Harris Poll reveals what groceries Americans buy online and why

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: iStock
Source: iStock

Related tags Online grocery shopping Food preservation

When it comes to online shopping, consumers may say that they want products with a long shelf-life, but a recent Harris Poll found that they are just as likely to buy fresh fruits and vegetables as dry packaged goods online – revealing ecommerce may hold more promise for perishable products that originally believed. 

An online survey of almost 2,000 US adults conducted by The Harris Poll in mid-June found almost 50% of Americans consider a food product  “a good fit for online shopping”​ if it has a long shelf-life, is non-perishable or if it is difficult to find in stores.

But this doesn’t mean Americans are only buying shelf-stable products online. According to the poll, 16% of respondents bought fresh fruits and vegetables online in the previous six months, which is the same percent who bought dry packaged goods online.

In addition, only slightly fewer – 15% – said they bought dairy, including milk, cheese or yogurt, and 15% said they bought meat and seafood.

True, this is less than the 20% who bought snacks and 17% who bought non-alcoholic beverages, but it is more than the 14% who bought canned goods, condiments, sauces or confections and the 12% who bought frozen food or shelf-stable baking products, according to the poll.

This suggests that the common belief that consumers won’t buy produce online because they can’t see, touch or smell it before they buy it doesn’t hold water. It also adds credence to ecommerce company claims all along that consumers are willing to buy produce online at least once and will do it again if they receive high quality products.

How consumers approach online shopping

The qualities that consumers list as most desirable in online food purchases shines a light on how they approach online food shopping.

For example, their desire for products with long-shelf lives suggests online grocery shopping could be used as a way to stock up on staples rather than to obtain products they need immediately.

Indeed a third of the adults polled said attributes desirable in online food products were items that they can stockpile and 15% said they were products they use on a routine basis – which is reinforced by the popularity of automatic subscription renewals of products sold online.

But the convenience of online shopping, as well as the apparent wide range of products bought, is not enough to push most Americans to stop shopping at brick and mortar stores for food, according to the poll.

It found only 10% of all Americans say online grocery shopping has replaced some or all of their routine grocery shopping trips.

Who shops online for food?

Who shops for food online is just as important as what they buy and why.

The Harris Poll found 31% of Americans bought food online in the past six months.

This group is more heavily weighted toward young city dwellers as well as those who are more educated, the poll reveals. Specifically, it found online shopping is more prevalent among millennials (36% versus 31% of average Americans), college grads (35% versus 26% with a high school education or less) and urban dwellers (38% versus 30% in the suburbs and 25% in rural communities).

Finally, it found parents are more likely to shop online than those without children at 37% compared to 28%.

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1 comment

Online Grocery Shopping Adoption

Posted by Bill Bishop,

This research provides even more evidence that while only a fraction of US consumers have tried online grocery shopping, there isn't a lot of resistance to the idea.

Shoppers are at an early stage of adoption. At this point the growth rate is slow, but at some point it will increase dramatically. The hard part is timing that inflection point.

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