Executive Briefing

The online grocery discovery problem

Something important is missing from the online grocery experience. That’s a big opportunity.

(Artist unknown)

One of the big relevant trends during the Covid-19 pandemic has been the rapid acceleration in adoption of online grocery services for delivery and pickup.

In the US, online grocery sales were still growing much faster at the end of March than they had been earlier in the year, according to data from Rakuten Intelligence, which tracks receipt data. (E-commerce spending growth, more broadly, also continues to accelerate.)

Chart of the Day

Year-over-year change in daily US e-commerce chart

Unlike many quarantine trends, there’s a good chance this will end up sticking, at least for many consumers, at least for some portion of their grocery shopping.

For the stuff you already know you need, it turns out that it’s a lot easier and more convenient to replenish it with a few clicks once every week or two — and just have it show up — than to chase it down in a store.

But last week, halfway through another Whole Foods order on Prime Now, re-buying mostly the same items — box of arugula, shallots, yogurt, frozen berries, etc. — it hit me that something important was missing from the experience: The serendipity of walking through a grocery store and all the opportunity for product and brand discovery that comes with that.

Online grocery delivery has become essential infrastructure during Covid-19, and I’m grateful that it works at all, even in its flawed state. It has been an incredible privilege to be able to get fresh food delivered without risking my family’s health, and I don’t take that for granted.

But looking through my Whole Foods online order history, it really is almost all the same stuff from the same brands, over and over. The existing user interface, mostly built around search and convenience, simply wasn’t built for browsing and discovery.

The New Consumer Executive Briefing is exclusive to members — join now to unlock this 1,500-word post and the entire archive. Subscribers should sign in here to continue reading.

Dan Frommer

Hi, I’m Dan Frommer and this is The New Consumer, a publication about how and why people spend their time and money.

I’m a longtime tech and business journalist, and I’m excited to focus my attention on how technology continues to profoundly change how things are created, experienced, bought, and sold. The New Consumer is supported entirely by your membership — join now to receive my reporting, analysis, and commentary directly in your inbox, via my twice-weekly, member-exclusive newsletter. Thanks in advance.

Join: $200 / Year Join: $60 / Quarter More Options