With COVID-19 limiting movement in some cities and raising new concerns about being out in public among groups of people, there’s been a surge in online grocery shopping. And according to a piece in Bloomberg yesterday, Walmart was the top destination for online grocery shopping, which could translate into being the long-term leader in the space.
As online grocery shopping goes mainstream, Walmart will be the main beneficiary. One-third of shoppers surveyed by Gordon Haskett Research Advisors on March 13 said they bought food online over the past week, and of those, 41% were doing so for the first time. For those newbies, Walmart was by far the most popular option, capturing more than half of orders. Amazon and its Whole Foods chain garnered only 14%.
Now we don’t know how big the sample size of this survey was, but the results seem in-line with what we would expect. Walmart is a massive retail operation with a broad distribution of physical stores, so it makes sense it would be a big beneficiary of our current situation.
Prior to the global pandemic, Walmart and Amazon had been locked in a heated battle for supremacy in the online grocery space. The two retail giants exchanged tit-for-tat moves over the past year: Walmart launched and rolled out Delivery Unlimited for groceries nationwide, Amazon waived delivery fees for its Prime members, Walmart started testing its own Amazon Prime-like membership service, and Amazon started building its own physical grocery store locations.
Walmart already having physical locations definitely gives it an advantage in this time of social distancing. Walmart stores are there for people brave enough to actually go out and shop in person. The stores also act as a distributed network for home deliveries, or can provide pickup locations for online orders.
I myself am putting this last scenario to the test. I live in a more rural area and while delivery from my local Safeway couldn’t be fulfilled for more than a week and a half at the time of ordering, I can do an at-store pickup from Walmart tomorrow. Aside from a couple of minor hiccups, the Walmart app and online experience was pretty easy. Most everything I wanted was in stock, and if it wasn’t, they made it easy to swap.
As more people are forced into online grocery shopping for the first time they will go to where they can get the food and supplies they need in a timely manner. With Amazon struggling to keep up with delivery demand, Walmart, with its network of stores could become people’s de facto preference. And once they have an account set up with Walmart, re-stocking pantries will be that much easier as this lockdown continues and into a time in the hopefully not too distant future when we can emerge from our homes.