Online shopping habits may hinder the introduction of new products

By our News Team | 2023


If a product isn’t in a person’s cart by their first five or six online orders, it’s very unlikely that the product will ever make it in.

Online grocery carts tend to include less variety and fewer fruits and vegetables than those in a trip to a brick-and-mortar supermarket. But, on the other hand, online shoppers are less susceptible to unhealthy impulse buys.


This is according to new research by Cornell University in the US, which analysed nearly two million shopping trips for a study titled ‘Browsing the Aisles or Browsing the App? How Online Grocery Shopping is Changing What We Buy’, published in the peer-reviewed academic journal, Marketing Science.


The authors found that, within a given household, online shopping baskets are more similar to each other from week to week than in-store shopping baskets.

Shopper Research

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Nutritionally, though, online shopping baskets had 13% fewer fresh vegetables. But, at the same time, online shoppers made up to 7% fewer impulse purchases – such as sweets, baked goods and chips.


These systematic shopping pattern differences can have implications for consumers as well as retailers.


“This affects a lot of things – how brands are competing [and] how grocery markets are competing,” researcher Jura Liaukonyte said.


“There’s a new equilibrium. Online shopping penetration has increased significantly [and] while it is not as high as it was during the peak of Covid, it remains considerably higher than pre-pandemic levels.”


For this work, the authors examined data by Numerator, a market research company that analyses brick-and-mortar store purchases, as well as online purchases from the same participants. 


The researchers’ algorithm looked at three years’ worth of grocery purchases from 4,388 participants to get a sense of their typical in-store and online carts.


They discovered a few key differences:


  • Online basket variety is around 10% lower compared to brick-and-mortar basket variety within the same household.


  • Online shopping trips are 27% more similar to each other than offline trips within the same household when comparing categories.


  • The number of overlapping items in online shopping baskets is more than double that of in-store carts when comparing items across successive trips to the same store.


One reason for the reduced variety in online baskets, the researchers suggest, is the ‘buy it again’ feature available on many online shopping apps.


Explanation aligns with observations


“We can’t definitively say that this is the precise reason the online carts are more similar, as we cannot directly observe users utilising this feature,” researcher Nathan Yang said. “However, it’s an explanation that aligns with our observations and informal conversations with consumers about their [online] shopping habits.”


Overall, Liaukonyte noted, the findings of the paper indicate that there might be greater consumer loyalty and inertia when shopping online.


“If we don’t pay attention, we might fall into [the habit] of repeatedly buying the same items online. This seemingly simple online convenience could make us less sensitive to price changes and limit product discovery, enhancing the pricing power of existing brands.”


Researcher Sai Chand Chintala adds that the heightened brand loyalty and consumer inertia could make it difficult for new brands and products to enter the market.


“Industry reports suggest that if a product isn’t in a person’s cart by their first five or six online orders, it’s very unlikely that the product will ever make it in,” he said. “This highlights the importance for brands to advertise early on to ensure they are top-of-mind for consumers and make their way into their baskets.”


Yang noted that traditional in-store promotional strategies, like product displays and samples for product discovery, don’t translate seamlessly to online settings.


“Brands need to rethink their online product introduction methods, potentially leaning more on sponsored listings to ensure visibility,” he said. “The long-term impact of these trends on online grocery shopping remains to be seen.”


You can find out more about the research here.

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    Dr Kin Kariisa

    Group CEO - Next Media

    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
    • Lecturer of e-Government and Information Security to graduate students at Makerere University, Kampala and Radbond University in the Netherlands
    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
    • Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, an umbrella industry association for all Television, Radio and online broadcasters in Uganda.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Nile Hotel International, that owns the leading hotel in Uganda, Kampala Serena Hotel.
    • Chairman of Board of Directors of Soliton Telmec Uganda, the leading telecom company in Optic fibre business managing over 80% of optic fibre in Uganda.