​​​​​​​How (and Where) We Shop

Blog Series
Jessie Dowd
Editorial Director | profile
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Undoubtedly, the pandemic has had a dizzying effect on shopper behavior. While it’s clear e-commerce continues to boom, shoppers are also returning to physical stores — presenting marketers with a new sort of hybrid consumer who moves fluidly between channels.

To help our readers keep the pulse of this new, ever-evolving consumer, we sought out to poll 1,000 primary household grocery shoppers to take a look at their purchase activity — and find out how and where they’re buying specific products.

In our special report in cooperation with Edge Marketing in this issue, the Path to Purchase Institute shares the findings of this proprietary research that drills down to the category level to examine shopper purchase preferences. As it turns out, that purchase activity is more nuanced than you may think.

First, the not-so-breaking news: shoppers prefer to purchase items like bread (77%), fresh meat and seafood (74%), dairy and produce (both 73%) solely in-store. But, what’s most notable, is that the majority of survey respondents prefer in-store shopping for nearly all the product categories we polled them on (and even that one exception was nearly a 50/50 split). It’s clear in-store still has the edge — but e-commerce is not far behind. Whereas the in-store purchasing preference category leaders were relatively straightforward, consumers’ online shopping preferences become a bit more complex. Among survey respondents, health/personal care and beauty is the most-shopped category either sometimes or always online at 51%. What else do they like to buy online? Cooking and baking supplies (48%), pet food/supplies (44%) and snacks (40%) were the next highest-ranking categories.

I have to admit, the e-commerce category leaders were not what I would have guessed. Sure, pet food/supplies made sense, but snacks? Baking supplies? Health/personal care and beauty? As in lipstick? As in body wash? These were somewhat unexpected, offering a good gut check on how quickly shopper behavior is really changing. I think it’s safe to say the consumer’s comfort level with shopping for all sorts of products in the digital realm has come a long way from 2019. I suppose it shouldn’t be all that surprising considering the rise and continued growth of things like Carvana or telehealth visits. If you can buy a car or visit your doctor online, certainly purchasing a new foundation (or deodorant or vitamins) isn’t so far-fetched now, is it?

Not only are shoppers buying new categories online, but they’re also shifting in the ways they like to receive those purchases. When asked to indicate how they preferred to receive online orders prior to the pandemic versus now, 38% prefer home delivery, up from 27% pre-COVID. In-store pickup for online orders came in at 29% (versus 32% beforehand), and curbside pickup saw a big boost, doubling from 9% before the pandemic to 18% now. Considering that curbside services will continue to be made available at more and more retailers, it’s likely even more shoppers will opt for this fulfillment method in the future. 

This data just skims the surface of our findings, so I encourage you to read our in-depth coverage to dig into the insights.

Which findings do you find most revealing?Share your thoughts with us on Twitter with the hashtag #p2ppurchasepref and let’s discuss!

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