We repeatedly hear that COVID-19 has accelerated changes that were already happening in retail. Now, however, research from U.K. supermarket chain Waitrose has provided statistics to back up this claim, while a hiring announcement from Tesco offers further proof of just how much shopping habits are changing.

The Waitrose survey, which was a survey of 2,000 nationally representative adults and not simply Waitrose customers, found that 77% of people now do at least some of their grocery shopping online – compared to 61% last year.

Approximately 60% of people have shopped online for groceries more frequently since the pandemic, with 41% of respondents citing convenience as the reason. One in five stated that they had not considered online shopping prior to the pandemic.

Prior to all of the disruption of recent months, there would have been few retailers – grocery or otherwise – who would not have expected greater growth in e-commerce relative to brick-and-mortar shops, but this growth has taken on a new momentum.

According to Waitrose & Partners Executive Director James Bartlett, what would previously have been a gradual upward climb in demand has, with the COVID-19 pandemic, turned into a trajectory more reminiscent of scaling Mount Everest!

He also believes that, as online shopping quickly becomes habitual, the changes that we have seen this year are unlikely to be reversed.

The survey, conducted by consumer and B2B consumer research company OnePoll, found that, last year, less than half people over 55 did some of their food shopping online. This has since increased to 74%.

However, it is not only older generations that have changed their shopping habits. The survey also found a big shift in the shopping behaviors of 35-44-year-olds. Thirty-two percent of this age group now do online shopping at least once each week, compared to only 16% in 2019.

Only a click away

Looking specifically at its dedicated same-day delivery site, Waitrose notes that the most searched item there is corn-fed free range whole chicken, while among late Saturday night shoppers, the most searched items are fresh fruit, eggs and milk.

Separately, the U.K.’s largest supermarket chain, Tesco, announced in late August that it would create an additional 16,000 permanent jobs to support the exceptional growth in its online business. In April, Tesco became the first U.K. retailer to fulfill 1 million online grocery orders in a week. The company says it now serves nearly 1.5 million customers a week online, up from 600,000 at the start of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, around 9% of Tesco’s sales were online. This figure is now more than 16% of sales, with Tesco expecting online sales of over GBP5.5 billion (US$7.2 billion) this year, up from GBP3.1 billion last year.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.