need to focus on improving the perception of these aspects.

In addition, Food and Grocery merchants need to add emotional values to their online experience in order to replicate the psychology of traditional grocery shopping – which for a large part exists of browsing and impulse buying – or deliver superior digital advantages that a physical store cannot offer.

Food and Groceries continues to lead the way in e-commerce growth

Across all seventeen product categories analysed by AfterPay Insights, and in all three countries, Food and Groceries is by far the category that grew the most directly after the corona outbreak. This boom in purchases can be seen in the data from the second half of March, where the number of purchases within Food and Groceries is up +62% in The Netherlands, +90% in Norway and in Germany at an all-time high with +142% (compared to the number of purchases made preceding the corona outbreak).

Even though the growth numbers for Food and Groceries show some variations over time, it can be interpreted as fairly stable. And by the second half of May, Food and Groceries is still the category with the highest growth numbers compared to all other categories (with the exception of Gardening tools where growth undoubtedly has been infused by a seasonality effect).

 

Buying Food and Groceries online requires online savviness

Food and Groceries is the category that has grown the most, but in terms of number of purchases it is still behind Fashion. Before the corona outbreak, Food and Groceries made up 8% of all online purchases in the Netherlands, 5% in Germany and 4% in Norway. Following the boom in Food and Grocery purchases during March, shares remain on a stable level. By the second half of May, the share of all online purchases represented by Food and Groceries is 11% in The Netherlands, 8% in Germany and 7% in Norway.

Looking at the general online shopping frequency across all categories, analytics also reveal that you must be a quite mature online shopper to start shifting Food and Grocery purchases from brick-and-mortar stores to online.

 

The more purchases you make online, the larger your share of purchases is within Food and Groceries.

Among Light Shoppers (making one online purchase over a two-week period), the share of purchases in Food and Groceries is only 4-5% across countries. And Heavy Shoppers, making 5 or more online purchases during a two-week period, place 11-13% of their online purchases in the Food and Groceries category.

The effect of this is that Heavy Shoppers stand for the majority of Food and Grocery purchases. In Germany, Heavy Shoppers make out 18% of online consumers, but they account for 61% of all Food and Grocery purchases. In The Netherlands, the Heavy Shoppers’ share is 15% and they stand for 54% of all Food and Grocery purchases, and in Norway the same numbers are 8% of shoppers making 47% of purchases.

‘Food and Grocery’ shopper groups based on purchase frequency

Based on shopping frequency within the category Food and Groceries, we see that two different types of Food and Grocery shoppers exist. Bear in mind that the Food and Grocery shopper groups are defined purely based on the number of purchases done within Food and Groceries during a two-week period. This is different to the definition above, where for example ‘Heavy Shoppers’ was based on the total number of purchases online across all categories.

The total share of online shoppers that have done at least one purchase within Food and Groceries during a two-week period is 12% in The Netherlands, 10% in Germany and 6% in Norway (second half of May). In comparison, the graph below shows that this number measured only 5% in The Netherlands, 6% in Germany and 2% in Norway prior to corona (mid-March). But after this initial increase in Food and Grocery purchases, the share of online Food and Grocery shoppers has been fairly stable.

Weekly Food and Grocery Shoppers (one or more online Food and Grocery purchases per week) are over-represented among 35-44 year olds, families with kids living at home, living in urbanized areas, holding a full-time job with a high disposable income. They are evenly split on gender.

The persona above can be compared to that of the general (online) Heavy Shopper which is more female dominant, but otherwise share the same basic same characteristics.

Bi-Weekly Food and Grocery Shoppers (one online Food and Grocery purchase per two weeks) are from a socio-demographic perspective very similar to Weekly Food and Grocery Shoppers, with the exception that they are slightly younger.

Non-Food and Grocery Shoppers (no online Food and Grocery purchases per two weeks) are over-represented among older consumers, post family life stage, living in rural areas or small towns and having a low disposable income.

 

Weekly Food and Grocery Shoppers is an important segment, seen across the three countries they only comprise 4% of all online shoppers, but they stand for 73% of all online Food and Grocery purchases.

Food and Grocery shoppers increase purchases in other categories

Food and Grocery shoppers have continued to conduct the same number of Food and Grocery purchases over time, but they have increased purchases in other categories. At the end of March, about 50% of Food and Grocery shoppers’ online purchases were done within Food and Groceries. And with increasing purchases outside Food and Groceries this share decreased to about 40% by the end of May. This pattern is similar across all three countries. Looking at in which other categories Food and Grocery shoppers’ have increased number of purchases as well, these are spread across the full spectrum – no specific category sticks out.

Drivers for increasing Food and Groceries e-commerce purchases

We see that consumers have been pushed to online Food and Groceries rather than having been attracted to online grocery shopping. This is evident as the key driver to buy groceries online is to avoid meeting people in stores, a very rational motivation, that is not directly related to a competitive advantage of purchasing online, like lowest price.

The combination of Food and Groceries being a ‘must have’ category rather than a ‘want to have’ category with the rational motivations driving online food and grocery purchases, leads to conclusion that Food and Grocery merchants have an opportunity to inject emotional values and inspiration into the purchase journey.

Find below graphs of the distinctive drivers to buy Food and Groceries online per country. The patterns across countries are very similar. In comparison with the general motivations across all online categories, to avoid meeting people in stores has had a dramatically higher impact on online food and grocery purchases. Secondary distinctive motivations for buying food and groceries online are ‘can’t leave home due to the need to taking care of myself or my family’ along with ‘public transport is limited so it’s harder to get to stores’.

Reliable delivery and wide assortment are key demands of online grocery merchants

Food and Grocery shoppers are slightly more demanding than the average online shopper. A consistent pattern across The Netherlands, Germany and Norway is that Food and Grocery shoppers have a significantly higher demand on merchants when it comes to offering a wide range of products and reliable delivery.

In The Netherlands, aside from wide range of products and reliable delivery, Food and Grocery shoppers here also express a higher need regarding security. As we know from our previous Security deep dive blog that reliable delivery is an integral part of the wider concept of being perceived as secure, Food and Grocery Shoppers high demand on reliable delivery in becomes an even more important area to focus.

 

Compared to the average online shopper, Food and Grocery shoppers in Germany have higher demands on Grocery merchants on reliable delivery and in particular when it comes to the merchant offering a wide range of products.

In Norway, Food and Grocery shoppers do not only demand a wide assortment and reliable delivery, they also express a significantly higher demand regarding flexible delivery options and to some extent also a clearer display of in stock information.

 

How successful are Food and Grocery merchants in satisfying shoppers’ demands?

Compared to the average online shopper, Food and Grocery Shoppers are significantly less satisfied with Grocery merchants’ pricing strategies and availability of wanted products. The reason for online grocery prices being perceived as expensive is that consumers buy groceries online based on very rational reasons (merchants have not succeeded in the inspirational part of the purchase journey).

Dutch Food and Grocery Shoppers show a lower level of satisfaction with Grocery merchants’ prices and products in stock. And even though Dutch Food and Grocery shoppers express higher demands than the market average on merchants having a wide range of products, they are very satisfied with this aspect.

German Food and Grocery Shoppers rate the satisfaction with their Grocery purchases in the basic same way as Dutch shoppers, i.e. a heavy dissatisfaction with Grocery merchants’ prices and a lower than average satisfaction with having products in stock. And in line with The Netherlands, German Food and Grocery shoppers are satisfied with the wide range of products available, even though this is also a critical demand German shoppers place on Grocery merchants.

What stands out for Norwegian Food and Grocery Shoppers, compared to the other countries, is that they are relatively less satisfied with the range of products offered by Grocery merchants. As Norwegian Food and Grocery Shoppers also place a higher than average demand on this aspect, it is a critical aspect to focus in order for Norwegian online Grocery merchants to gain and retain consumers. What is also notable is that the satisfaction with having products in stock is zero, this is off course also related to what products that are offered.

How will Food and Groceries develop?

Without a doubt, we can say that crises like the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted Food and Grocery shopping. Will growth persist? Will consumers’ shopping behavior ‘go back to normal’, post-corona?

There are different forces at play here. When lockdowns were strict, consumers may have ordered Food and Groceries online out of bare necessity to do so. But as restrictions gradually ease and worries reduce, some consumers might take the opportunity to change up their ‘working from home’ routine with visits to physical stores. Others may have realised the convenience of online Food and Grocery shopping, with a lasting shift in behavior as a result. How this – in the end – impacts the e-commerce share in Food and Groceries is hard to predict.

Regardless, consumers’ recent reasons to buy Food and Groceries online are very rational, more or less forced upon them, and less sustainable. Here likely lies a growth opportunity for online Food and Grocery merchants: by attaching more inspirational and emotional values to the shopping experience, they can attract new consumers, and can keep them coming back.

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