COVID-19 altered a lot about American life in 2020. Relationships changed. Behaviors changed. And new shopping habits were born out of necessity.
According to a recently released Harris Poll, The Great Awakening: A Year of Life in the Pandemic, while 47% of Americans missed shopping in person, 77% said they were satisfied with their online shopping experience. The poll of 2,038 U.S. adults found that 48% said they purchased groceries online during the pandemic.
Instacart saw that trend firsthand. The company looked at 12 months of data from its customer base and drew some of its own conclusions for a report, “Beyond the Cart: A Year of Essential Insights.” It found a shift in consumer behavior that is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic norms.
“More than a year of pandemic living has dramatically reshaped how American households shop for groceries and other household essentials,” said Laurentia Romaniuk, Instacart’s trends expert and senior product manager. “As we analyzed 12 months of data from Instacart, we discovered that the pandemic has driven seismic demographic shifts in who is using online grocery, altered daily and weekly shopping rhythms, set off a wave of customer gratitude for the Instacart shopper community, and more. As the world inches toward normality, it appears that many of the new habits formed in the midst of the pandemic may actually be driving a permanent shift in how consumers shop.”
Instacart came to its conclusions by reviewing in-app texts and chats. For instance, in March 2020, the company saw text chat volume between customers and Instacart shoppers increase 50%. The biggest message sent? The “scream emoji,” which saw usage increase four times its normal volume.
As the pandemic settled in and a sense of routine came about, clapping hands emojis, contented faces emojis and starry-eyed emojis usage climbed 300%.
“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,” said Romaniuk in a blog posting announcing the analysis. “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.”
Christmas comes early
According to Instacart, searches for Christmas, Christmas sprinkles and Christmas décor grew 745%, 236% and 622%, respectively, year-over-year. The term pumpkin spice also started trending, but did so 15 weeks earlier in 2020 than in 2019 and 2018, suggesting Americans were looking forward to the holidays a little earlier in 2020.
Instacart also saw growth in senior shoppers, with a 9% increase in seniors using the service in 2020. Harris found that 74% of people who identified as the primary grocery shopper in their household reported that someone else in the household had taken on some of the shopping responsibilities. Instacart said many of these may have been younger generations helping out elderly parents and grandparents. The company found that 89% of Generation Z and 85% of millennials were more likely to take on shopping responsibilities to protect older relatives.
Post-pandemic, Instacart is expecting 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 the shopper.” Data is already showing increased levels of key phrase usage and emojis, the company said.
In terms of general shopping data, Instacart found that the share of orders placed on its platform on weekdays grew 8%, with orders placed between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. increasing 32% in 2020. The company said that while some customers have returned to weekend ordering habits, a “meaningful portion” are maintaining midweek ordering patterns.
“As we move past the pandemic, our insights point to consumers’ continued use of Instacart in part because of the time we give them back to enjoy the things they love — hopefully soon with the people they love, and maybe even for the people they love,” the Instacart blog said.