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This study examines consumer insights and trends in the US regarding shopping and dining out activity.
Survey data capture insights for 2023, and some historical context back to 2020 and earlier. Survey responses in this study reveal consumer sentiment regarding shopping and dining out in general, as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic developed new habits, some of which became sticky and part of the new normal, while others returned to pre-pandemic norms. Longer term analysis of e-commerce activity and foodservice (dine-in, carryout, and delivery) spending are also included. Consumer opinion on many of the topics above is analyzed by gender, age group, and generation.
Shopping and dining habits of consumers have changed for many since March 2020, the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic Era in the US. In some cases, it was an acceleration of existing trends, but in others it prompted major changes. For many consumers, these habits have at least some level of “stickiness” as they have continued in these habits three years after the start of the pandemic.
Shopping and dining are core to many consumer-related industries, from the production of food, beverages, and a wide variety of consumer goods to the packaging and shipping of these goods to the construction of the facilities needed. Therefore, an investigation into consumer trends can give insight to marketing and product development opportunities. It can also help industry players see which demographic groups might be most affected by different types of efforts.
This report contains analysis and data-based discussions of various pieces of the shopping and dining industry, including a look at the e-commerce and foodservice markets, as well as buying patterns, shopping habits, psychographics, demographic trends, and other consumer insights.
This report includes analysis, data, trends, and customized cross tabs using two survey resources:
data from The Freedonia Group’s proprietary national online survey conducted from April-May 2020, August 2020, November-December 2020, February-March 2021, June 2021, August 2021, October-November 2021, November-December 2021, February 2022, May 2022, August 2022, November 2022, December 2022, February 2023, and May 2023
data from syndicated national consumer survey results from the MRI-Simmons Winter 2023 Report
E-Commerce Sales Outlook
The US is the second largest e-commerce market in the world. E-commerce has been quick to develop in the US due to the country’s:
cultural preference for convenience
highly developed network of stores and malls
consumers with a tendency to spend significant amounts of time online
The massive size of this market means that gains will be substantial, and although online sales have advanced rapidly, they still account for only a small share of overall retail activity.
Opportunities for increasing US e-commerce sales include expanding marketing and shopping through social media. Although these platforms are already established in some countries (such as China, where direct payments are offered via social media apps such as WeChat), they have a lower penetration in the US.
The most common products shipped via e-commerce include health and beauty items (including pharmaceuticals), clothing and accessories, and electronics. Most products will register strong growth in e-commerce sales.
Use of Meal Kit Delivery Services
Corresponding with increased use of online grocery shopping services, some consumers have also reported ordering more meal kits for home delivery during the pandemic. However, it is important to note that use of meal kit delivery services does not appear to be as “sticky” of a habit as general online grocery shopping, as the percentages of those reporting they are ordering fewer meal kits has often equaled or exceeded the percentages of those who are ordering more meal kits.
In December 2022, 17% of consumers reported they were ordering more meal kits than they had before the pandemic, while 16% were ordering fewer.
Meal kit delivery services can be convenient for those who do not know how to cook but are trying to learn, as meal kits contain step-by-step instructions to prepare a meal. Meal kits can also reduce food waste and/or help someone adhere to a diet since all meals contain pre-portioned ingredients for the recipe at hand.
Many Consumers Are Concerned About Rising Food Prices
Many consumers are worried about rising/inflated prices in several product categories, but fears are highest over food.
Food commodity and labor costs have gone up, leading retailers and restaurants to raise prices. Inflated gasoline prices can be especially harmful to restaurants and third-party delivery services, as drivers need to spend significantly more on transportation to deliver food to customers. Higher gas prices also affect food prices in the form of increased shipping costs.
Concerns about inflation and rising food prices are leading consumers to think more about what they spend on food and how much food they are wasting. As consumers are following tighter budgets, they are more cognizant of food waste and more mindful of how they plan meals. They tend to cut down on impulse purchases and purchases of extra food or treats they do not yet have a plan for when concerned about inflation. Some consumers who buy a lot of groceries online may reduce their use of these services or stop purchasing online to save money, or at least cut down on unnecessary online grocery purchases (e.g., reducing spending on snacks and only sticking to groceries for core meals) to keep to their budget.
Inflation Concerns Vary Across Consumer Categories
Inflation has affected many sectors, but the degree of concern has varied depending in large part on whether the item is a “need” or a “want.” Consumers are most likely to express concern about prices in categories where the products are must-haves. However, even if customers are not concerned about rising prices in some areas, concern about prices in core areas such as food and beverages can lead to consumers making different choices. For instance, cash-strapped consumers often consider reducing spending on pricier convenience items such as dining out. This is important because, as food prices rise, consumers may be more likely to reduce food purchases from restaurants and instead buy more groceries to save money, including via online methods if online grocery shopping is part of their normal routine. They might also reduce spending on areas where they do not currently have a need. Some consumers also shift that spending to a later date. This trend is particularly strong if they expect prices will either come back down with a return to discounting or if they simply expect their budgets to better accommodate that higher price at a later date.