FMI: Supermarkets’ prominence slips as online sales boost consumer preference for mass, club

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/ SDI Productions
Source: Getty/ SDI Productions

Related tags FMI Supermarket Mass

While supermarkets remain the go-to for most Americans stocking their pantries or picking up last minute items, the channel’s dominance eroded during the pandemic when the rapid adoption of online shopping pushed many consumers to try – and sometimes favor – new channels, according to new research from FMI: The Food Industry Association.

According to FMI’s recently released US Grocery Shopper Trends report conducted in partnership with The Hartman Group, 49% of shoppers in 2018 and 2019 indicated that a supermarket was their primary store, but as of early 2021, that number had dropped to 39% with 61% indicating a store in another channel as their go-to for groceries.

The second most popular channel behind supermarkets is mass, which was cited by 33% of shoppers as their primary store in 2021 compared to 27% in 2018, according to the report. Club also gained prominence as the primary store for 8% of shoppers in 2021 compared to 6% in 2018. Online-only still came in last with 6% citing it as their primary store this year vs 1% in 2018.

“Online touchpoints appear to be a substantial driver of shifts away from supermarkets,”​ according to the report, which revealed the proportion of online shoppers grew from about half to almost two-thirds of adults in the past year and their frequency of buying online grew as well.

Supermarkets fall behind in online sales

While the rapid adoption of online shopping benefited retailers across channels, supermarkets fell behind mass and club when it comes to online shopping.

“Mass has the great draw of online shopping, with close to half (48%) of those shopping mass saying they purchased online from a mass store in the past three months. On the other hand, less than one-third of supermarket shoppers (31%) have placed an online order from a supermarket in the same timeframe,”​ the report shows.

Part of this shift likely was related to safety and convenience during the pandemic as mass and club allowed consumers to not only buy groceries but add to the same cart home good and other items not traditionally sold at supermarkets at the same time.

But the study also revealed that a rising importance of security of personal information and history (up 7% from 2020) may have contributed to a the shift to mass and a consistent inventory and accuracy information at shelf or with the product helped drive the shift to club.

Consumers are spending less at primary stores

While consumers’ designation of a primary store is shifting, the significance of that designation also is dropping – at least when it comes share of spend.

According to FMI, shoppers historically have spent 74-76% of their overall grocery budget at their primary store, but this year’s US Grocery Shopper Trends report found a “substantial decline”​ to 70% in the primary store’s average share of spending.

“The decline in primary store share could signify a broad fragmentation of shopper spending,”​ or it could signal a shortcoming of mass, online-centric or other types of stores when it comes to some food categories, such as fresh or fresh-prepared, according to the report.

This shift also could reveal a way for supermarkets to win back shopper loyalty and for other channels to improve their offerings, it adds.

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