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Purchasing Food Online: The New Normal?

Purchasing Food Online: The New Normal?

Whether it’s out of convenience, an effort to save money or a necessity to get just the thing you’re looking for, online shopping has become a staple for many. And it’s moved beyond just perusing for clothes and electronics; Americans also are searching for sustenance. In fact, 31 percent of Americans purchased food products online in the past six months—or 45 percent of online shoppers purchasing food on the internet.

Some, however, have a greater proclivity for online food purchasing than others. The activity is most prevalent among:

  • Millennials (36 percent vs. 31 percent of average Americans);
  • College grads (35 percent vs. 26 percent high school education or less);
  • Parents (37 percent vs. 28 percent of those without kids); and,
  • Those in an urban setting (38 percent vs. 30 percent suburban & 25 percent rural).

“As manufacturers continue to grapple with the challenges facing their industry around e-commerce, they must ask themselves: How does a consumer making a purchase in a grocery store differ from a consumer making a purchase online? Manufacturers will not only want to know differences in what people buy online vs. in-store; but, more importantly, how people buy online vs. in-store,” says Kathy Steinberg, director of The Harris Poll.

What’s on the menu?

Looking at what types of products are purchased, no one category of food takes the proverbial cake. There’s just an 8-point spread between the most popular and least popular product purchases, with snacks (20 percent) and non-alcoholic beverages (17 percent) at the top, and baking products and frozen foods at the bottom (12 percent each).

But what is it that makes a food product a good fit for online purchasing? Americans say two main factors: something that’s non-perishable or has a long shelf life (49 percent) or a product that’s difficult to find in stores (48 percent). About four in 10 also say something easy to ship (39 percent), while three in 10 say a product they don’t need right away (32 percent) or something they like to stock up on (31 percent).

When it comes to the specific brand that ends up on their doorstep, online shoppers are split on whether they only buy brands they already use (32 percent), are willing to try new, but familiar brands (34 percent), or are willing to try any brand, even those unfamiliar (34 percent).

Out with the old?

Just 10 percent of all Americans (29 percent of online food shoppers) say the habit has replaced some or all of their routine grocery shopping trips. Online food purchasers are most often seeking something special that they can’t find in their grocery store (52 percent). Another 24 percent use it as a crutch to replace critical items when they’re running low.

Much like shopping in a traditional grocery store, everyone has their own method for online shopping. Virtual food shoppers are nearly split on whether they use a shopping list (51 percent) or simply browse (49 percent) for what will ultimately end up in their shopping cart. However, online browsers are more willing to try new brands (77 percent) than those who rely on a list (60 percent).

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