The online grocery market in the U.S. declined 3.1 percent in September versus last year, ending the month with $7.5 billion in sales, according to the latest monthly Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey.
Declines in frequency and spending per order contributed to the drop, while an expanded base of monthly users softened the slip in overall sales and signaled continued interest in buying groceries online.
According to the survey, most of the sales decline was driven by contractions in order frequency as the average number of orders per monthly active user fell 8 percent versus a year ago.
Online grocery sales in September finished at 2.31, the lowest order rate since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted grocery shopping patterns. And while September’s order frequency remains above pre-COVID levels, it was only about 14 percent higher than the 2.03 orders per month posted in August 2019.
The drop in overall order frequency resulted from shifts in shopper behavior, the report found. The share of MAUs who completed just one order during the month jumped to about 37 percent, the highest level since pre-COVID.
At the same time, the share of MAUs making three or more orders contracted 370 bps on a year-over-year basis, continuing a downward trend that also was observed between 2022 and 2021.
The downward movement in order frequency impacted most retail formats to varying degrees. Mass retailers experienced a 4 percent decline among its MAU base, while Amazon’s pure-play segments dropped 7 percent and supermarkets fell nearly 13 percent in September versus a year ago.
All three receiving methods – pickup, delivery and ship-to-home – experienced growth in their respective MAU bases, as the total number of households completing at least one order during the month jumped nearly 11 percent compared to September 2022.
This jump more than offset the order frequency decline and drove a nearly 2 percent gain in total order volume. The supermarket MAU base expanded by just less than 1 percent, while the mass MAU base, led by Walmart, surged 20 percent compared to a year ago.
The overall average order value fell nearly 5 percent as MAU’s spending per order across all three receiving methods was constrained compared to the prior year. Pickup posted the largest AOV decline, while ship-to-home dropped slightly, and delivery remained flat versus last September.
September’s softer sales shifted share of sales toward pickup. While delivery and ship-to-home both contracted, slipping to 34.9 percent and 16.7 percent respectively in September, pickup sales share climbed 110 bps to 48.4 percent for the month.
“Both pickup and Walmart are growing share in today’s market for a range of reasons,” said David Bishop, partner at Brick Meets Click.
“Each helps customers who are searching for ways to save money while pickup provides more flexibility as to when an order is received by the customer compared to delivery.”
Cross-shopping rates between grocery (which includes supermarket and hard discount retailers) and mass continued to climb, increasing 40 basis points versus last year to finish the month at 28 percent.
“Motivating customers to shop with you again online may be challenging – especially when many households are trying to stretch a buck – but attracting new ones is even harder,” said Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO, Mercatus.
“To compete more effectively, in addition to promoting more types of money-saving offers such as loyalty rewards, bundled deals or other promotions, grocers can emphasize the quality, service and convenience they offer that big-box retailers don’t.”
Online sales across all formats accounted for 12.6 percent based on total weekly grocery spending during the last week of September, climbing 160 bps versus last year.
The combined contribution of pickup and delivery – since most conventional supermarkets don’t offer ship-to-home – climbed 140 bps, finishing the month at 10.5 percent due to weaker results in the delivery segment.
About this research
The Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey is an ongoing independent research initiative created and conducted by Brick Meets Click and sponsored by Mercatus.
Brick Meets Click conducted the survey Sept. 28-29 with 1,754 adults who participated in the household’s grocery shopping.
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