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Are groceries finally ready to move online?

U.S. study predicts a significant shift toward digital grocery shopping within five years

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Grocery sometimes feels like the category lost in time as digital reshapes how consumers purchase everything from mattresses to music, but a new U.S. report from consumer research firm Field Agent says the industry is finally making the transition to the digital age.

The Groceries 2.0 Revisited report, based on a series of interviews with primary household shoppers across the U.S., suggests online is poised to go head-to-head with brick-and-mortar stores within the next few years, though concerns still linger over factors like freshness and quality.

The good news for brick-and-mortar grocers is customers still find shopping at their stores acceptable as it relates to key metrics such as the amount of time it takes them to shop, convenience, selection and customer service. The bad news is nearly two-thirds of respondents (62%) say they want alternatives to traditional grocers.

Nearly half (46%) of U.S. households are already purchasing some of their groceries online, and 71% of shoppers say they will get more of their groceries online in the next five years (including 17% who say they will get “much more”). Nearly 40% of respondents say they will make fewer store trips.

There are still some lingering concerns about online shopping, however, most notably around quality and freshness. When asked to identify their primary concerns about shopping online, 69% list not personally picking their groceries, 61% cite not being able to see/touch products before purchasing, and 58% say not being able to take advantage of sales and promotions.

And consumers are still more likely to purchase items like toothpaste, feminine hygiene, and over-the-counter medicines online than they are fresh products such as milk, tomatoes and chicken.

Jeff Doucette, general manager of Field Agent Canada, says Canada is currently “playing catch-up” in many new technologies, but noted both Loblaw and Walmart have introduced grocery pick-up models in many markets.

“My belief has always been that pick-up would be the game changer for grocery e-commerce in Canada given our spread-out population, regional hub towns and cities and our overall acceptance of drive-throughs,” says Doucette.

He suspects Loblaw is also eyeing its 1,300 Shoppers Drug Mart locations as potential drop-off sites, giving it penetration in both urban cores as well as smaller centres.

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