January 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Grocery Shoppers Land Locked, Study Shows

More than one in five Internet users indicate that nothing would make them more likely to use an online grocery service in the future. A survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers indicates that while shopping for groceries is something consumers do frequently, only 1% grocery shop online on a monthly basis. "The category is not ideally suited for the Internet as it is near impossible to translate the grocery shopping experience online," says Mary Brett Whitfield, Columbus, Ohio-based principal consultant and director of PWC's E-Retail Intelligence System. "It's also a highly personal process. Consumers are not yet ready to transfer this care-giving function to a detached process such as online shopping."

Primary household shoppers make nearly ten shopping trips for groceries every month, says PWC. Only 7% of respondents who have ever purchased groceries online indicate that they do more than half of their grocery shopping online, while almost half admit to doing "very little." But 42% of Internet users agree that they are always looking for ways to spend less time grocery shopping; however, only 11% would be willing to pay more for products or services that save them time.

Price remains a key driver of online grocery shopping behavior, says the survey. Internet users rank price as the most important factor when shopping online for groceries, ahead of brand, site shopability, delivery time and customer service. Some 22% of online grocery purchasers identified low prices as their primary reason for purchasing online. Some 46% of Internet users cited free delivery for large orders as the factor most likely to entice them to use an online grocery service.

For many consumers, a continuation of a relationship with their regular supermarket is a way to reduce "risk and uncertainty" surrounding online grocery shopping. Four out of ten Internet users (43%) state they are more likely to shop for groceries online if the service is operated by their regular supermarket versus an Internet-only grocery service; however, overall, only 18% state that they are interested in grocery home delivery of any kind.

While free delivery tops the list of what will it take to get shoppers to grocery shop online, 40% of respondents indicate that the acceptance of coupons would make them more likely to use an online grocery service. Other factors that would motivate "on-land" shoppers to shop for groceries online include the ability to set a specific delivery window, to create a list of frequently purchased products to or to pick up the order at a local store, says PWC.

Further, the survey finds that consumer awareness and usage of online grocery services is low, but low awareness levels are not surprising, it says, since many of the online grocery services are now confined to only a few areas. The online grocery service model that resonates most favorably with the shoppers most interested in grocery home delivery, says PWC, is one in which groceries are delivered in a tight time frame with only a very modest delivery charge.

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