Food Fixations: Digital Hits Its Limit

Like most everyone else right now, I’m living a life radically more digital than it was even a few weeks ago. And like a couple of billion other people, I vacillate between feelings of gratitude, impatience and occasional panic.

As is my nature in any crisis, I can’t stop thinking about food.

It’s been astonishing to see how quickly the world has galloped toward online groceries. Orders are surging, and grocers -- national and regional -- are in a desperate recruiting spring to hire all the hands needed to fill online orders.

But it’s also astonishing to see how fast we’ve hit the digital wall. The services that used to delight and surprise us with one click and an hour turnaround time have become just as frustrating as a trip to a physical supermarket -- if somewhat less dangerous.



Hunting for toilet paper on Amazon, for example, results in a promised delivery date weeks away. My quest for flour online (my kitchen has become a muffin-making vortex) made me feel like I was trying to score weapons-grade plutonium.

I’m not alone. A new study from Yotpo finds that  70% of shoppers using Amazon can’t get things they really need right now, with Amazon Prime delays reaching the one-month mark. And 43% are planning to do even more shopping online, with 42% saying they are staying home completely.

And it’s only going to get worse, with workers at companies like Instacart and Amazon striking over insufficient protective measures.

Online food sales are soaring. New data from Brick Meets Click reports record levels of online grocery shopping, with 31% of U.S. households  -- about 39.5 million people -- saying they’ve used an online grocery delivery or pickup service during the past month. That’s more than doubled since the August survey.

Overall monthly volume is 193% higher than levels in the August survey.

Older people are especially responsive. While 26% of the online grocery shoppers in the survey say they are using a specific online grocery service for the first time, that rate climbs to 39% for those 60 years and older. The research, fielded between March 23 and 25, is based on a survey of 1,600 people.

Overall monthly order volume has surged 193% versus August 2019 levels. 

Will they keep shopping online? Maybe, with 43% saying they think they will continue to use an online grocery service after the crisis subsides.

“The COVID-19 health crisis has clearly fueled a tremendous surge in demand in the very near term,” writes Bill Bishop, chief architect at the Barrington, Illinois-based Brick Meets Click. “Even though some households will not stick with online grocery pickup or delivery services post-crisis, others will shift to this method of shopping going forward for a host of reasons. This is an important shift for the industry.”

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