Amazon Online Grocery Boom? Not So Fast…

All big gorillas have been trying, but consumers just don’t want to.

Maybe Amazon has figured out that you’re not the only one who isn’t buying groceries online. Maybe it has figured out, despite all the money it has thrown at it, that selling groceries online is a very tough nut to crack. And no one has cracked it yet.

Numerous companies have been trying. Safeway started an online store and delivery service during the dotcom bubble and has made practically no headway. A plethora of startups, brick-and-mortar retailers, and online retailers have tried it, including the biggest gorillas of all — Walmart, Amazon, and Google. Google is trying it in conjunction with Costco and others. It just isn’t catching on.

And this has baffled many smart minds. Online sales in other products are skyrocketing and wiping out the businesses of brick-and-mortar retailers along the way. But groceries?

That’s one of the reasons Amazon is eager to shell out $14.7 billion to buy Whole Foods, its biggest acquisition ever, dwarfing its prior biggest acquisition, Zappos, an online shoe seller, for $850 million. Amazon cannot figure out either how to sell groceries online though it has tried for years. Now it’s looking for a new model — namely the old model in revised form?

This is why everyone who’s online wants to get a piece of the grocery pie: The pie is big. Monthly sales at grocery stores in June seasonally adjusted were $53 billion. For the year 2016, sales amounted to $625 billion:

But it’s going to be very tough for online retailers to muscle into this brick-and-mortar space, according to Gallup, based on its annual Consumption Habits survey, conducted in July. Consumers just aren’t doing it:

  • Only 9% of US households say they order groceries online at least once a month, either for pickup or delivery.
  • Only 4% do so at least once a week.
  • By contrast, someone in nearly all households (98%) goes to brick-and-mortar grocery stores at least once a month, and 83% go at least once a week.

Gallup summarizes the quandary:

At this point, online grocery shopping appears to be an adjunct to retail shopping rather than a replacement, as most shoppers whose families purchase groceries online once or twice a month or more say they still visit a store to buy groceries at least once a week.

But there are some differences by age group – and maybe that’s where Amazon sees some distant hope:

  • Of the 18-29 year olds, 15% shop for groceries on line at least once a month.
  • For 30-49 year olds, this drops to 12%.
  • For 50-64 year olds, it drops to 10%.
  • For those 65 and older, it essentially fades out (2%).

But all age groups shop between 97% and 99% at brick-and-mortar grocery stores at least once a month.

Online shopping became a big thing over 20 years ago. It is in the process of wiping out the brick-and-mortar ends of department stores, specialty apparel retailers, electronics stores, and many others. If these companies don’t have a vibrant presence online, they’ll be gone. Even shoe sales. Pundits said shoe sales would never migrate online because people would want to try their shoes before buying them. Yet, they’re migrating online — and Payless ShoeSource ended up in bankruptcy court.

But no one has yet found the magic formula for getting consumers to migrate their grocery purchases to online sites. People just don’t want to do it. They want to inspect and touch their produce. They want to pick what looks good. They don’t want to be shipped the milk that’s at the front of the shelf with tomorrow’s sell-by date. They want the fresher milk at the back of the shelf.

Some non-food items consumers buy at supermarkets — toilet paper, diapers, detergent, shampoo, and the like – are already migrating to online stores. This is one of the reasons supermarkets are hurting. But it hasn’t happened with groceries yet.

The failure of online grocery sales has been a two-decade nightmare for the online gorillas. They’ve succeeded in everything else except grocery sales despite the money they’ve thrown at it and despite the different schemes they’ve concocted.

Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods seems to be an effort to look at this whole problem in a new way and come up with something that might actually get consumers to shift at least part of their grocery sales online. And maybe someday, Amazon (and others) will succeed in making a dent. But that day, based on how consumers responded in the Gallup survey, appears to be a long way off.

Nearly every retail chain caught up in the brick & mortar meltdown has been acquired in a leveraged buyout by a private equity firm. Now these LBO queens are heading into bankruptcy court. But PE firms win again. And stiffed creditors not amused. Read…  Brick & Mortar Retail Meltdown Fueled by Asset Stripping. Details Emerge in Bankruptcy Courts

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  129 comments for “Amazon Online Grocery Boom? Not So Fast…

  1. Frederick says:

    I think people still want to “squeeze” the vegetables for freshness before plunking down their cash I know I do

    • Rates says:

      +10. If the produce is bad, what recourse do you have? Online grocery only makes sense for people who’s forgotten what it means to go buy their own food. People like the 1%.

    • Mickey says:

      if you go to a grocery store, people taste things before buying.
      Back in high school I worled in a grocery store–more than 50 years ago.

      I was inside dairy cooler restocking shelf when I saw a lady open a container of cottage cheese sniff it, put it back and take the one next to it.

      Last week I was in a produce section and watch as people taste grapes.

      But, not that I see people are buying TP and those kitched paper towells on line, I have to check out the prices store vs costco on line.

      I have diverted shopping , some shopping from amzn to costco and wmt and others as prices are better

    • nick kelly says:

      Agree. Plus: You don’t always know beforehand what you are going to buy.
      Who doesn’t want to look at a buffet or salad bar instead of ordering unseen?

      I can see one way and it may be the only way for this to be a real threat.
      The food store is an Amazon warehouse, with no physical customers to get in the way. Hi-res cameras, possibly on the carts, or just on overhead tracks, would roll along the aisles.
      The customer at home browses in real time on- line.

      Depending on method, there could be a big advantage if items are chosen by camera but actual pick-up done later. You could hop aisles in a second, and much less time trying to find items, asking staff etc.

      • nick kelly says:

        Does anyone know without going to trouble terms of deal? Was it all cash any debt assumed?
        If not it looks like a fair dent in A’s cash which I think is about 25B.

    • MC says:

      cash? Seriously? Next thing you’ll want to do is write a check… you old fuddie duddie. :)

      The one big question though is why places like Amazon doesn’t think incrementally. Fresh groceries sure does provide a significant chunk of sale, but they are forgetting the other 60% of the isle. The stuff that is moderately perishable.

      Think about your hotpockets, or Ragu spaghetti, or Ben and Jerry’s. There is just no reason why Amazon and other retailers cannot be successful in selling those. These are only moderately perishable, and I don’t need to squeeze a pint of Ben and Jerry’s to know that I am going to love the taste of liberal ice cream. The only issue I see is how to get delivery of those down to less than 24 hours, because that’s where the local Grocery stores win out, those weirdo cravings that must be instantaneously satisfied.

      If Amazon focused on just those, that’ll go a long way to putting the Safeways and Krogers of the world out of business. After all, Amazon is national, these other chains are F***ing regional, who is going to have more pricing power. Add to that, if they sold bulk, it’ll start squeezing the other powerhouse of warehoused goods from WA.

      • nick kelly says:

        Ragu? I trust you mean the pasta and not their sauce.
        I’m no gourmet but I draw the line on that stuff.

        • MC says:

          That’s just elitist, there would not be Ragu canned stuff if there wasn’t a market. ?

        • Frederick says:

          Nick I totally agree I can’t eat that stuff Fresh or nothing for me preferably made with my own tomatoes

        • Petunia says:

          I would have agreed with you before I moved to the land of Vinnie’s Spaghetti Gravy.

      • Keith says:

        Saefways and Krogers are national, under various trade names. In WA, Kroger operates as Fred Meyer and QVC. That being said, Amazon does offer what you recommend under Amazon Pantry, which seems to be a fail. A bit part of the food experience is tasting (hence all the samples) and seeing what is out there.

        A lot of people determine their menus by what they see, what looks good. Another major trend is that people are focusing on fresh foods.

        A lot of companies, like Campbells, are desparate to get people to go down the middle aisles, and not stay on the perimeter of the stores. Online is great as a shopping enhancement, but not as a replacement. When I lived in Seattle and had no car, I used Amazon Fresh. For produce, it was not good at all. For heritage turkeys, sure, but that was with next day delivery. Even then, I still walked to the supermarket for real and fresh food. I think supermarkets are likely hear to stay.

      • alex in san jose says:

        MC – I’m in “Silicon Valley” and I see people writing a check at the checkout fairly routinely.

        I’ve described in another thread on here how Fry’s Electronics is utterly incapable of accepting credit/debit cards (I have a sneaking suspicion their machines probably work fine with Fry’s credit cards). I’ve not given up on buying things from them but it’ll be cash only.

      • T.J., not the real TJ says:

        Exactly right, MC. I shop online at WalMart for my non-perishables. I go inside for everything else. Cuts my shopping time WAY down, and I still get everything I want.

      • Maximus Minimus says:

        The ideal thing to sell online is wine, beer, and spirits because it hardly goes bad. And why do they not sell them online? Big weight: all wet stuff is 90% water. Dry stuff is a much better candidate, and I buy a lot of it: tea, supplements. I have no need for Amazon in that regard.

        • Keith says:

          I would say it has more to do with govt regulation. The alcohol industry in heavily regulated by the states and feds, plus counties and cities. Then there have been the anti-trade practices of states trying to limit outside competition. That being said, wine is very much available online (Alaska Airlines will even allow you to check a case free if it is a local WA wine), and UPS is going global with it. Sadly, spirits still appear to be a big taboo for delivery.

        • Cato says:

          i agree w Keith. i was (trying to) buy wines w Google Express (next day delivery) from various stores, but u have to be home to sign for it- needed an id, and they were always out of the items i’d ordered- inventory system not so great- so i stopped doing it.

    • Gregg Armstrong says:

      “Well, the fruit and vegetables as delivered looked nothing the photographs on the website. The milk was curdled and the cream had soured. And you don’t even want to know the condition of the meats when they arrived. So, give me a refund and I’ll mail it all back to you.”

      Selling perishable merchandise on-line looks like a fool’s errand. But, I doubt that the MORONS trying to make this into a business will pay any attention to my opinion. Just know that I’ll never buy perishable food or any other kind of foods over the Internet.

    • alexisisback says:

      My wife and I tried blue apron.
      It was a flop.
      The food kept coming in – but we are busy and
      somenights did not have the time to cook.
      The refrigerator in the garage was filled with food
      so we just terminated the service.

      So too with online groceries, when your picking up
      something for dinner you do it. I cant order dinner
      two or three days in advance.

      I online shop for groceries recently but only for crackers
      and party foods that have a long long life line. Nothing

      • prepalaw says:


        my wife and I do Blue Apron three nights a week. The box is dropped on my front porch on Sunday. If we do not think we will be around, we stop the deliveries. You need an “eating plan”.

        The food is mostly delicious. ingredients top. $10/plate x 2 = $20 per dinner for us. Ok, my wife does the cooking – I just provide the wine and consume.

        After having consumed more than 60 Blue Aprons, I will never stop (unless the quality degrades). It is the quality of the ingredients and the interesting food combinations which keeps me with Blue Apron. Many of the dishes taste better the next day after sitting overnight in the refrigerator.

        We refuse to dine on mediocre food at restaurants. There is an excellent Sushi Restaurant in my town _ eat lunch there twice a week. $17 sashimi lunch with rice and salad + 1 or 2 Sapporo dries + tip = at least $25.00. No Blue Apron for dinner – too much lunch.

    • ian says:

      It is (in theory) great for people who can’t leave the house such as old and/or disabled people. However the stats above don’t bear this out. My own mother is 84 and has MS and is wheelchair bound. She relies on the goodwill of others to get her shopping or pays a care giver privately to go and get them. She very often finds herself low on food because her people are away or busy. I must have told her a hundred times, online shopping is made for you, you have an ipad, just order the food. No way will she do it.

      • Cato says:

        ian, my mom also has trouble w groceries. i just order for her and send items to her directly. i’ve tried Amazon Prime in a pinch, but the prices are slightly higher, they strongly encourage a $5 tip and u have to be home to open the door (she’s hard of hearing, and this is not so great). So, i mainly use GrubMarket which luckily delivers in her area. The food is fresh and sometimes even less expensive than Safeway depending on what it is.

  2. rcdavidson says:

    It seems it is the UK where the phenomenon has taken hold most strongly.

    • gary says:

      A couple of things:

      “Pundits said shoe sales would never migrate online because people would want to try their shoes before buying them. Yet, they’re migrating online — and Payless ShoeSource ended up in bankruptcy court.”

      I don’t like statements like this because it tells you nothing about total sales. It’s possible that people are just buying less shoes overall due to the economy, so that by itself could make the online percentage look bigger.

      I’ve always maintained the transportation costs are overlooked by online business enthusiasts. I am not surprised the UK would have a higher percentage of online sales due to the greater population density (makes transport costs more efficient), and better weather helps.

      • California Bob says:

        I think the difference is that shoes–and other non-perishable items–can be returned if they don’t fit or ‘feel right.’ IOW, the ‘no questions asked’ and ‘free return shipping’ return policies of Amazon and others for returns have enabled this sort of buying online. It’s never going to be practicable to return a head of lettuce or cauliflower if the buyer isn’t satisfied (and I doubt we’ll get to the point that Blue Apron, Amazon, etc. will simply credit buyers if they’re not satisfied).

        One of the serious downsides of buying online is fraud. On several occasions, I’ve bought online only to receive a used or inferior equivalent of what I’ve ordered instead of the new item I wanted. Recent example: I ordered a new model dash cam from Amazon. I received an older version of the cam, in the new camera’s box. Someone had ‘cleverly’ ordered the new version of the cam, put their older version–it was similar but not identical to the new–in the box and returned it to Amazon. The fraudster essentially got a ‘free upgrade.’ To add insult to injury, after I returned the older cam to Amazon I tried to reorder the new one–at Amazon’s direction–only to find I had ‘burned’ a 10% promotional credit on the fraudulent order, and couldn’t get the credit again. I’ve had similar happen a couple times with car parts and other electronics.

      • alex in san jose says:

        Payless shoes were utter crap, though. If they’d sold something decent they’d be OK. I know of many stores that just sell shoes and are doing fine.

    • Judy says:

      You are right. Our daughter lives there and she and her neighbors order most everything on line. The barrier seems to be that she has to be there when it is delivered in order to put away the frozen and refrigerated items.

    • Stevedcfc72 says:

      Hi rc Davidson,

      Yes all the major UK supermarkets do delivery.

      Its good. I get it delivered weekly on a Saturday morning.

      Saves time after a busy week at work and means I don’t have to walk around a supermarket seeing a load of miserable people in there. The delivery guys you can have a laugh with as well.

      Downside – yes you don’t pick your own fresh produce but the quality delivered has been pretty good. If they don’t have a certain item you wanted you normally get a higher priced similar item but at the same price of the item you didn’t get.

      Not quite sure how the Supermarkets make any money from it but I presume there’s an element of market share to be had.

  3. Ron says:

    Much of my online purchases are due to availability issues, that is the item is not in a local store but grocery items no problem.

    • gary says:

      Yes I think that’s a big part of it.

    • Kent says:

      Not to mention selection. If there are 5 types of Cheerios in the local grocery, going on line and finding 7 won’t make a difference.

  4. mean chicken says:

    There’s no business model impervious to e-commerce!

  5. Petunia says:

    I’m in the south and while the local food is good, what they consider diversity in food is a joke. There is no real Italian food, not even pizza, the Olive Garden is probably as close as you can get. Bagels come in one flavor, plain.

    The only way Amazon will get my food dollars is to sell prepared meals from a diverse menu of meals, delivered overnight. If they can make it possible to eat real Italian, Cuban, Greek….and they taste authentic, I will buy.

    • JungleJim says:

      Petunia, you are an unusually sophisticated consumer. The question is, are there enough people like you to support that kind of home delivery service ? Blue Apron tried but now appears to be on the back side of the power curve.

      I cook for a hobby and in my trips to Publix, I concluded that many people need the visual prompts that they get from walking the aisles. They are trying to decide what to make for dinner. That’ll be a tough one for Amazon to crack.

      • Petunia says:

        I have always loved books and remember hearing the same arguments over Amazon’s book business. The people who read are usually higher earners and better educated than average, but more importantly tend to like book browsing.

        I was a hold out for a long time but came around to Amazon’s book site. I can still browse and I especially like the reviews, which I find very helpful in making my selections.

        So, do I think Amazon can find a niche in the food business? Yes, I do.

  6. Mike R. says:

    I seriously doubt that on-line grocery shopping will ever go mainstream. To begin with, margins for grocers are incredibly slim. They are about to get even slimmer once the economy turns down again and more people are forced to scrimp. Many Americans have been scrimping since the GFC but many have been lucky or in denial. This too will change.
    Amazon will crash and burn once it has to actually make a profit for it’s on-line shopping unit. Until then, it’s hype and more hype.

    • Kent says:

      When the economy turned down, I decided to start shopping for non-food groceries (paper products, cleaning supplies) at Walmart instead of my regular go-to, top-shelf grocery store to save a few bucks.

      I hated the experience so much I decided to buy from Amazon instead. To my surprise, Amazon’s prices were higher than either Walmart’s or my regular grocer. I don’t know if that was just a timing fluke or what. But I haven’t compared since then and it’s been a few years.

      • alex in san jose says:

        In my experience at least with one item, online often means paying a premium price. I like to have one of those little packets of “Wet Ones” with me, generally one in my bike bag and one in my trumpet case. Well, I was going nuts trying to find them, generally only finding high-priced off-brand ones. So I looked on Amazon, and they had them, but priced about 2X or more what I knew I’d paid for them. I finally got over to Target, where the packets were $1.20 or so each, in the “travel size” section.

        I’m very big on price comparing. I think a lot of people are.

    • chip javert says:

      Grocery margins may be slim, but return on equity is the appropriate metric, Simplistic example with grocery store having only 99 cents in equity:

      Margin: grocery store pays 99 cents for milk, which it sells once a week for $1 – margin = 1%.

      Return on equity: Same as above, except grocery store does this every week, 52 times a year = margin still 1%, but return on equity = 52% (real-world grocers make 10-20% ROI).

      • AC says:

        Exactly. The profit is on standing inventory – which they turn every week to ten days.

      • Mike R. says:

        I understand this. Now add real (not subsidized) shipping costs to all of this, versus the average Joe driving a short distance (or in the not to distant future even walking) to a nearby grocery store. Doesn’t make any sense.

        All of this is another example of the US high tech ‘grasping for straws’. Uber, Tesla, Amazon, etc. Give it a couple more years and I believe the value proposition will be seen … not.

  7. Matt P says:

    I have a safeway 2 minutes walking distance, target with groceries and trader joe’s within 10, and qfc 15. Why would I shop online? I’m sure many are within walking distance as well especially in big cities. I only buy food for 2 to 3 days at a time and that keeps me from throwing out a lot when it goes bad like we used to before living close to a grocery store. Nothing will ever convince me to shop online as long as I live close by a food source.

  8. polecat says:

    The only online ‘grocery’ shopping I engage in is aquiring, in bulk, culinary spices to use in home cooked meals, which often as nought, rival restaraunt food … and ordering online ANYTHING perishable would definately be a no no in my cookbook !

  9. PrototypeGirl1 says:

    People I have talked to about online grocery ordering say it takes longer than walking around the store, if their computer crashes before saving they have to start over. Reasers has an 11 am cutoff, if you want to do your ordering during lunch it’s too late for same day pickup. Also wrong products and the freshness thing is a biggie.

  10. TJ Martin says:

    … and on today’s menu .. a heaping plate of schadenfreude for lunch as common sense makes one more small gain in a world gone mad .

  11. Lots says:

    I received a mailing from Walmart inviting me to shop online and get $10 free. Also received a email with the same offer.

    I’m pretty hard pressed with what do I order ? If I order ice cream or even milk how does that work ?

    I already know they aren’t going to be “hand picked” produce that I want, the online customers get whats left after being cherry picked in the store.

    • T.J., not the real TJ says:

      Any time of day; pasta, coffee, cereal, canned goods, beverages, paper plates. Leave it in your trunk.

      If you are heading straight home; hamburger, mushrooms, frozen items, baked goods, etc.

      No Go Zone ; fruits, veggies, steak, chicken.

  12. two beers says:

    “But no one has yet found the magic formula for getting consumers to migrate their grocery purchases to online sites. People just don’t want to do it. They want to inspect and touch their produce. They want to pick what looks good. They don’t want to be shipped the milk that’s at the front of the shelf with tomorrow’s sell-by date. They want the fresher milk at the back of the shelf.”

    All true, but there’s another reason why online grocery doesn’t work: the consumer provides unpaid labor. Removing the consumer’s unpaid labor shifts the cost of that labor onto the grocer.

    What unpaid labor am I talking about? First, stock picking. The grocer has to pay someone to pick the customer’s items (or, in the future, buy and maintain capital-intensive robots to do the same work). A side-benefit of having the customer do the picking is that the customer will invariably buy something else. How much point of purchase/impulse add-on will the grocer get from online shopping? Right around none.

    Next, the grocer gets the customer to take the assembled groceries to checkout, and then to the delivery vehicle (in this case, the customer’s car). In many cases, the grocer gets customers to check out and bag their own groceries, with their own bags. Finally, the customers deliver their groceries — for free! — from their own cars, maintained and insured at their own cost, with fuel they bought.

    How can grocers — already the lowest of all margin businesses — possibly do all this for the same cost? Unless grocers have a complete monopoly (which is Amazon’s only profitable business “model”), as soon as they try to raise prices to compensate for the previously unpaid customer labor, customers will skedaddle to the a grocer with lower prices (as supported by free customer labor).

    Tech “disruption” only becomes profitable when market monopoly has been achieved.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      >>”… the consumer provides unpaid labor. Removing the consumer’s unpaid labor shifts the cost of that labor onto the grocer.”

      Excellent point!!

      • MC says:

        You can’t argue with the impulse buys… but for the unpaid labor, well, Amazon has a robot for that.

        • two beers says:

          I hope you’re joking. So, you’re swapping hundreds of millions of free labor hours per year, and millions of miles of free auto wear and tear and and maintenance and fuel for at least tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of extremely capital-intensive robots that will each require frequent and expensive software, hardware, and mechanical maintenance during their short operational “lifetime”, not to mention the electricity, storage, data processing, and data storage to run the whole shebang. Not to mention the lost production when individual robots or the entire system go glitchy, as all computer-driven operations inevitably do. You’ve taken the declining rate of profit to another order of magnitude!

          You’ve just cratered the 2%-3% margin that grocers squeak by with — congratulations, you’ve toppled Amazon!

      • TJ Martin says:

        There’s a term for that you probably already know Wolf … but for the rest of your readers

        Shadow Work

        There’s also a book by the same tile by Craig Lambert well worth reading

        As for me .. I despise the concept .. the customer doing the work so others can profit costing jobs along the way .

        • Petunia says:

          I’ve been to a couple of restaurant where you order up front and they bring you the food, but you have to get your own drinks and utensils. I hate those places, even if the food is good. Going out to eat, for me, is a treat. They turn it into a job.

        • Petunia says:

          P.S. , And the workers expect a tip too! Good luck with that.

      • Frederick says:

        online shopping also elimininates the loss from shoplifting which can be considerable

    • Kent says:

      One of the problems with online buying is that it takes a lot of time. In a grocery store, you might have five items you need in the row you are on. If you’ve been there a few times you know exactly where everything is.

      Amazon makes you search for each individual item, and scan through pages of listings. That sucks when you’re buying 50 different items.

      • HudsonJr says:

        Yeah online shopping for groceries is very time consuming. I did it for a few months, but it ended up being easier to just start shopping 1st thing when the store opened or 90 minutes before close. If it was a 24-hour store I would go late at night.

        I think the hassle of grocery shopping also depends on where you are. I’d go to Safeway and they’d only have 2 or 3 cashiers on a Friday night with 10 people in each line. If that happens online is more appealing. Conversely, I’ve shopped in smaller towns in the Midwest and they’ll have more cashiers than people in line.

  13. SB says:


    What part of the increase in sales at the Grocery Stores, that are shown in the figure, is due to food inflation?

    I buy bulk nuts for snack for the office, they have skyrocketed in price over the years.


    • Wolf Richter says:

      Food prices are highly volatile. For example, egg prices doubled a couple of years or so ago but now have fallen below where they used to be. Overall food inflation has been lower than inflation in other categories. Since 2010, the Consumer Price Index for “Food at Home” (so what you buy at the store and eat at home) rose a total of 12%. This chart shows how the price surge in 2014/2015 has fallen apart:

      Over the same period, retail grocery sales rose 23%. So it looks like about half of that increase was due to inflation — and the other half due to population growth?

    • TJ Martin says:

      Another book recommend that’ll answer that and more ;

      ” Grocery ” by Micheal Ruhlman

      And errr .. in light of my Shadow Work response to Wolf above … buy it at your local booksellers rather than .. any online source … For a buck or two more you’ll be keeping a local business alive and people employed ..

      • Jack says:

        Exactly, TJ – buying online means job losses in your local area, even if you do have to pay slightly more. It’s the principle that matters to me. That’s why I won’t get groceries delivered, though it is extremely popular in the UK.

        I won’t use supermarket delivery though friends say that they prefer it as it’s often a nightmare to park, which is true – the density of road traffic in the UK is appalling. However, if you can be bothered to get up on Saturday morning and get there for the store opening, no problem – then you’re heading for home as everyone who can’t be bothered to get out of bed is looking for a parking space.

      • Petunia says:

        I’m all for supporting local bookstores but unfortunately, I read a lot of financial and technical books which are not widely available. I go to all the local book fairs where I buy history and current events, as well as, used. I also donate back to the thrift stores to keep the knowledge circulating.

  14. Anon says:

    There are a few niche markets for online grocery shopping. Lazy trust fund babies, high income techies who put in very long hours at work and wealthy seniors who no longer drive and find it easier to shop online than to get to a supermarket, come to mind. But I don’t think these shoppers justify making a big push into online grocery shopping. Time will tell.

    • Dan Romig says:

      One of my local grocery stores that is independently owned by two brothers who started working there decades ago, is a block from a senior-housing high rise. Some of the residents ride a shuttle to the store to buy their groceries, but many have them delivered to their apartments. It’s a great deal for both the store and the seniors, and the delivery is quite easy and efficient. Amazon will never take a bite out of this business (lame pun intended).

      It is a pleasure to shop at this store as it is well-run by people who care about quality and service.

    • Cato says:

      i don’t fit in your categories, but i do like to online grocery shop for fresh foods and heavy items (cases of water, 25lb bags of flour, etc)- and in many cases, the prices are the same or not too different from a physical store- i’ve used google express, grubmarket, walmart, safeway and amazon for food deliveries. i like amazon the least due to higher costs and less fresh foods. walmart stopped delivering in my area all together, so i mainly use the remaining companies. the reason i shop online is that i really don’t want to spend even 30 min. of my time driving, parking, waiting in line, etc. when i could be doing almost anything else. i can shop randomly at night- say middle of the night like now, and my food comes to me at a time of my choosing, pretty much the next day. i’m very price sensitive, so this isn’t a trust fund thing. lazy yes, but i feel like i’m saving time and money overall, and avoiding something i really hate doing- shopping.

  15. OutLookingIn says:

    I’am older and have been raised by Great Depression era parents.
    Most people nowadays don’t know what a “larder” is, or a “pantry”.
    To say nothing of trying to explain a “cold cellar” to someone.
    How about a “preserve locker”? Cure house “hanging room”?
    A “smoke locker”?

    We shop rarely, always in person. Usually case lot sales or in season harvest specials. You must put some food aside for “that” day.

    Recently read an article put out by the World Health Organization (WHO) that states ‘processed meats by salting, curing, fermenting or smoking, are carcinogenic to humans’. Wait…. Wha…. ?
    WHO are these people? If their assumption is true, then I guess the human’s must have died off shortly after we left caves!

    Nothing will replace gathering, going in search of, or “shopping” for food in person. It’s a basic animal instinct, including human’s.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I think the WHO was talking about nitrates and nitrites that manufacturers add to processed meats as a preservative and to give them color. These nitrates and nitrites can form nitrosamines in the body, which can increase your risk of developing cancer.

      But if you smoke, cure, or dry meat yourself and all you add is salt (the classic way), or if you buy quality products that don’t have added nitrates and nitrites, you get two benefits: number 1, they taste a lot better, and number 2, they don’t produce carcinogenic nitrosamines in your body.

      I can get these locally, but if I couldn’t, I’d buy them online :-)

      • Rob JM says:

        Nitrites are used to prevent botulism poisoning. As for cancer the recent study found “excess” meat consumption increased risk of bowl cancer by 24% compared to say smoking that increased you risk of all cancer by 1400%. Other studies have shown that (non fish) Meat consumption reduced life expectancy slightly in the US while in Europe chicken had no effect while Red meat increased life expectancy.

    • Frederick says:

      Outlookingin With the coming collapse there’s going to be a lot of people who wish to god that they had the knowledge you do They are going to need to learn those things real fast when the power goes down for an extended period Removing silver hat now

    • michael w Earussi says:

      Sodium Nitrate and Nitrite have been known for at least 50 years to cause stomach cancer (I remember reading that in Prevention magazine in 1969) as will regular salt in high enough concentration (countries with high rates of salt consumption also have high rates of stomach cancer).

      Even though they’ve been used for centuries to preserve meat your supposed to rinse much of the salt off before eating the preserved meat. It’s when you don’t that you get cancer.

      • nick kelly says:

        During the Depression things were so tough on Canadian prairies that the eastern maritime provinces sent apples and salt cod. It took awhile for word to get around that you had to soak out the salt.

  16. Jim Graham says:

    “”For the year 2016, sales amounted to $625 billion:””

    What was the profit margin on those sales?? About 1, yes ONE percent.

    Even if shipping was free to the sellers they (online only sellers) will drown long before there is ever any glimmer of a profit…… Even mixed – online and in store – sellers will never really make any money.

    Pushing money down a rat hole……

  17. alex in san jose says:

    Well, I guess I just did some online shopping for groceries just now. And by that I mean I just sent off for some “Roy’s Classic Seasoning” which is truly excellent stuff. My friend bought some from a little stand by the side of the road in the Sierra foothills, and I tried it and it’s really good. So I contacted Roy’s and asked them what stores I could buy their seasoning from, and it turned out to be only a few boutique stores in places it’d cost me a lot in train fare to get to, but I could order the seasoning online. They sell some on Amazon, and I recommend just buying some there to try it but you can get large refill bags of it from their own site.

    As someone else here said, it generally comes down to availability issues.

    • chip javert says:

      A hundred years ago, everybody had a horse, now only dedicated or wealthy people have horses. It’s the same with gourmet cooking.

      However, if you are a serious cook, you want to see & touch everything you prepare in a meal. It’s as much a part of “cooking” as sautéing veggies.

      What % are serious cooks? I’d guess <5%.

  18. Nicko2 says:

    Living in Cairo, one of the global capitals of all things delivered (seriously, its possible to get anything delivered 24-7). I do 90% of my grocery shopping by online/phone ordering. I get my fresh veggies/meat from a local butcher/green grocer, organics from a gourmet shop (they pack everything in insulated boxes), baking (possible to get freshly baked anything). Average delivery cost is about $1. Granted…this is a developing country, so context is key. However, in other megacities from Asia, Mid east, to Africa – online delivery is the new hotness with unlimited growth. Amazon bought out the largest online delivery service souq for about $1 billion last year. It was a big deal in the region.

    Anyway, suffice to say, I couldn’t imagine having to trudge off to a conventional supermarket every 3-4 days just to get my food. Delivery is the way to do it.

    • Bob in Tempe says:

      “in other megacities from Asia, Mid east, to Africa – online delivery is the new hotness with unlimited growth”

      I would imagine high-density populations with very large economic underclasses provides some support to this model. Probably similar economics as the point made above that shoppers provide a part of the labor in a traditional grocery shopping transaction.

      Also, nothing personal, but I hate the phrase “with unlimited growth”

      • alex in san jose says:

        Yep you need large economic underclasses to make it work. You’ll have people who’d be accountants or engineers in the US, so plenty capable and smart, but kept from climbing upward because of caste, and they’ll happily pedal a bicycle all day delivering groceries.

    • chip javert says:

      not to mention there are other very good reasons not to go out in public in Cairo.

      Last time I was there, the “internal police” minister was blown up.

    • Kasadour says:

      I was in Cairo about five years ago. Interesting place. I can see why one would prefer to stay home and avoid the streets of Cairo and get their food delivered. Same thing regarding Aleppo. I lived there there in 1999, and stayed put for the most part (loved the souk, tho. Nothing like it in the world) and let others in my household do the grocery shopping, however, I did venture out regularly to a wonderful, local string-cheese maker in the Armenian quarter. Same Armenians ran a brewery there. Heavenly cheese. Fresh, perfect.

      Now I live in Portland, Oregon and heading to the grocery store is a recreational activity for Portlanders. We look forward to it here.

  19. tony says:

    Food is crap today where ever you go or live.I remember when they started taking credit cards at the grocery store i thought it would never go over but what do i know.The on line food delivery will catch on one day i’m sure. On a seperate note i priced a trip to guam very good deals to be had however a return trip cannot be guaranteed.

    • mean chicken says:

      While in Guam you’ll need some online groceries air-lifted in, of course.

    • chip javert says:


      You must live in a strange place.

      There are probably only 2 places in USA that don’t have access to good food – your location and probably one other place in the entire USA.

      One word of advice: move.

      • tony says:

        Chip i come from bronx nyc best food in the world at one time. I now live in screw loose california have tried flordia and hawaii to live, i’ll sill take little italy as small as it has gotten.

      • Frederick says:

        Chip That depends on your definition of ” good”

  20. Wilbur58 says:

    Maybe Americans have moved away from tv dinners and are, dare I say, actually cooking more?

    I’ve never been to France, but my understanding is that it’s quite common for a Parisian to pick up the proteins and produce from a local shop on the way home from work each day and cook it. I don’t think that’s happening here, but perhaps just more cooking.

    My wife and I get groceries every week, planning for 4-5 dinners each week plus snacks, cereal, etc. But it’s gotten a little ridiculous. Sprouts for produce, local Hispanic butcher for proteins, and then Trader Joe’s for bread, bananas, or other well priced items they have.

    I guess Amazon could replace that, but how and when? For it to make sense, they’d need to take orders on Sundays and deliver on Sundays. Good luck.

    I’m often looking for sales. Do online grocers present those well?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      They have huge supermarkets in Paris, they have discount stores, they have all kinds of “mass distribution” (including the big German discounters Aldi and Lidl) that are packed after work, and that the local shops complain about because it kills them. They do have lots of bakeries still and the occasional butcher shop and other shops, but they can be expensive and time-consuming for the day-to-day rush.

      • Kasadour says:

        I remember the butcher shops that used to be throughout Paris. You knew it was a butcher shop because of the horse head sign(s). They were everywhere, nearly on every street corner. The last time I was in Paris was June 2016 and I didn’t see one single horse head sign. Not a one. My favorite bakery was closed too.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Yes, but… If the shop had a horse-head sign, it sold only horse meat. They were separate from other butcher shops.

          BTW, one of the best meat dishes I’ve ever had was horse sashimi with raw ginger and onions in the mountains of Japan … it’s a mountain specialty there. This, and the consequences of this, are in my book “Big Like.”

        • Kasadour says:

          I didn’t know that. I assumed all meat was available at the horse head butchers. You saw them too, right? They used to be everywhere in Paris.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Kasadour, how long ago was that?

          Horse meat unfortunately has fallen out of favor. It is still sold in Paris, but it’s not as popular as it used to be. Butcher shops in general are a dying breed, though some specialty shops are doing OK it seems. When I lived in Paris (1996/97), and when we lived in Brussels and went to Paris quite a bit (2002-2005), horse meat had already lost its popularity.

          Here are Yelp’s recommendations for the best horse-meat restaurants….

        • Kasadour says:


          The first time I ever went to Paris was in 1995 and the horse heads signs were everywhere- literally on every street corner. I stayed in Pavillon su bois, a suburb of Paris. In fact the family I stayed with made a “madzoon yev kufta” (Armenian for yogurt soup) with horse meat in it. It was really good.

          I went again in 2001 and I saw them then. Then a long time went by and I didn’t go again until 2013 and the signs were all gone.

          I was just there again in June of last year and they were still gone.

  21. David, by the lake says:

    Rather, encouraging more home and community gardens would be far better. Fresher food, costing less, travelling shorter distances, with less embedded fossil fuel energy.

    • Frederick says:

      Exactly correct Dave Could be alittle difficult if you live in Canada but your point is good

  22. Bookdoc says:

    For years I have been shopping at Walmarts every two weeks for groceries-canned goods, frozen, pharmacy, and paper. They have improved their meat and produce but the packages are way too big. I have a major grocery store with a great meat department and produce within walking distance and shop there for those things as needed. Walmart’s prices are definitely lower for national brands and their house brands are fine for some products. I can’t see online shopping as I check pricing and package size as I shop and there’s NO way I would trust someone else to buy produce. I am picky and I doubt the “pickers” are-especially by the end of the day!

  23. PrototypeGirl1 says:

    I just saw an ad for a company called shipt for grocery shopping and delivery, they have openings in Tulsa so I applied, I’ll let you know how this goes.

  24. Tom says:

    I deliver those online orders. People only buy dog food and paper towels.

  25. Hji says:

    Then bring the groceries to them in trucks large enough to stock most grocery items, open on the sides so people can inspect. One truck not enough? Then use several, sort of a mobile farmer’s market. Set up for several hours in a neighborhood then move on to another.

    • Dave Kunkel says:

      In 1969 I was stationed at Ft. Holabird in Baltimore. An old guy would come through my neighborhood every morning with a horse-drawn cart piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables.

      He did a great business even without the internet or cell phones.

    • Frederick says:

      That’s exactly how they do it on the Bozburun peninsula in SW Turkey They have produce trucks and cheese trucks that go from town to town hawking their wares It works pretty well but my wife still prefers to shop in the city once a week for most things We order everything else online though

  26. raxadian says:

    Produce gets bad fast so that’s why is a bad idea to buy it online. Same for most milk products, including liquid milk and soft cheese. If you gonna buy it online buy hard cheese and powder milk. And about produce? Go and buy it in person.

  27. AT says:

    Women shop for most groceries. Most of them don’t plan their food needs more than 12 hours ahead, they just run to the store over and over whenever something pops into their head. Thus, the online grocery business will always be marginal.

  28. mikey says:

    I used Amazon Fresh for a while. They pack everything extremely well. Sometimes one cooler full of ice per item. I found I can drive to Aldi and buy the stuff in about the same time it took me to unpack it. Aldi is cheaper. Yes, they do not have the selection or super bargains of a large supermarket but as a single guy usually trying to lose weight, it is fine. My big objection to regular supermarkets is the unpredictability of the checkout line due to couponers and cashiers unable to deal with the complicated pricing. Aldi has solvec those problems.

  29. Lee says:

    We buy online from Japan for items such as tea, dried seaweed, and dried bonito flakes.

    We buy direct from the producers and get the products cheaper than we can buy here in Australia eve if we have to pay postage. Also much fresher and we know that they haven’t been sitting in a ship, in a warehouse, and on a shelf for ages.

    Shipping is often free or free for purchases over a certain amount. Some that offer free domestic shipping in Japan take that cost off when shipping to Australia if we have to pay.

    We save time and money and get better products from the producers we want. No more driving down to the CBD wasting time and gasoline for those items.

    I also used to buy Earl Grey tea from a place overseas when the A$ was over parity with the US$. It was cheaper to buy it and pay the postage than to buy leaf tea from the supermarket here…………

    And in the USA: remember Webvan? Didn’t it go bellyup?

  30. Popeye says:

    LOL at all these “We buy from blah blah blah” posts. Read the fucking article Wolf posted.

    • chip javert says:

      Ok, Popeye, I reread it:

      Wolf is saying the volume of on-line grocery shopping has not reached the critical mass to support the commercial model of Amazon, et al. He did not say NOBODY is shopping on-line.

      You’re fucking reading comprehension (not to mention social skills) are suspect (I bet you don’t talk to your mom like this).

      • Popeye says:

        I’m proud of you. You can read. Nobody gives a rats ass where you all procure food, your mothers or the rest of your personal anecdotes.

        • chip javert says:

          Well, living in mom’s basement and never cooking (or buying) your own food might cause you to think like that.

          Why’d you read & comment on an article you profess to not give a rat’s ass about? Run out of coloring books?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Chip, let it go. Enough is enough.

        • Frederick says:

          Hey Popeye You’ve got a nasty streak there don’t you? Nothing a bar of soap placed down your throat wouldn’t fix I guess

    • Bob in Tempe says:

      Actually, it’s a pretty interesting conversation. The article said that grocery shoppers have generally been unwilling to shop online. From this small sample size of internet users’ opinions, we can see that people are:
      1. willing to buy online non-perishable ordinary items (dog food, paper products, detergent, canned goods)
      2. willing to buy online non-perishable special items (bonita flakes and tea from Japan, unique spices from small retailers)
      3. unwilling to buy perishables due to freshness
      4. unwilling to buy frozen due to melting
      5. timing of deliveries is a important (see #3 and #4)

      There was some discussion on the razor thin margins of grocery stores and the distribution of the picking/delivery labor cost.

      I also got a sense (although I could be wrong) that urbanites are probably more likely to opt for delivery groceries.

      Given all of this, the discussion points out the diversity of relationships people have with both food and grocery shopping. It is a really fractured market. Contrary to the comment above, perhaps this is THE market that the internet will have a difficult time crushing.

      All in all, a good conversation.

      So tell me, what ae your shopping habits?

      • Wolf Richter says:

        Bob in Tempe, you said: “I also got a sense (although I could be wrong) that urbanites are probably more likely to opt for delivery groceries.”

        That’s correct. The survey also confirmed that.

  31. SimplyPut7 says:

    Places like Whole Foods have been losing business in Canada to independent grocery stores who carry similar items for less money. Big box stores like Walmart Superstore have started to team up with independent stores, to provide better quality perishable items that are comparable to Whole Foods.

    We do have some smaller companies that deliver fresh organic fruits and vegetables from local farmers, but their services also cost less than Whole Foods.

    Food in Canada is one of the few industries that have better prices than the US; I didn’t quite understand what Amazon planned to do with Whole Foods when they decided to buy it.

    • junior_kai says:

      I was thinking Bozos wasnt going to mess with the grocery side of the business at all but augment their stores as Amazon pickup/return drop off sites, plus maybe add some high margin products that are seasonal such as when a new iphone version comes out.

  32. Rhonda says:

    I think they will have a very hard time with groceries online. I want fresh food and I want to pick it out and the reason groceries has gone up dramatically is more people are eating at home. I find when I go out to eat that I can make the same meal at home and better than the restaurant can with left overs too. I think what the restaurant charge is gotten ridiculous. My husband and I eat 95% of our meals at home.

  33. tony says:

    I’M going to guam the heck with it.

    • Frederick says:

      Guam Didn’t that North Korean kid just say that he was targeting that place with a nuke Better Take Dennis Rodman with you

  34. Chris says:

    My daughter buys her food online because she and her husband both work, and it’s so cheap at £5 per order. It makes sense for them, saves on petrol and parking and most importantly time. But there is no way the company are making any money at it. There seem to be loads of sweeteners and deals, and whenever there’s a problem, the company compensates them with replacements and free stuff, no questions asked. I suspect they know that it wouldn’t take much for a customer to be gone forever.

    Me (61), I walk to get my groceries fresh every day. A nice part of my daily routine and no intention of ever changing it.

    A very tough market indeed.

  35. unit472 says:

    I’m old enough to remember the days of the ‘milkman’. Had a white delivery truck and would deliver milk, orange juice, cottage cheese and maybe? eggs to an insulated box outside your house. As I recall you put a checklist in the box for the next delivery that notified him what and when to return. I always requested ‘chocolate milk’ but my order was subject to mom’s veto!

    Something like that might work again and could include meat delivery but the insulated boxes would need to be more secure today. Back then mom’s were mostly at home and vagrants didn’t wander the streets.

  36. Kenny Logoffs says:

    Amazon have too many dicky resellers/fake issues to bother with for stuff like food/medicine etc.

    I use online uk supermarket for box goods, buy deals (10 milk, 4 corn flakes, 8 lurpack butter etc)

    Then all the rest is from fruit and veg shop, butchers, and bakers locally. No more expensive but lasts longer, better quality, and it all comes locally where possible and supports local people.

    You have to be mad to buy fresh stuff from any supermarket, the whole concept of local and fresh is counter to the supermarket business model.

  37. roddy6667 says:

    I think the people who need home delivery of groceries are mostly the people too old or infirm to drive to the store and lug it inside the house later. However, these are the people least likely to order online. Hell, they still have rotary phones.

  38. steve says:

    As already pointed out online from the existing supermarkets is huge in the UK, but also its big for the older generation. They are already at home so can pick the cheap delivery slot that workers cannot use, and as health and driving ability limit mobility then this is an easy solution.

    I dont think the supermarkets make any money off it though, the cost of delivery and picking are more than their ability to charge. The general margin on food might mean that getting an order in preference to the competition makes it worth it though.

  39. DK says:

    I’m guessing that the aging population is what’s driving this trend of trying to market food purchases on line. Demographics suggest that the physical act of shopping may be more than the elderly want or can handle. With 75m people over 60 years of age, there’ll be a lot of customers that will want the delivery service in the next 20 years. The seller that gets to this market with the best solution will likely reap large benefits.

  40. pointer says:

    Does it ever occur to the online geniuses that the internet is not the solution to everything? For some things, there isn’t an app for that.

  41. Roman T. says:

    It’s me again, from the future, and not far off at all. The dronemobile picked me up at work to take me home. Oh my groceries were already in the car and that package with my new iPhone 11 was there too. I also popped open a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and sat back.

    So Amazon thinks that it’s all in play now so that’s where they’re making forward fortifications. Same is happening with electric cars. Requires deep pockets and is risky but the rewards are to own/rule the battlefield.

  42. ASP says:

    I think the idea of buying most groceries online has the *feeling* of going to a convenience store and stocking up on microwaveable dinners only.

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