Despite all the excitement about the potential for online grocery shopping, most consumers still prefer buying their groceries at the store. In fact, less than 4% of groceries are bought online. It’s not the fault of grocers. Most now offer online ordering for delivery or curbside pick up at the store.

So why are consumers reluctant to buy grocery products online?

Old habits die hard

The weekly trip to the grocery store is a deeply ingrained ritual. Many enjoy the hands-on shopping experience. Brick-and-mortar stores are still seen as delivering more strongly across all areas of shopper expectations, including freshness, price, personal engagement and returns.


This is probably the biggest hurdle. Most surveys indicate that “shoppers don’t trust others to pick the best or freshest items”. Allowing someone else to choose their produce and meat is hard for most shoppers. They just don’t trust others to make those choices. The grocery industry has invested heavily in online infrastructure, but hasn’t come up with a viable strategy to gain shopper trust.

What if the number of online grocery shoppers never rises above 10%?


For most grocery retailers, whose business model is designed for brick and mortar sales, that would probably be OK. In a business of tight margins, online ordering adds costs from delivery and handling to website maintenance. But even if the percentage of online shoppers remains low, grocery retailers will still want to maximize their online market share.

So, what’s the strategy?

It appears, at least in the near term, online grocery shopping could be more of niche segment. So, category managers may need to focus their marketing strategy. For example, thirty-something Millennial families might be a good segment to target. Many have two incomes and young children. They want the convenience of grocery delivery and can afford to pay for it.

Plus, Millennials are now the largest segment of the workforce and are the driving force for growth in categories like produce. They’re more likely to be open to changing their shopping habits vs. older groups because their buying rituals aren’t as deeply ingrained.

Meal kits are popular with this group. Like online grocery shopping, meal kits might be a bit over-hyped, but consider what industry leaders are doing. Kroger has an in-house meal kit, called Prep+Pared, which it started expanding last December. Albertsons acquired meal kit maker Plated last year. Some Plated kits are available in Safeway and Albertsons stores, with a full rollout planned for later this year. Walmart is also offering meal kits on store shelves and online.

Busy Millennial parents might appreciate the ability to order a meal kit online at work and grab it at a curbside store pickup on their way home or have it delivered to their doorstep. Reach them via email. Entice them with a daily special. Build your customer base. Gain their trust. In time they may start to purchase all of their groceries online.

The opportunities are out there. Look beyond the hype. Connect the dots. Develop a niche. Be more than a category manager — be a category leader.

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