Gallup poll says consumers prefer to shop for their own groceries

Photo: Shipt
Aug 16, 2018

Big name grocers have been putting huge resources into getting online grocery shopping right, but a recent Gallup poll indicates that customers just aren’t feeling it.

In a survey of 1,033 U.S. adults, 84 percent said they never order groceries online, reports Supermarket News. About 11 percent order groceries online for pickup or delivery twice a month or less, while only four percent do so once a week or more.

In terms of demographics, online grocery shoppers skew wealthy and have children. Only seven percent of people in categories earning less than $75,000 reported buying online groceries, whereas 12 percent of people earning $75,000 or more do. And only seven percent of shoppers without children reported buying groceries online once a month, while 14 percent with a child under the age of 18 in the house do.

Low adoption rates may be cause for concern, given that rarely a week goes by without an announcement of a major chain launching or enhancing an online grocery offering.

So far in August alone, Walmart has announced the pilot of a new robotic backend to manage online orders in its supercenters. Amazon has added curbside grocery pickup for online orders as a Prime membership perk at Whole Foods. Subscribers in 24 markets already have the option of Prime Now two-hour grocery delivery. 

Target has continued to roll out Shipt same-day delivery of groceries and other categories since the beginning of the year. The retailer acquired the shipping service last December. Kroger offers curbside pickup at 1,250 stores and home delivery from 1,200.

The online push has not come off without hiccups. Late last year, for example, Amazon discontinued its AmazonFresh grocery delivery service in some areas, leading many to question if pure-play e-tail grocery can ever be profitable.

Purchasing groceries online poses unique challenges, since customers are unable to see and feel produce or other perishables. But retailers pushing online grocery are working on ways to mitigate that. Walmart, for instance, has patented a solution which will allows users to see a real 3-D image of each piece of produce, which they can accept for purchase or reject.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Are the Gallup poll findings in line with your view of the online grocery market? What will it take for a larger percentage of Americans to make the switch from shopping in stores to ordering groceries online?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"I don’t think this is bad news for grocery pickup. It’s about right for the maturity of the service at this point in time."
"Grocery stores will probably never be replaced by Amazon or delivery services."
"Let’s face it folks. Online shopping for groceries is a moving target."

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36 Comments on "Gallup poll says consumers prefer to shop for their own groceries"

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Nikki Baird
I think there are a lot of things to unpack here. One, you have to remember that, at least in the U.S., the online delivery option is still in its infancy. So we shouldn’t expect a lot of adoption really fast. Two, of course, there has to be a build-up of trust over time. I’m definitely of the picky sort. Even my husband doesn’t pick fruits and vegetables the way I’d like him to, and we’ve been married more than 20 years! But I find the more I try pickup services, the more I’m okay with trusting the picking teams’ judgment. Three, at least in suburban Denver, there’s still a fee for getting curbside pickup. It’s somewhere on the order of $5 to $10. Which could easily be 10 percent of a grocery bill. Kroger has been offering “the first three pickups free” in the hopes to get people addicted to the convenience enough to not mind the fee. I’m not there yet, and I suspect there are a lot of less-affluent shoppers who aren’t… Read more »
Neil Saunders

The Gallup numbers seem rather high to me. We have a representative consumer panel of over 100,000 grocery shoppers and, of those, some 23.4 percent tried online food shopping at least once in 2017. That said, the fact remains that online has not penetrated as much in grocery as other categories, and purchase frequency remains low.

The U.K. also followed this pattern. However, penetration and frequency are now much higher. Basically, it took time for habits to change. Retailers played a big role in this by offering better online services and offers. I expect the U.S. to follow a similar pattern.

However, I believe there will always be a place for physical grocery stores; they are not doomed to extinction!

Ken Lonyai

Did Gallup do a poll in 1996 asking consumers similar questions about e-commerce? If so, I imagine the results to have been the same or worse.

Whether Henry Ford ever said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” is true or not, the premise has been proven infinitely. Asking people questions about historical habits as a measure of future traits is futile. It has, at best, little bearing.

Ongoing issues about fresh foods notwithstanding, any grocer strategizing its future 10 years out needn’t be swayed by this kind of “data.” It’s not reported whether subjects were even questioned about what would change their thinking/shopping habits in the future. Instead, online grocery purveyors need to carefully examine the direction of society and the technology that supports it and make informed decisions, based upon logical projections and business strategy over uninformed emotion. Otherwise, please keep you future whimpering about Amazon to yourselves.

Dr. Stephen Needel

We’ve been saying for years that online grocery is the next big thing — but we just keep on pushing the expected growth curves out year after year. Maybe it’s time to accept that many people don’t care about online grocery. There is a lot of satisfaction in choosing your own groceries, looking at what’s available and creating menus, finding bargains, etc. We shouldn’t treat online as the “natural” way to shop and worry about what barriers are present. If retailers want shoppers to shop online, it’s up to them to make it more appealing.

Jennifer McDermott

These numbers prove that supermarkets should focus less on driving digital assets and pay more attention to the huge opportunity that exists in physical stores. Despite the numbers showing that this is the preferred method of grocery shopping, most of these people no doubt still see it as a chore. This is where the grocery stores can shine, making that experience all the more convenient, enjoyable and personalized.

Ian Percy

The word isn’t “plastics” any more … it’s “engagement.”

Why, under the deceitful guise of advanced technology, AI, etc. are we trying to stop human beings from being human? Does it not seem like we are trying to turn everything we know into code and algorithms? Food, relationships, entertainment, even human organs. If we lose our soul to semiconductors we won’t be left with much of any value.

I’m somewhat relieved by this article … that there are still many of us who want to engage with our world and at least have the joy of picking out our own cantaloupe and tomatoes.

Georganne Bender

I’m with you, Ian!

Ian Percy
Appreciate the thumbs up and the down one too. Thought of another thing. There’s a wonderful charter school here in PHX that works around a garden concept. Many, if not most, of the kids come from very impoverished and difficult circumstances. If two kids are found fighting they’re sent to the garden to work together for an hour. They usually come back best of friends. There is something “grounding” about the earth that transforms these kid’s lives. Often they literally have no idea how a carrot is grown or where it comes from. As convenient as it may be for some, robotic delivery of pre-washed produce seems to me to be in the wrong direction; taking us away from Nature instead of toward her. Next thing will be 3D custom-printed vegetables! But what if a family picked their own vegetables out of the ground, got their hands dirty? Of course that’s not always practical, but consider the underlying truth. Nature is totally capable of looking after all her inhabitants … if we’d only get out… Read more »
Shep Hyken

Customers just have to get used to the new concept of online grocery shopping. It’s not the way “we’ve always done it.” Taking a lesson from the airlines, grocery stores can give an incentive to get shoppers to use the service. Airlines gave extra frequent flier miles if you checked in online. Some gave a small discount if the passenger booked their ticket online. This could be duplicated in some way in the grocery industry.

Art Suriano

Finally, an article with a poll that supports what I’ve been saying all along. Grocers are making a huge mistake investing heavily in a service that the majority of customers are not asking for and this can be dangerous. There is a significant risk of losing sales while focusing on the fastest home delivery possible and ignoring in-store needs as well as by keeping customers out of the stores, losing out on impulse buying opportunities. It will be many years, if ever, before the majority of customers prefer to be doing the bulk of their grocery shopping online. We’re talking food which is very important and that’s no doubt why the majority of customers want to see it before purchasing it. Too often the executive leaders go with their own assumptions, and when their beliefs do not align with what the customers want the retailer will lose, and they will lose big!

Grocers — listen to your customers and make sure you hear them.

Ian Percy


Georganne Bender

I second that!

Zel Bianco
Let’s face it folks. Online shopping for groceries is a moving target. Will it continue to grow or will it stay flat and perhaps even decline? Even the experts can’t say for sure. I do see a day where online shopping for non-perishables will be the norm but not for perishables. While Walmart’s use of 3-D imaging on each piece of produce is certainly a development to watch, I think that people who care about what they eat will continue to be very picky about their produce, meats and fish. In many markets, like NYC, these items are too expensive not to. This is backed up by some of the percentages outlined in the Gallup poll. Those with lower incomes are not going to risk receiving perishables that are less than satisfactory. Heck, sometimes you end up with produce that looks less than perfect even when you selected it yourself because you were in a rush. Do you really expect store associates to do a better job at this than we would do? And if… Read more »
Richard J. George, Ph.D.

I still believe it is only a matter of time until online grocery shopping becomes a way of life for several segments of shoppers. As noted in the Gallup findings, families with children under 18 as well as households with incomes in excess of $75,000 already skew higher than the national average for online grocery shopping. My concern is that retailers who have been vacillating on this issue of whether and how much to spend on developing an online option, will take this as a sign to hold off or back off. The center of the store continues to be under assault in the traditional supermarket. This is a sweet spot for online grocery providers. Holding off or backing off from investing in online should be done with the knowledge of the clear risks associated with that.

David Weinand

There will likely be a bifurcation between staples and fresh. There is no reason why penetration can’t reach healthy levels for dry goods, paper goods, etc. A box of Triscuits is not going to get any better if a shopper picks it up online vs. in the store. Personally, I wouldn’t rely on anyone picking my fruits or vegetables or steak so I anticipate that part of the business to remain primarily in the physical space. That doesn’t mean the online value proposition is any weaker. Shoppers can still save a ton of time by ordering their staples online and doing quick trips for fresh.

Carl Van Ostrand

Agree, segmentation by category tells a more interesting story. There is greater adoption of categories like pet care and household goods/personal care. Vitamins, supplements, snacks, etc. We can see this with passive behavioral data. Produce/frozen will likely have the toughest uphill battle for obvious reasons, but what happens when 20% of consumers are buying the majority of their groceries online and then making a quick stop at the local deli for some ground beef and apples? Will that be noteworthy? There is a lot more depth to this conversation when we start looking at demographic (geography is a big one) and category segmentation. I personally lean towards their being a lot more upside in grocery pickup and delivery.

Andrew Blatherwick
It is not surprising that the majority of consumers do not use online grocery. The food they eat is so important to them, it is something that all people will take more care over. This is especially true when looking at fresh groceries, fruit, vegetables, meat, etc. Yes shoppers may still use online once a month to have home delivered bulky and heavy dry goods, as these are not susceptible to variation in quality. That part of the shopping experience can be seen as drudgery, but when it comes to fresh items that can vary considerably from day to day, they want to quality control it themselves and not have someone else or even worse a robot select items for them. If they are going to the grocery store anyway then they may as well do other shopping whilst there, either to top up what they need or to look for something for that special meal on the weekend. So why are grocery retailers spending so much time investing in online services? It is a… Read more »
John Karolefski

Grocers have to invest in online shopping for that small segment of its customers that want it. Grocers don’t want to lose them to a competing store with online ordering capabilities.

Having said that, all of the hoopla over grocery e-commerce has — in my humble opinion — been way overblown. People want to interact with the physical world, and that includes personally selecting what food they purchase for themselves and their families.

Sure online grocery has its place for some, and it will remain one of the services a grocer can offer. But the physical store has dominated shopping and will continue to do so for the vast majority of shoppers. Grocers need to remember that and invest their resources accordingly.

Georganne Bender
Online grocery shopping is still in its infancy, it will take time to change something people have done the same ways for years. But as word of how easy it is builds more people will give it a shot. I have yet to try it. Buying food for my family is a personal thing; I want to be sure that I choose the best ingredients. It takes time, and sometimes it’s a hassle, and I know this sounds weird, but it’s still easier for me to walk the aisles and fill my cart than it is to worry over creating a list and pointing and clicking away on my computer. The bonus for the retailer of my shopping in-store is all of those impulse purchases. The other thing to consider is what’s happening on grocery store sales floors right now: samples, cooking demos, wine tastings, live bands and dancing on Friday nights. Smart grocers truly understand what needs to happen to bump up the in-store experience. You’re not going to get the feel of shopping… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel

Georganne — let’s remember that Webvan was around in 1998 and Peapod began much earlier. This is not nearly a business in infancy as much as it’s a business model that interests a small portion (perhaps growing) of shoppers.

Dave Nixon

This isn’t any sort of death knell for any of these BOPIS or e-commerce initiatives, it simply proves there need to be multiple acquisition channels as we once believed through a comprehensive CX (dare I say true “omnichannel”) approach. As a brand, you have to provide relevant channels for better engagement in whatever method your shoppers or customers choose to buy from you. This data proves that we still need physical stores and retailers should be very careful about moving too far into a “digital only” strategy.

Doug Garnett
3 years 10 months ago

I’ve thought for some time that the “order groceries online” fad would turn out to be another Groupon — important only to a relatively small minority of shoppers.

So there’s no surprise in this research. My surprise has been the dedication of stores in starting efforts that seem unlikely to ever contribute to profits.

As to using technology (e.g. Walmart) to solve problems, I don’t “look” at apples — I pick them up to ensure they are firm and sense their weight because that tells me a lot about how they’ll taste.

The other issue missing is that many people arrive at the store with a list but add to it because the physical location (seeing products on the shelves) reminds them of things they forgot.

Humans are physical and live in a physical world. The store is an advantage for people — smart retailers will embrace the advantages instead of giving pick-and-pack costs away for no added revenue.