Beyond the Cart: a Year of Essential Insights
A data-driven deep dive into how the pandemic has transformed our 100-year-old grocery habits.
On the evening of March 19, 2020, the first stay-at-home order in North America was issued in California, setting off a transformation of many of our 100-year-old grocery shopping habits. One of the most notable shifts proved to be America’s en masse move from in-store shopping to online grocery. Almost overnight, millions signed up for online grocery delivery to get food on the table safely during a difficult time. According to a new Instacart survey of 2,038 U.S. adults conducted recently online by The Harris Poll, nearly half of all Americans (48%) say that they ordered groceries online during the pandemic.
In a relatively short period of time, the national mood, our relationships, internal clocks, domestic roles, shopping schedules and shopping lists shifted dramatically. In this report, we examine those dynamics and what they may mean for post-pandemic life through the lens of the most universally relatable household task: grocery shopping.
How we felt: Measuring the national mood with grocery chat & emojis
In early spring 2020, consumers grappled with the unknown as the frightening reality of the pandemic set in. Instacart/Harris Poll survey data reveals that a surge of sadness, uncertainty, and anxiety washed over consumers as they planned their grocery shopping. Some survey respondents cited anxiety and fear of COVID-19 as a key motivator for shopping online:
For the first months of the pandemic, myself and members of my family were afraid of physically going into stores so we utilized the delivery of groceries.
-Male, age 24, California
I have really bad anxiety attacks while shopping for groceries… on top of that I have to take my kids with me.
-Female, age 25, Georgia
This palpable sense of uncertainty was visible in the Instacart marketplace. In March, text chat volume between Instacart customers and their Instacart shoppers increased by a whopping 50%. As customers and shoppers texted about adding last-minute items to orders, how to replace out of stock items, and more, we observed several signals for how consumers were feeling.
“Consumer fear and anxiety were very apparent in the Instacart marketplace as stay-at-home orders and product shortages set in — tellingly, the “scream” emoji experienced the largest upswing in chat usage, ballooning to four times its normal usage,” cites Laurentia Romaniuk, Instacart’s Trend Expert and Senior Product Manager. “However, feelings of fear and uncertainty were paired with and eventually gave way to an overwhelming sense of gratitude toward the essential shoppers picking and delivering their groceries. Use of the word ‘grateful’ increased across Instacart shopper chats to six times its normal usage and remains much higher than pre-pandemic averages a full twelve months later.”
Across the United States, we saw a 13% bump in the use of the phrase “thanks” in customer-shopper chat, with MT, ID, WA, OR, CO, NM, MN, MO and PA expressing thanks the most frequently. States with the lowest frequency of “thanks” are largely clustered in the Southern states, begging the question of whether that famous southern charm has buckled a bit under the weight of life in lockdown:
Life After Lockdown
- With customer-shopper chat trends showing continued elevated use of phrases and emojis that communicate gratitude, we have reason to believe that consumers will retain a deeper sense of gratitude toward Instacart shoppers — perhaps even permanently.
- We also expect to see a sustained boost in shopper-customer chat, now that customers have spent a year becoming more accustomed to the benefits of communicating directly with their shopper.
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