Internet Sales: Fact or Fiction?
PrintInternet Sales: Fact or Fiction?
By Ann Meyer
E-commerce represents less than 5 percent of grocery sales, but interest is picking up.

Conventional wisdom says shoppers won't buy perishable products online, sight unseen.

Yet leave it to giant Walmart to sell apples, bananas and salad greens from its website, proving the naysayers wrong. Harris Teeter also is defying the pessimists, offering fresh sushi to online shoppers who can pick up their orders in express lanes after store clerks select and bag the items they've requested.

Consumer packaged goods are becoming hot buys online with brands like Pampers establishing designated websites that provide product information and allow consumers to order from retailers Walgreen, CVS, Target and Walmart directly from the site.

What's fueling the innovation?

Convenience increasingly is the name of the game in grocery retail, and merchants and CPG companies are taking a new look at the opportunities the Internet provides. Food and beverage purchases accounted for less than 2 percent of all e-commerce sales in 2010, but the segment saw sales increase 7 percent from the prior year, suggesting new interest. Total e-commerce and mail-order sales of food, beer and wine totaled $3.82 billion in 2010, up 3 percent from 2009, with e-commerce accounting for 62 percent of the segment's sales or $2.39 billion, the U.S. Census Bureau reported.

The Cold, Hard Facts about e-Commerce:

Average online basket size:
Average orders per month:
Most popular day to shop online:
Days with the most e-circular Views:
Fastest growing categories:
       Meat & seafood
Source: MyWebGrocer

But will e-commerce ever dominate the grocery retail business? Most people doubt that day will come. Even at MyWebGrocer, a provider of e-commerce and other web-based programs for retailers, Chief Strategy Officer Alec Newcomb doesn't foresee e-commerce eradicating brick-and-mortar grocery sales.

"I honestly believe shoppers do not mind the grocery shopping experience if they have the time."

–Carrie Colbert,

RGI Inc.

Shopping for groceries is ingrained in American culture, and many consumers look forward to the task. "I honestly believe shoppers do not mind the grocery shopping experience if they have the time," says Carrie Colbert, director of shopper marketing at RGI Inc. in Cincinnati. For one thing, they like being in control of their purchases, Colbert says. "People are picking what they are going to make for dinner, feeling like, 'I have this choice. I feel that I have made the right decision on a jar of salsa.' It's that behavior that's going to be hard to change."