Has grocery’s dotcom bubble burst?

A year ago we were panic buying loo rolls and scrambling around for delivery slots. Now we’re feeling more confident to go back to the supermarket.

Brands and retailers have known the seismic shift to online shopping was always going to peak at one stage. A big hint this is already starting to happen comes with a levelling off in demand for online grocery sales in the UK.

During February 2021 a record 15.4% of grocery sales were placed online but that has now gone back to 14.5% in March, according to the latest figures from Kantar. Although it shows a levelling off in demand for grocery deliveries, March 2021’s online sales are still 89% above those for the same month last year.

The growth spike may finally flattening but the overall picture is still one of how entrenched ordering grocery deliveries has become in the past year of lockdown measures.

Pandemic shopping patterns

In more general terms, taking into account both online and in-store purchases, sales figures for March 2021 were down 3% compared to the same month the year before, with 117m fewer visits to supermarkets recorded.

This is a clear indication the panic buying that became a feature of March 2020 has long since passed. Back then, the UK was preparing to go into lockdown before getting used to stay at home and shopping from the sofa. The period famously saw a scramble for home delivery slots as supermarket shelves were stripped of toilet rolls and canned and dried foods, such as pasta.

Return to stores

It would appear that the currently flattening of the curve on online grocery sales growth is the direct result of people feeling more confident in going back to physical supermarkets. Kantar reveals March 2020 saw 114m extra trips to a physical food store compared to the month before.

Interestingly, they see people of retirement age leading this trend back to physical stores with the over 65s placing 143,000 fewer online orders in March 2020 compared to the month before.

The take-away is that a year-long period that started off with panic buying, lockdown measures and scrambling around for delivery slots, is now seeing shoppers return to bricks and mortar supermarkets. The trend is being led by the older generation who could not be described as digital natives and, with the success of the vaccination programme among the over 50s, are now feeling more confident to getting back to wheeling a trolley around a real store.

Featured image: Drazen Zigic / Shutterstock.com

Sean Hargrave

Sean Hargrave is the former Innovation Editor of The Sunday Times, now freelancing for The Guardian, The Telegraph, Wired and digital marketing, websites, Econsultancy, Marketing Week, London Research and Mediapost. He uses more than two decades of experience in the media to help companies with their content and communications strategy to deliver leads through white papers, blogs and opinion pieces. For MediaCat UK, Sean keeps ahead of the latest news and trends.

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