September 9, 2021

Since the start of the pandemic grocery stores have been among the few retail outlets that have stayed open regardless of lockdowns. Their model has changed in that time, but with the speedy shift to online sales and delivery services, competition has increased and kept all players targeting grocery shoppers on their toes.

The Food Industry Association (FMI) in the United States, which champions an industry valued at $800 billion, says that in early 2020, about 44% of shoppers considered a supermarket to be their primary store, while only 26% thought of mass merchandisers like Walmart in the same way. That was according to its report US Grocery Shopper Trends 2021.

A changing landscape for grocery shoppers

A year later, things have changed. Supermarkets’ share of being the grocery shopper’s primary store has slipped to 39%, while mass merchandisers have increased their share to 33%. August’s US Grocery Shopper Trends COVID-19 Tracker research confirms this trend is holding steady.

A greater percentage of mass merchandiser shoppers (48%) have placed an online order from these outlets in the past three months than shoppers have at their local supermarket (31%).

FMI manager for research and insights, Allison Febrey, says: “When looking across all shoppers, the share placing an online order at a mass merchandiser increased by 26 points compared to11 points for supermarkets. Many shoppers are choosing to shop online at mass stores, perhaps leading to their increased share of being the grocery shopper’s primary store.”

Better experiences online

One reason for this could be service levels. According to February 2021 data, shoppers were more satisfied with their online experience at mass stores (scoring 8.4) than supermarkets (8.0). “In fact, mass merchandisers were the highest rated channel for online shopping, tied with online-only retailers,” says Febrey.

Online shopping is not as crucial now as it was as during lockdowns but the habit has stuck for many customers, and reasons for that are convenience and satisfaction with the online experience. Of course, in-store shopping has a core role in grocery, and shoppers rate mass merchandisers and supermarkets equally at 8.2 on this experience.

“Looking from another angle, the gap between satisfaction with the online experience and satisfaction with the in-person experience may point to why supermarkets lost share of their primary-store status,” notes Febrey. How that trend continues will be revealed in FMI’s next update to its grocery tracker in October.

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