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The September Brick Meets Click/Mercatus Grocery Shopping Survey is out, concluding that "the online grocery market in the U.S. declined 3.1% in September versus last year, ending the month with $7.5 billion in sales …  Declines in order frequency and spending per order contributed to the drop while an expanded base of monthly users softened the slip in overall sales and signaled continued interest in buying groceries online."

More from the report:

"Most of the sales decline was driven by contractions in order frequency as the average number of orders per monthly active user (MAU) fell 8% versus a year ago. September 2023 finished at 2.31, the lowest order rate since the COVID pandemic disrupted grocery shopping patterns. And, while September’s order frequency remains above pre-COVID levels, it was only about 14% higher than the 2.03 orders per month posted in August 2019."

"The drop in overall order frequency resulted from shifts in shopper behavior. The share of MAUs who completed only one order during the month jumped to nearly 37%, the highest level since pre-COVID.  At the same time, the share of MAUs making three or more orders contracted 370 bps on a year-over-year basis, continuing a downward trend which was also observed between 2022 and 2021."

"The downward movement in order frequency impacted most retail formats to varying degrees. Mass retailers experienced a 4% decline in order frequency among its MAU base, while Amazon’s pure-play segments dropped 7% and Supermarkets fell nearly 13% in September versus a year ago."

"All three receiving methods, Pickup, Delivery, and Ship-to-Home, experienced growth in their respective MAU bases as the total number of households completing at least one order during the month jumped almost 11% compared to September 2022. This jump more than offset the order frequency decline and drove a nearly 2% gain in total order volume. The Supermarket MAU base expanded by just under 1%, while the Mass MAU base, led by Walmart, surged 20% compared to a year ago."

"Pickup posted its highest household penetration to date during September, climbing to 59% of MAUs, driven by increased reach in all households but the youngest (<30) age group."

KC's View:

I'm just a cockeyed optimist when it comes to e-commerce, so while we're clearly seeing some retrenchment - owing to both the high numbers generated during the pandemic and current economic uncertainty - it feels like at some point in the not-too-distant future we're going to see another boom.

The phrase that grabs me is this one:

"An expanded base of monthly users … signaled continued interest in buying groceries online."

That's where I'd want to be - where the customers are going, even if they're not there now.  You have to manage the timing and the expenses, but the future seems clear.