Online grocery sales rise in December to close out 2021

The online grocery market ended the year on a high note, with sales increasing from November to December according to Brick Meets Click and Mercatus' monthly survey.
Zachary Russell
Associate Editor
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The total of U.S. monthly online grocery sales saw a boost to close out 2021, according to the monthly shopping survey from Brick Meets Click and Mercatus.

The U.S. online grocery market captured $8.9 billion in sales during December as over 69 million households shopped online, a slight increase from $8.6 million in sales in November of 2021. The increase brings the yearly total to $97.7 billion in online grocery sales, with more than 70% of U.S. households, or 93 million homes, receiving one or more online grocery orders during 2021.

“The state of online grocery in the U.S. today underscores not only the need for grocers to compete online for sales, but also the imperative to develop and implement more sound strategies that improve profitability as sales growth becomes more challenging,” said Sylvain Perrier, president and CEO of Mercatus. “In this regard, putting customer satisfaction at the center of the shopping experience is paramount and requires implementing an operational process that is not only efficient for the retailer but also caters to customers’ demand for quality and convenience."

December online grocery sales

Brick Meets Click conducted the survey on Dec. 29-30 with 1,836 adults participating. Full-year results for 2021 showed that the pickup segment grew its share of online sales to 45%, up 5 percentage points versus 2020, while delivery’s share remained relatively unchanged at 33% and ship-to-home’s dropped 5 points to 22%.  

“If retailers are surprised by these results, it’s likely because they are missing a broader view of how and where customers are shopping online for groceries,” said David Bishop, partner at Brick Meets Click. “Even before the pandemic started, pickup was preferred over delivery. Then in April 2020, pickup took the top spot away from ship-to-home, and it’s kept that spot ever since.”

For 2021, the average number of orders placed by Monthly Active Users (MAUs) held steady at 2.74 per month, down just 1% versus 2020. However, the volatility in 2021’s monthly order frequency dropped 60% versus 2020 levels.

Online’s annualized share of total grocery spending for 2021 was almost 13%, up nearly two percentage points from the previous year. Adjusting 2021’s online share to exclude ship-to-home reveals that the combined pickup and delivery segments captured 10% of total grocery sales, up two points from 2020.

During December 2021, the share of grocery’s monthly active users who also placed at least one online order with mass jumped to 29.1%, setting a record high for this shopper metric. For these households, according to the survey, cross-shopping with Target rose sharply while Walmart dipped slightly and the gap between the two retailers shrank to only two and half percentage points, the smallest it has ever been.