Food Biz

How Many Americans Actually Get Groceries Online?

September 12, 2017

Yesterday, the International Council of Shopping Centers released the results of a survey dubbed “The State of Grocery Shopping.” Conducted over the course of two days in late August by marketing research firm ORC International, the study concluded that the relatively new advent of shopping for groceries online hasn't quite had a sizable impact on the way Americans get their groceries—not yet, at the very least. Most Americans still prefer to shop for groceries in person.

The firm arrived at this verdict after gathering a representative sample 1,012 adults in the United States across a gradient of income levels, segmenting respondents into three age groups: millennials (18–36 years old), Generation X (37–52), and Baby Boomers (53–71).

There are a few mildly enlightening tidbits about consumer habits buried in this report—for example, 79% of all respondents shop for groceries, either in store or online, at least once a week. Yet the most compelling nugget is the fact that consumers overwhelmingly prefer physically traveling to grocery stores to ordering their groceries online. Over two-thirds of grocery store shoppers only purchase items in stores (68%), compared to a paltry 1% who only buy their groceries online. Just a bit under one-third of respondents (31%) purchase groceries both in-store and online.

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I should note that ordering online isn’t synonymous with delivery; most of the respondents who order groceries online fetch their orders in store (74%), while considerably fewer have their orders delivered to their doorsteps by the retailers themselves (44%). Even fewer respondents have their items shipped via mail or courier services (36%).

The most widely-cited reason for shopping for groceries in person was immediacy: Consumers are able to get items instantly when shopping in a store (71%). Respondents also said that ordering online poses too much of a gamble when it comes to product freshness (70%), and they prefer to assess their options in person (69%). Other stated reasons for shopping for groceries in person include:

  • They enjoy wandering around the aisles (50%).
  • They like to make comparisons between prices in stores (49%).
  • They’ve got the ability to interact with store employees if they've got questions (28%).
  • Grocery stores are a stone's throw away from home or work, or websites are too finicky to navigate (27%).
  • They can sample different foods in person, an option they don’t have online (17%).

All understandable lines of reasoning. As the practice of ordering groceries online becomes less of a fringe activity, though, I’m more interested in seeing a survey that examines why people get their groceries online. It’ll likely surprise very few people that millennials shopped more frequently both online and in stores (43%) than members of Generation X (33%) and Baby Boomers (22%), indicating that we're facing a future in which ordering groceries online may become a bit more normative.

Do you shop for groceries online? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

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Mayukh Sen is a James Beard Award-winning food and culture writer in New York. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Bon Appetit, and elsewhere. He won a 2018 James Beard Award in Journalism for his profile of Princess Pamela published on Food52.


Gardener-cook September 22, 2017
I grow all our produce and eggs, and everything else that we need I buy at our local co-op. They offer insurance benefits and paid vacation to all their employees, and I'll bet that few if any online services could say the same. If you want your area to have responsible businesses, you have to support them.
ronyvee September 26, 2017
We live in a food desert because our home IS a desert. God bless the careful person who can keep chickens alive and produce growing in rock-hard caliche in 118 degree summer weather or below freezing in the winter. I would support a co-op if there was such a thing here, at least for my personal shopping needs. We do have a small, scrappy orchard nearby, and my students and I walk over a few times a year to pick pears or kale or pumpkins, but it's just a small amount -- enough for demos and tastings. If we picked the quantity needed for 220 students to complete a weekly lab, we would strip that poor orchard bare in 10 minutes.
ronyvee September 17, 2017
I am a high school culinary teacher who orders online once a week for my school labs from both a big box store and a local grocery store. The big box store delivers and I pick up at the grocery store. Specialty items are ordered from Amazon as needed. It has completely changed my work life. No more 5 am bleary eyed shopping trips through Walmart before school starts, which happened three days a week. I also order most of my personal groceries online, too, and pick them up on my way home from work, I love having that time back each week.
Kim September 15, 2017
I have done most of my grocery shopping online for the past year. It has changed my life. Now instead of spending Sunday walking the aisles of the grocery superstore in my neighborhood, I can go to a gallery opening or work in my garden. The convenience has improved my life immeasurably. I get my fresh groceries from Door to Door Organics and pantry items from Amazon Pantry. I love pulling up from work and having my shopping done for me, sitting on the patio or porch.
Renee K. September 14, 2017
I shop online because I have a 6 month old and a 3 year old at home and my husband and I both work very demanding/time consuming jobs. It is great to be able to do my grocery shopping after my girls go to bed or during a rare lunch break. I also find it helps to save money because there is no impulse buying as I know my total and can add and subtract items to fit my budget.
Penny H. September 14, 2017
I tried on-line grocery shopping once, when I wasn't feeling up to making a trip. It took almost as much time to "shop" online as actually going to the store. I missed shopping for bargains. I frequently use "store brands" and those weren't available. On a limited budget, I missed finding close-outs. I found that produce is simply better "in person". I mostly shop for one and large or bulk purchases don't work for me. When I get too old and decrepit to go to the store, I may try again, but not for now.
Sharon M. September 14, 2017
Now that I live in a big city and don't have a car, I order bulky and heavy things online. I still prefer to shop for fresh food at various stores and farmers markets.
Donna September 14, 2017
Not a Mill, Gen X, or BB; I'm older and buy approximately 80% of all groceries online thru our CSA. They offer fresh & frozen produce, meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, cheese and much more. Yes, I have to wait a week to collect the wonderful food from about 10 local, mostly organic, farms; but it's worth it! The other 20% comes from Whole Foods & Meijer. Wonderfully convenient way to shop, especially in the dead of winter when surrounded by snow and 20 degree temps.
AntoniaJames September 13, 2017
I get all household products (environmentally friendly options, exclusively) including wonderful exclusive lotions, walnut scrubbers, compostable food waste bags, organic parchment, Method and Seventh Generation cleaning products, etc. via Grove Collaborative, to which I've subscribed enthusiastically since they were a tiny startup. Fabulous customer service, easiest-ever dashboard so you only get what you need, no extra fees; seriously, it's the best. My son in grad school is also a subscriber. ;o)
Steven W. September 13, 2017
Stores else am I going to squeeze the fruit and be annoyed by shoppers who feel a need to have a reunion in the middle of the flippin ceral aisle?
luvcookbooks September 13, 2017
I order online sustainable tuna, delicious green olive tapenade, and sustainable toilet paper from Thrive. Their prices are less(for toilet paper and tuna) than a comparable in store product. I pay $5/mo subscription fee. No delivery charge for order over $49. So far so good. Also order online apricots from Frog Hollow Farm, expensive but better than any apricot I get locally. Internet order Zingerman's when they have cheese on sale. Quality is amazing! Mostly use farmer's market and local groceries day to day. Oh, going to pick up a CSA share of sustainable wild Alaskan salmon tomorrow! Will keep you posted, but fish is so difficult to buy! I am hoping this 12 lbs of frozen salmon will be delicious, cost effective and ethically decent.:)
dtremit September 13, 2017
I really *want* to love online shopping, but I find that the online grocery experience is just not ready for prime time, in most cases. Whenever I try to place an online order, I find items missing from the selection that I *know* are carried in the store, and there's almost never a delivery slot available that makes sense for me. Plus online pricing seems to be equal at best, and a fair premium at worst.

I think a "order online, pick up in person" service would be much more convenient for my needs -- but no one around here has that.
FJT September 12, 2017
Online shopping with delivery seems to be only just getting going where I live in the Mid-West but when I lived in the UK I used it all the time and loved it.
AntoniaJames September 12, 2017
I purchase about a dozen grocery items online, and only online. Some items I can't easily get locally, e.g., roasted chicory (coarse grind, for New Orleans style cold brew concentrate); for others, restaurant-supply pricing, e.g., for baking items, makes it more cost effective; other items, such as nuts and seeds from, the quality is unbeatable -- plus, their overnight shipping and excellent prices work well for me. I've recently been ordering from Amazon Prime Now certain ordinary shelf-stable grocery commodity items, for the convenience. I buy specialty meats, sausages and veal and duck demi-glace from d'Artagnan, and certain spices and herbs from Penzeys. It's generally all about quality and selection. That said, I love the human interactions and choosing process while at the grocery store, and I'm fortunate to be able to schedule it so that I'm not rushed or tired, so I am quite sure that my online shopping will never replace my in-store or market shopping. ;o)
Lainie September 12, 2017
I tried online shopping for a pick-up order once. The local supermarket chain had a promotion - I got $15 off my order so I gave it a try. I had no issue with the items in my order but for the 20 items in my order, I had it bagged in at least 15 plastic bags.
I thought that was just so wasteful, I have never been able to utilize that service again.
ktr September 12, 2017
If I had a local grocery store that delivered I would absolutely use it. I'm sure it would cut down on impulse buys and while I don't mind grocery shopping, doing it with 2 little kids is not my idea of a fun outing. And it would save me from having to drive 30 min one way to get to the grocery store.
Heather September 12, 2017
I've tried it, primarily to save myself some time when I spend a weekend traveling. I'm on the fence, because I enjoy grocery shopping. But it'll probably be a godsend in helping me avoid overbuying/impulse buying.
HalfPint September 12, 2017
When I have a lot of stuff to get and I don't want to deal with the crowds, I will order my groceries online and have it delivered to my house. The local supermarket in my area offers delivery but with $49 minimum, so I need to have a somewhat long grocery list. Seriously a lifesaver,though, when I had my baby and I was virtually housebound.