April was a record-setting month for U.S. online grocery sales, which reached $5.3 billion, according to new research released by Brick Meets Click and Symphony RetailAI earlier this week (tip of the hat to Grocery Dive). This represents a 37 percent growth over March, which was its own record month with $4.0 billion in sales.
The Brick Meet Click survey found that over the last 30 days, 40 million people shopped for groceries online (up from 39.5 million in March), with the total number of orders hitting 62.5 million in April (up from 46.9 million in March), and a slight increase in spending per order at $85 in April (up from $82 in March). Consider, for comparison, that a Gallup survey in August of last year showed that only 11 percent of respondents shopped for groceries online once a month.
All of this record-setting action, of course, is driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-in-place orders enacted across the country starting in March. This isolation and social distancing spurred droves of people online to shop for groceries to be either picked up curbside or delivered.
Among the motivating factors for grocery e-commerce was fear. Brick Meets Click found that 47 percent of households surveyed had a “high level” of concerns about catching the novel coronavirus. This echoes a recent survey from C+R Research that found 60 percent of respondents were “fearful” of actually shopping at the grocery store.
These record months of online grocery shopping have put a tremendous strain on the grocer retail infrastructure. Amazon, Walmart, Kroger Instacart and others have all ramped up hiring and added additional measures to try and keep up with the sudden uptick in demand.
But despite two record months in a row, there are bigger, more existential troubling signs on the horizon. In addition to all the boomtown data Brick Meets Click found, its survey also gave us a sobering glimpse at the economic hardship data that lags behind the big sales numbers: 39 percent of surveyed households indicated that their monthly income has dropped 25 percent or more since January and February of this year. Less household money, sadly, means less spent at the grocery store.
Though grocery stores have remained opened during this pandemic, some states are starting to ease their shelter-in-place restrictions. We look forward to seeing Brick Meets Click’s May scorecard to see if and how online grocery shopping behavior has changed.