Is Online Grocery Shopping a Fad or the Future?

Lauren Krause
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Online retailers, such as, continually disrupt how brick-and-mortar stores operate. Consumer spending has changed thanks to technology, and online grocery shopping may become the next big thing when it comes to people's food buying habits.

A recent survey released by the Hartman Group reveals that online grocery shopping is still a niche market in the overall shopping industry. However, consumer spending has increased in this realm due to convenience and ease of use. The process of shopping for groceries online is similar to shopping for non-grocery items. Many consumers have let go of the traditional notions of shopping and have embraced new ways to obtain food.

Early adopters of this practice liked the new way to shop for food. Now that technology has caught up with convenience, online grocery shopping has become more cost effective for everyday consumers. The survey by the Hartman Group suggests that up to 39 percent of consumers who purchase groceries online do so to save time. About 36 percent do it to save money while 27 percent shop online in to save on gas. Fifteen percent of consumers shop online in order to buy items in bulk.

Most supermarkets that offer online grocery shopping exist as mid-market stores attempting to compete with larger chains. Regional chains that serve local populations have the resources and service qualities to engage in this type of shopping endeavor. National chains offer lower prices, but less service. If places like Wal-Mart choose to deliver groceries to homes, prices of food may increase. Smaller, specialty grocers have unique items that cost more, but lack the financial resources to deliver goods to people's homes.

Similar to other online retailers, grocery stores should target their efforts to increase growth in the online shopping arena. Young city dwellers love new ways to shop, while suburban families may not have time to buy groceries amid soccer practices, band camp and Cub Scouts. One under-served need among shoppers includes people who go to stores every single day on the way home from work. Perhaps stores can add shopping apps that scan UPC labels on foods in a kitchen and the grocery store then makes suggestions for various products.

One possibility for online grocery shopping focuses on specialty companies that buy groceries at retail price from local stores and then mark up prices by a percentage as a way to make money. These types of companies typically start in larger cities. Once their business model becomes successful, they can then expand to middle-sized urban areas. Supermarket owners have a choice to let these companies make deliveries on their own, or use in-house employees to deliver groceries with fleets of vehicles to earn more market share.

The future of online grocery shopping looks bright, but the concept has not caught on fully just yet. Given more time, more investments and better cost-effective delivery methods, consumers and grocers alike may see the value of this paradigm as supermarkets mimic larger online retailers.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at



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