1 in 5 Shoppers Have Changed Grocery Stores During the Pandemic

Driving factors include poor ecommerce and a lack of in-stock items

person standing in grocery aisle, holding a basket of produce
More than one-third expect to stay with the new retailer. Getty Images

Key insight:

During these turbulent times, 20% of shoppers have left their primary grocery store in favor of another, according to new survey data from McKinsey & Co.

Not only that, but 37% of those who’ve made the switch expect to remain loyal to the new retailer after the crisis ends.

The main reasons people stopped shopping at their primary grocer were constant problems with keeping the shelves full and better ecommerce offerings elsewhere. Another contributing factor was that consumers opted to rely on a store that was located closer to their home or place of work.

McKinsey estimates that prior to Covid-19, about 3% of U.S. grocery sales occurred online. That rate has since surged to between 8% and 10%. While the firm expects those numbers to decline as states begin relaxing their shelter-in-place orders, it predicts they’ll remain higher than they were prior to the outbreak.

The fact that consumers not only are willing to make the switch, but that many expect the switch to be permanent, speaks to the need for grocers to embrace new technologies.

“What it means for grocers is that you really need to double down on building out your ecommerce capabilities,” said Steven Begley, a partner at McKinsey. “That comes in the form of adding capacity to your system to make sure that you can fulfill the orders to improving your UX and making your website or app as shoppable as possible.”

With consumer behavior shifting from reactive panic buying to more deliberate stockpiling involving bigger baskets and fewer trips, product availability remains a chief concern. To that end, Begley said managing consumer expectations and creating more transparency around the constraints grocers face keeping items in stock can go a long way in maintaining customer loyalty.

As for the brands themselves, those that have developed a devoted customer base are doing well, despite the increase in shoppers substituting one product for another due to limited availability, according to a new report from NCSolutions, a CPG measurement insights company.

“Cultivating loyalty among brand buyers is crucial to building a steady following, and it’s often the most effective and efficient strategy for advertisers,” said Lance Brothers, chief revenue officer at NCSolutions, in a statement. “When sales are driven by loyalists, brands can worry less about disruptive events like a pandemic because they know the consumer will continue to reach for their item.”

@hiebertpaul paul.hiebert@adweek.com Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.