CivicScience Tech Lens Series: From microchips to macro trends — in this series we explore our rapidly evolving relationship with devices, social media, and all things digital.

The pandemic has led to an explosion of grocery delivery services and online grocery buying. The momentum for new services, new apps, and new subscription models hasn’t seemed to slow down – but has demand? 

CivicScience closely monitors the ups and downs of the fresh grocery and CPG markets. Grocery delivery adoption increased rapidly in 2020 with the onset of the pandemic, but that growth has dramatically subsided, gaining just one point from 2021. 

Current overall adoption rests at a yearly average of 31% among U.S. adults. Yet that figure does not imply that nearly one-third of the Gen Pop is actively using grocery delivery services. A breakout of adopters in the line graph below shows that 20% of respondents use grocery delivery with some level of frequency, while 12% have used grocery delivery in the past but didn’t enjoy it.

Delivery services available from retailers, such as Walmart and Amazon, rank by far as the most popular type of grocery delivery among current users. More than 40% of respondents use a retailer’s delivery services most often, while just under 30% use a third-party app, such as Instacart or Shipt. Online-only grocers, such as FreshDirect or Misfits Market, make up a smaller share (8%) of most-used services.

As adoption of grocery delivery did not increase significantly during Delta and Omicron variant spikes, it’s likely nearing a plateau when it comes to pandemic-fueled growth. That leaves retailers and developers taxed to get a better handle on their current user bases – how are adopters engaging with delivery services? CivicScience took a deeper look at current usage trends and shopping habits.

Hybrid Buying Is Big

A snapshot of current grocery shopping habits shows a strong majority (68%) of grocery shoppers in the U.S. still prefer to do nearly all of their shopping in stores instead of online. However, a total of 28% of respondents use a combination of both in-store and online shopping channels on a regular basis to obtain groceries, while just a tiny segment (3%) buys nearly all of their groceries online. 

Drilling down further, survey respondents were asked to identify all of the ways they typically purchase groceries. When it comes to online buying, 12% of all respondents frequently turn to grocery delivery services. Put into perspective, that suggests that regular grocery delivery users account for close to 40% of total adopters.

Click-and-collect methods – curbside pickup and store pickup – continue to remain popular for 24% of Americans. In fact, curbside pickup ranks highest among the online grocery shopping channels included in the survey. 

As expected, many online shoppers engage in a variety of channels. For example, further analysis shows that half of frequent grocery delivery users divvy up their average grocery haul between the doorstep and the shopping aisle. In-store shopping is still important to many grocery delivery users. A much smaller percentage –  just around one-quarter – are likely to also use click-and-collect options.

What’s Driving Delivery Usage?

The survey results put hard data to the new faces of grocery shoppers that have emerged over the past two years, as new types of services have become available. Convenience and lifestyle habits, availability and location, and even lingering Covid-related concerns are all pieces of the puzzle.

A broad cross-comparison of recent data suggests that current grocery delivery adopters continue to be more concerned about COVID-19. While it’s tough to say to what extent Covid is driving usage without further analysis of demographics, it likely continues to have some impact.

Grocery delivery has a high standing among remote workers, providing additional insight into the important role of the remote worker in the growing stay-at-home-economy. More than 70% of remote workers currently use, have used, or would like to use grocery delivery services.

A Word On In-Store Shopping – It’s Enjoyable

Barring availability concerns, a final survey looked at what might be hindering greater grocery delivery usage. The single biggest reason deterring regular delivery use? People simply enjoy the experience of shopping for groceries in stores, making up 35% of responses. And given the social isolation brought on by the pandemic, an activity as essential or routine as grocery shopping may carry heightened value. 

Other key reasons to consider include lack of trust in the shopper to select groceries and the cost of service. Surprisingly, delivery speed did not weigh in as a significant factor keeping shoppers from using grocery delivery.

Overall, survey results suggest that despite stagnant adoption, grocery delivery continues to be a valuable option, especially to remote workers, but in-store shopping is still key for many of the most consistent delivery users. Further analysis could explore the different degrees that variables such as Covid concern, demographics, and opinions have on adoption and usage.