After a slower July, online grocery sales rebound in August

Brick Meets Click and Mercatus' monthly Grocery Shopping Survey revealed that a surge in COVID-19 cases in August fueled an increase in online grocery sales.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
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August proved to be a strong month for online grocery sales in the U.S., according to the Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey. Fielded August 29-30, the survey shows a large increase in both ship-to-home and delivery/pickup grocery sales compared to July, showing that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the shopping habits of Americans.

“COVID’s resurgence has clearly contributed to the August sales gain,” said David Bishop, partner at Brick Meets Click. “While retailers don’t control the external market forces, such as the new wave of COVID cases that continued through August, they can choose how effectively their business is positioned to respond to the current circumstances that are disrupting their customers’ lives.”

Brick Meets Click conducted the survey on August 29-30, with 1,806 adults, 18 years and older, who participated in the household’s grocery shopping. 

The U.S. online grocery market generated $8.6 billion in sales during August, a gain of 4.7% versus a year ago, as ship-to-home sales dropped nearly 22% to $2 billion and the combined delivery/pickup segment grew over 16% to $6.6 billion.

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According to the study, August’s overall sales increase was fueled entirely by an increase in the number of Americans going online to buy groceries, since both monthly order frequency and average spending per order declined versus the prior year. Compared to August of 2020, the number of U.S. households that bought groceries online in August, using any of the three receiving methods, jumped 25% to 69.0 million households. Versus July, the monthly active users (MAUs) for August represented a more modest 4% gain as the rapid rise in COVID cases started at the beginning of July 2021.

Monthly active users placed an average of 2.73 online orders during August 2021, down 3.7% versus the prior year. Still, the current performance was 35% above the pre-COVID level in Aug. 2019. Ship-to-home’s order share has plummeted by nearly 19 percentage points compared to pre-COVID, illustrating one of many ways that online grocery shopping behaviors continue to evolve. The weighted average spending per order across all three receiving methods shrank nearly 13% versus last August, but was up more than 4% versus the prior month. Despite the double-digit decline in average order value (AOV) on a year-over-year basis, AOVs for each of the receiving methods has remained above pre-COVID AOVs by mid-single to low-double digit percentages.

“While COVID has transformed customer behavior, the fundamentals of acquisition, retention and repeat purchase still apply,” said Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO of Mercatus. “The more successful grocers continue to dive deeper into their customer data to better understand what’s building and, equally important, what’s hindering stronger engagement. This insight driven approach is enabling retailers to learn to what degree they need to improve elements of strategy and/or execution.”