The number of consumers in the UK who do a weekly grocery shop online has doubled since the coronavirus lockdown, in a trend that is now “irreversible”, according to a supermarket report.
One in four consumers now buy food and essentials at least once a week online, while more than three-quarters order at least some of their regular household goods from supermarket websites – up from 61% last year, the research from Waitrose reveals.
The supermarket chain’s report pinpoints the coronavirus lockdown as the catalyst for the change but finds that habits are likely to have been altered permanently. About 40% of people say they will shop online more now than they did before the outbreak.
The findings are based on the supermarket’s own online sales over the last year, and a poll of 2,000 adults who shop across a range of retailers.
Supermarkets have increased online selling to serve millions more shoppers as the fear of being infected with Covid-19 has driven demand from more vulnerable customers, including elderly people and families avoiding public places.
The most striking increase in online grocery shopping, according to the How Britain Shops Online report, is in the over-55 age group. Nearly a quarter of this group now buys food and essentials on the web, compared to just 8% in 2019.
James Bailey, who became executive director of Waitrose in April, amid the coronavirus lockdown, said: “Even before the Covid-19 pandemic there were few retailers that wouldn’t have predicted the continued growth of e-commerce relative to physical shops. But what would have previously been a gradual upward climb in demand has, with the outbreak of Covid-19, turned into a trajectory more reminiscent of scaling Everest.
“One in four of us now do a grocery shop online at least once a week, double the amount in 2019. Because online shopping quickly becomes habitual these changes are irreversible.”
The retailer, which is a partnership jointly owned by its staff, is mid-way through a £100m investment in its online division, which it predicts will soon account for 20% of its total business – up from 5% before the pandemic.
Waitrose also reported a rise in shoppers demanding speed as well as convenience. The firm’s fledgling Waitrose Rapid service, which allows shoppers to purchase up to 25 items for delivery within two hours (for a £5 charge), has attracted more than 23,000 customers, amounting to a three-fold increase compared with the situation before the pandemic.
The report also reveals that people have been buying more wine online during lockdown after, perhaps, developing a thirst before midday. Orders via Waitrose Cellar are up by 238% and just over a quarter of alcohol is ordered between 11am and noon for delivery later the same day.
Home cooks have been exploring “world cuisine” while the comfort of baking has proved to be a huge trend; online sales of the Waitrose Cooks’ Ingredients range have more than doubled this year.