March 19, 2001, 12:00 AM

Researchers find online grocery shoppers buying more items and more often

An academic study shows a huge increase in the number of consumers who are regularly shopping for groceries online and who are comfortable buying all of their groceries via the Internet.

Consumers are growing more comfortable with buying groceries online, according to one of the first academic studies of online grocery shopping.

"Not only did we see a dramatic change in an 18-month period in the number of experienced online grocery shoppers, we also saw a huge change in the number of shoppers willing to buy all of their groceries online, including such items as produce and meat," said Brenda Cude, chair of the Housing and Consumer Economics Department at the University of Georgia. Cude worked with co-author Michelle Morganosky of the University of Illinois.

Cude and Morganosky worked with a grocer in St. Louis, Mo., that has introduced an online service. "One of the difficulties in learning about online shopping behavior is determining how to conduct this sort of research," Cude said. "We developed a survey that was linked to the grocer`s web site. After shoppers had finished their order, they were asked to participate in the survey by clicking on the link."

"In our original survey, only 14% of the respondents had purchased their groceries online for six months or longer compared with 43% in our second survey," Cude said. "The percentage willing to buy all of their groceries online changed from 48% in the first survey to 79% in the second. In our original study, nearly a third of the respondents said they would not buy meat or produce online. In our second study, that figure had dropped to 15%."

In their original study, Cude and Morganosky collected information from 243 online shoppers. In their second, they received surveys from 412 shoppers.

"The U.S. food retailing market is highly competitive and has notoriously low profit margins," Cude said. "That means that online shopping doesn`t have to become mainstream to have an impact."

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