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Grocers Missing Online Holiday Sales Opportunity: Analyst

NEW YORK -- Supermarkets are being overlooked by consumers who are increasingly searching for solutions online to help with home entertaining. It represents a missed opportunity for sales, according to Hitwise, a New York-based online competitive intelligence service.

"A big difference we see between online searches for grocery-related Web sites vs. sites dedicated to recipes is that most users are putting in specific 'navigational' terms to get to supermarkets, primarily the supermarket's name," LeeAnn Prescott, a Hitwise senior research analyst told Progressive Grocer. In other words, people who are searching for recipe ideas and cooking tips using search terms such as "recipe" or "roasted turkey," are being directed to recipe-only sites.

One way grocers can attract more traffic is to develop relationships with online search engines, particularly with local search engines, since most food retailers market regionally, noted Prescott.

E-mail marketing is also seen as a missed opportunity for grocers. "Department stores and mass retailers such as Target and Best Buy send out weekly sales fliers via e-mail, which tend to drive heavy online traffic. I don't think grocery stores are utilizing this service to a great extent," she said.

Of the 323 alcohol- and grocery-related Web sites Hitwise monitors, StarbucksStore (, an online service, holds the largest share, at 4.39 percent. Safeway Online Shopping ( is the leading supermarket chain in the group, accounting for a 3.54 percent share, followed by Kroger ( at 3.21 percent, Albertsons ( at 3.18 percent, Whole Foods Market ( at 2.38 percent, and at 2.05 percent.

The Hitwise research offers a window into food consumer behavior online. For instance, it found the share of searches for the term "recipes" was up 25 percent for the week ending Nov. 12, 2005 vs. the prior week. Hitwise predicted that recipe searches and visits to recipe sites will increase by upwards of 50 percent for Thanksgiving week.

Of the recipe-related search terms that online users are inputting, "butternut squash recipes" jumped 279 percent in the week ending Nov. 12. "Sweet potato casserole" was up 130 percent, followed by "thanksgiving recipes" (up 89 percent), and "green bean casserole" (up 74 percent).

The non-retail food and beverage Web site with the greatest share of traffic is Food Network (, followed by Kraft Foods USA (, All Recipes (,, and Recipezaar ( While women comprised 61 percent of the latest visits to food and beverage sites, men comprised a significant 39 percent.

Wal-Mart's Web site ( came in at No. 3 in the shopping and classified Web site category. eBay was No. 1, followed by
-- Jenny McTaggart
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