Survey: grocery shopping will never be the same again

- 's-Hertogenbosch

Many traditional supermarket customers have made their first acquaintance with online grocery shopping because of the coronavirus. Supermarket apps and digital loyalty cards are on the rise, but the supermarket leaflets are still being read with great gusto. Facts and figures on online grocery shopping in the Netherlands.


More than a year ago, our lives changed drastically, ushering in the age of video calls on the couch and complaining to your colleagues about your slow internet connection. Marketing professionals have had to deal with significant changes in their day-to-day work, and consumer habits have also moved with the times. Delivery drivers have become a mainstay in the streetscape of Dutch cities and towns, with e-commerce outpacing brick & mortar shops as part of a trend that will continue for some time to come, or so various studies tell us. And people aren’t just buying fashion and home furnishings online, with supermarkets also undergoing a major increase in digital sales since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All in all, there was plenty of reason for digital marketing agency Springbok to set up another consumer survey, following its surveys on behavioural changes in seniors (April 2020) and people’s plans for spending their holiday pay (May 2020).

In March 2021, the agency arranged for 500 consumers to be surveyed on their weekly grocery shopping. The respondents were asked about their experiences before the COVID-19 outbreak, their current behaviour and their expectations for online shopping when we go ‘back to normal’.

10% of consumers made their first acquaintance with online grocery shopping

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Albert Heijn, Jumbo and Picnic delivery trucks have been a mainstay in Dutch streets, delivering groceries from Alkmaar to Zwolle. There were, of course, some bumps in the road, such as distribution centres being forced to cancel orders due to excessive demand. The snowfall in February also demonstrated how dependent we had become on these delivery services.

As many as 9.6% of the consumers surveyed say they ordered groceries online for the first time during the pandemic, with the vast majority aged 49 years or younger. Consumers indicate that having their daily groceries delivered has become routine, with consumers continuing to order their groceries online since their first time.

Most consumers, however, still enjoy going to their local supermarket, and only 2% of all consumers who order their groceries online have completely switched from offline to online. Most consumers still go to the supermarket to stock up on missing ingredients or, as one consumer wrote, ‘for a treat on the weekend’.

There’s always time for a good time – at home

Not only did Dutch consumers take the plunge and order their groceries online in droves, most spent more too. Dutch people certainly tried to make the best out of a bad situation at home, by creating a cosy atmosphere for cocooning with their loved ones. As many as 65% reported spending more money on their weekly groceries since the advent of the pandemic, while 18% reported sticking to the same budget. This all goes to show how hard Dutch consumers are trying to make the best of a tricky situation.

Communication preferences: leaflet first

Despite the growth in online orders, the Netherlands still clings to the traditional home-delivered supermarket leaflets, with older audiences still having a strong preference for using these to stay informed of the latest offers. The over-45s demonstrate a strong preference for physical leaflets, and for the over-65s, leaflets are the premier channel (45%) for weekly offers.
However, a second option is emerging rapidly as more and more consumers embrace supermarket apps. Younger audiences in particular prefer the app over leaflets. This is most pronounced in the 25-34 age group, 29% of whom responded that they prefer the app.

It's all about one thing

All consumers have their own personal preference for the communication channel that keeps them informed of supermarket offers. Older people opt for leaflets, while younger audiences go for the app. In fact, app users reported that they use the app to stay informed of offers, with 1 in 5 app users citing it as the main reason.

However, an analysis of app usage leads to more striking insights. The youngest audience (25 years and younger) mainly uses supermarket apps for the digital loyalty card feature, rather than for the offers, as this can net them discounts and perks with the large supermarkets.

A more balanced picture emerges in other age categories, with respondents often mentioning offers and the loyalty card feature as well as recipe inspiration (10%), points (10%) and the grocery list feature (5%). The latter feature is most commonly cited by the 35-54 age group, which is increasingly using the app as a tool to make grocery lists.

The battle for bronze

The survey also sheds clear light on a battle for third place, as younger audiences (up to 34 years old) do not have a clear #3 preference after the app and leaflets. Both the website and e-mail are mentioned by about 15% of respondents. Interestingly, social media is only cited by a small number of respondents.

For older audiences, the e-mail channel is essential, and 21% of 55-64 year olds say they are informed of offers by e-mail, which means it is only surpassed by leaflets (32%).

What can marketing professionals do with these insights?

Nothing more really needs to be said about e-commerce and ordering groceries online. It has truly taken off in the Netherlands in the past year, putting us well ahead of neighbouring countries Belgium and Germany. This trend now appears to be irreversible, which is great news for marketing professionals as it offers many more opportunities for identification and has great potential for future relevance.

Another insight from the survey is that consumers still massively cling to the good old leaflet, while it must also be said that apps and e-mails have become essential. These identified channels offer sizeable opportunities for marketing professionals, and orchestrating these channels, as well as others that allow for one-on-one contact, can help create new programmes. And we haven’t even mentioned the extra data that can be traced directly back to consumers yet. Will it prove possible to build the optimal customer journey after all?

Author Gerrit van Leeuwen is Digital Director at Springbok. This article previously appeared on Emerce and Distrifood.