Online grocery sales doubles in the US, UK

June 29, 2020 | By RetailME Bureau

In the US and the UK, there has been a near doubling of online grocery sales since the COVID-19 outbreak, indicates Coresight Research. But the research firm cautions that there could be a “sharp slowdown” in 2021.

In its first quarter, ended May 23, 2020, US grocer Kroger’s digital sales jumped 92% year-over-year. This data point aligns with Coresight Research’s earlier estimate that total online grocery sales would approximately double, year-over-year, during the COVID-19 crisis. For 2020, the research firm estimates that US online grocery sales will grow by around 47%, assuming a severe moderation post lockdown.

However, Coresight’s weekly US survey has detected signs of a slowdown in the online grocery market: “Among those who are purchasing any categories more online, we have seen a steady decrease in the proportion that said they are buying food more online, since April 1. In early April, 42.2% of this group were purchasing food online more than they used to. This metric hit 31.8% on June 17, the lowest since we began asking the question, representing around a 10-percentage-point decline,” said Deborah Weinswig, CEO & founder, Coresight Research.

“In our June 17 survey, we saw a week-over-week decline in the proportion of respondents who had bought groceries online in the past two weeks, from 31.4% to 29.4%. Given the recent surge, we expect growth to prove volatile into 2021. Assuming a normalization of consumer demand in grocery overall, retailers are likely to see a year-over-year decline in online demand when they lap the 2020 crisis peak. For the full year 2021, we expect total online grocery sales growth to slow dramatically: We estimate that 2021 total growth may be between flat and positive in the low-single digits, given 2020 will probably have seen approximately two years of growth condensed into a single year,” she added.

Similar growth trends have been witnessed in the UK, with market-measurement service Kantar Worldpanel reporting that online grocery sales rose 91% in the four weeks ended June 14, 2020.

One result of the demand for online grocery services has been a disruption in multiyear trends towards discount formats in the UK grocery market. In the 12 weeks ended June 14, 2020, discount supermarket chain Aldi’s sales grew by 8% versus 12.1% at Tesco, 10.2% at Sainsbury’s and 10.5% at Morrisons. Lidl grew sales by 14.3%, so remained ahead of non-discount rivals.

“In the UK, Aldi and Lidl do not offer online grocery services, and we have long pointed to the lack of online grocery offerings as the Achilles heel of these retailers in the UK market. It is one that non-discount rivals should continue to exploit in the post-crisis period. In the US, Aldi is further ahead in e-commerce, through a partnership with Instacart,” Weinswig observed.

“As in the US, we expect that 2021 will see a sharp slowdown in online grocery growth in the UK, driven by likely year-over-year declines when we annualise the spring/summer 2020 surge. However, given the uncertainty over how many shoppers will stick with online, retailers in the US and the UK must be equipped to flex capacity to serve demand that could prove volatile in the coming months,” she concluded.


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